Easter, Obama, and Civil Religion

I’ll admit, I’m a fan of Obama. Not even so much as the President, but of him as a person. He’s got a way of being impressive but reserved, smooth talking but plain speaking. And, as a Christian — though I kind of cringe each time it happens — I’m always impressed when he quotes scripture.… Read more Easter, Obama, and Civil Religion

Obama Praying with Head Bowed

I’ll admit, I’m a fan of Obama. Not even so much as the President, but of him as a person. He’s got a way of being impressive but reserved, smooth talking but plain speaking. And, as a Christian — though I kind of cringe each time it happens — I’m always impressed when he quotes scripture. He understands the New Testament in ways that really revirberate with me.

BUT…

He’s the President!! To have an Easter breakfast at the White House in a 21st Century secular America should be a very complicated issue. On the other hand, because of its long tradition, a lack of an Easter breakfast would be far more shocking than hearing the President give a very Christian sermon to a bunch of fellow Christians. But that’s exactly what happened. Obama didn’t talk in very generalized terms about vague overcoming, or spiritual resurrection or anything like that. Instead he talked directly about Jesus as “Son of God” and “a risen savior who died so that we might live.” Explicitly, directly, unabashedly Christian language that was insightful and relevant. — I totally disapprove (actually, I think I loved it. But don’t tell!).

Anytime a president uses religious language, you can bet that they will elevate America as a nation in some way or another religiously. This is no exception. Obama’s civil religion shines through strongly here. Two examples stand out clearly:

  1. Prayer binds America together as a nation and as children of God. Obama said this in reference to all the times when he’s on the road and people tell him (and Michelle) that they are praying for him. The prayers of Americans to God for their president bind the nation together, and whether you’re an atheist or Pentacostal, makes us all children of God.
  2. Our time together will strengthen us individually, as believers, and as a nation. Christians gathering together in the White House to celebrate the resurrection can help strengthen the nation. How is that possible? Somehow, belief itself is fundamental to the strength of America.

Historically, the use of Christian language and theology from a President is totally standard.  The use of Christian language to elevate the status of America is far from exceptional. But for this particular president, the left hates it because he should know better, and the right hates it because it shows his humanity and religious convictions too clearly to criticize. Truth is, he’s just being very unremarkably a typical Protestant President of the United States. Really… nothing to see here folks, keeping moving along.

Despite the civil religion overtones, and the overt religiosity, his best moment was getting the audience into a good old fashioned black church call and response mode with “In this world there will be trouble. Did I hear an Amen? I said, In this world, there will be trouble — AMEN! But I have overcome the world! AMEN!” Classic, first ever, 3-point shooting, brushing the dirt off, hallujah preaching black president Obama. Rock it! (But I technically disapprove, really).

p.s. One caveat. I anticipate a bit of backlash from evangelicals and catholics about the phrase “not just as a Son of God”. Theologically, that kinda smacks in the face of all kinds of Christian teaching. Just wanted to point it out so you know I didn’t miss it.

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