Monday, January 28, 2013

Race, Politics, and American Christianity


Back in 2003, when the US went to war with Iraq, I was working in youth ministry at a primarily white church in the working-class city of Tacoma, WA. I have a vivid memory of sitting in a worship service during that time in which the preacher delivered a sermon in which he declared that John the Baptist was a patriot and, therefore, we should be patriots as well and support the war effort. More specifically, we were told that President G.W. Bush was God’s appointed for a time of trial and, therefore, we should not question but support his decisions.
Back in 2007, when Barack Obama was running for president, I was working in young adult ministry at a primarily black church in inner-city Los Angeles. The Sunday after the election, on which I was blessed to preach the sermon, many people proudly wore shirts bearing the image of President-elect Obama, and prayers were offered calling upon God to protect the soon-to-be president and to give him the wisdom required for such a position. In addition, several references were made to the “miracle” which had just occurred which many in the audience thought they would never see come to fruition – namely, a black man elected as president of the United States.
Leading up to that election I had a long conversation with my mentor from the church in Tacoma in which he professed his admiration of Sarah Palin and disbelief and inability to comprehend how a Christian, let alone the majority of a congregation, could vote for Obama in light of his position on abortion. For him, there was no way he could conceive of a justifiable reason to cast a vote for someone who supports abortion in any way. We talked about the ways that race influences politics and the complicated nature in which theological beliefs are translated into political policies and stances, but for him there was still no way that he could make sense of a “Christian” vote for a Democrat.
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