The tearing down brick by brick of what seemed to be an impassable wall of separation between faith and politics cams as a most telling change for me as I watched the 2nd inauguration of President Obama. From a spiritual standpoint, President Obama’s inaugural address shifts how he speaks about the issues most important to him. While in years past he may have spoken about these issues as the right thing to do, it seemed that the President and those supporting him made a concerted effort in this inauguration to recast his key issues with a moral appeal from a spiritual source instead of someone’s expert opinion or the popular will of an electorate. Let me illustrate this with a few of the major sections of the speech.
- The role of Government –
“For history tells us that while these truths may be self-evident, they have never been self-executing; that while freedom is a gift from God, it must be secured by His people here on Earth…
My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction – and we must faithfully execute that pledge during the duration of our service.”
- Entitlements –
“We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else, because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal, not just in the eyes of God but also in our own. We understand that outworn programs are inadequate to the needs of our time…
But while the means will change, our purpose endures: a nation that rewards the effort and determination of every single American. That is what this moment requires. That is what will give real meaning to our creed…
We reject the belief that America must choose between caring for the generation that built this country and investing in the generation that will build its future… The commitments we make to each other – through Medicare, and Medicaid, and Social Security – these do not sap our initiative; they strengthen us. They do not make us a nation of takers; they free us to take the risks that make this country great. “
- Environment –
“That is how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure – our forests and waterways; our croplands and snowcapped peaks. That is how we will preserve our planet, commanded to our care by God. That’s what will lend meaning to the creed our fathers once declared.”
- Security –
“We are also heirs to those who won the peace and not just the war, who turned sworn enemies into the surest of friends, and we must carry those lessons into this time as well. We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law.”
- Equality –
“Just as it guided those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great Mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear a King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth…
Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law – for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well… You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course.
With these words, the President has adopted a language that casts his major ideas as the response to the injunctions of a higher power, to whom we must all answer. Further, he does not assume that these answers form a perfect response, but one that certainly puts these spiritual principles into practice. In many ways this appeal to God is the exact same one that many of the President’s most ardent opponents have used to criticize him. Instead of the President arguing against such appeals to God from his opponents, he has instead torn down the wall of separation between his opponents and himself.
The legacy of the President remains to be seen, however the challenge he issued forth to biblical Christians cannot be ignored. For some his accommodation to speak in a more spiritually appealing way will be enough to sway their opinions. Others will ask, “How long can we persist with pragmatic responses to biblical commands either personally or politically? How long can we claim that the manner of our response is not as important as the fact that we responded to God’s commands?” The President’s answer comes in today’s words,
“Progress does not compel us to settle centuries-long debates about the role of government for all time – but it does require us to act in our time. For now decision are upon us, and we cannot afford delay. We cannot mistake absolutism for principle or substitue spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate. We must act knowing that our work will be imperfect.”
The real difference between biblical Christians and those who like the President espouse pragmatism, is not that we do so in response to a Higher Power’s commands. The difference comes in that biblical Christians see both the inner reason for action and the actual action as vitally important to a Holy God. Thus we CAN afford to settle centuries-long debates, and delay action until we are certain that the actions we take will please the God whom we serve.
To read President Obama’s inaugural address click here.