Why this Christian Will Vote for Barack Obama (Part 2)

Some moments you just remember.

2000 was one of those. I sat in a chair in my college dorm room, filling out an absentee ballot to vote in my first presidential election. A milestone. I’ll never forget it, even if I ultimately have come to regret my choice in that particular race.

2008 was another. I stood in the voting booth, and I paused. I knew whom I would choose. I’d followed the race closely, and I could feel a palpable weight of historic significance. I paused to take in the moment – the electronic square colored blue, next to the name of an African-American candidate. I was proud that day to have voted for Barack Hussein Obama. I still am.

Why did I vote for Obama in 2008? I’d be lying if I pretended emotion didn’t enter into it. Obama was an inspirational candidate, whose words had moved me to tears multiple times that campaign. I was one of many reporters who had covered the Democratic National Convention for the Rocky Mountain News that year, and a highlight was sitting in a Hard Rock Cafe with two colleagues, watching Obama make history by becoming the first black man to accept a major party’s nomination for president. It gave me goosebumps to be there, in the same city, at the same event. I can’t pretend that moment was not formative.

Of course, the policies were important, too. Obama promised a more just society, one in which we did not launch preemptive wars; did not torture suspected criminals, no matter how egregious the alleged crimes; and provided affordable health care to all, among other proposals. In short, although I would not have phrased it this way at the time, I believed Barack Obama would make this a better, more compassionate place to live.

So here we are, four years later. Much has changed in that time.

Continue reading Why this Christian Will Vote for Barack Obama (Part 2)

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Why this Christian Will Vote for Barack Obama (Part 1)

When I type into Google, “How can a Christian …”, the autocomplete’s No. 1 response is: “support Barack Obama?”

The first debate of the presidential campaign is Wednesday night, and we are just a few days shy of being one month away from the election. Now seems as good a time as any to lay all of my cards on the table and explain why I stand where I do in this particular race.

There are two ways to vote for a president – negatively and positively. Which is to say you can vote against a candidate or for one. I am doing both. So I’ll break this “endorsement,” so to speak, into two parts: why I oppose Mitt Romney and why I support Barack Obama. My goal with this post is not to demonize or caricature Mitt Romney but to describe and characterize his policy proposals and particularly explain why I, as a Christian, find them unacceptable.

Continue reading Why this Christian Will Vote for Barack Obama (Part 1)

Summit, Day 1: Death and Resurrection

Every September, my alma mater gets together biblical scholars, preachers and the like to talk about pretty much any topic you can think of. It once was called Lectureship; now it’s called Summit. I wrote about Summit last year, and I’d like to do the same thing this year, highlighting what stood out from each day of classes and/or sermons.

The day started with Glenn Pemberton, an Old Testament scholar who suffers from chronic foot pain that leaves him in a wheelchair most days. I’ve mentioned him before, as he wrote and delivered perhaps the most poignant, honest prayer I’ve ever heard.

Glenn discussed Psalm 38, one of the bleakest of lament psalms, and gave six clues for why he believed the author of the psalm was familiar with deep, chronic pain – most convincing are his points regarding its structural discontinuity and abrupt swings of emotion. He closed with this question: “How do these psalms help the reader with whom they resonate?”

His response: Psalm 38, like other lament psalms, “restores our ability to speak. It gives us the language to restore and maintain contact with God. These words are forceful and audacious, equal to the writer’s situation. Most of all, they’re honest.”

As I’ve discussed, there’s a place for brutal honesty with God – who either causes or allows the suffering and is seen as either a tyrant for punishing beyond what is merited or neglectful for forsaking his “covenant partner.” On the former, Glenn described it this way:

God has had a few too many drinks of anger. The poet asks God to sober up first, or find a designated rebuker until he’s not so inebriated with wrath.

But the psalm also “models a tenacious grip to God – even when we believe God has caused our suffering. God may be the problem, but this writer knows no other source of help or hope than this same God.”

When Glenn talks about God being “inebriated with wrath,” certainly no passage fits the description better than Hosea 2.

Famed scholar Walter Brueggemann provided something of a live exegesis of the chapter, which opens with God’s stinging condemnation of faithless Israel and concludes with his pledge to win her back. It is, Brueggemann argued, “the most perfect poem in the Old Testament that articulates the sum of all biblical faith.”

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Why Christians Should Be Environmentalists

One of the churches in town recently hired a new preacher – a young guy, around my age with kids my age. I was curious because this church has long had an older preacher and been on the conservative end of the spectrum. I didn’t expect them to hire Rob Bell or Brian McLaren, but new blood isn’t a bad thing, and I decided to check him out.

His name’s Wes McAdams, and he runs a blog called Radically Christian – which sounds promising for us progressive types until you realize he’s setting up New Testament restorationism as a radical break from the Christian norms of today. It’s a neat construct, but pedestrian conservative pseudoevangelical theology with a cappella worship doesn’t scream, “Radical!” to me.

One of his posts caught my eye, however, and that’s where I’m really going with this. The post is called, “3 Reasons Why I’m Not an ‘Environmentalist‘”.

It leads with this disclaimer:

Please don’t misunderstand what I’m about to say, I love this planet and everything God put on it. I love the trees, the hills, the water, the animals, even the air; and I’m all for us keeping these things clean. But, I can honestly say, I’m not an “environmentalist.”

The reasons are, sadly enough, the reasons I used to give for why we needn’t worry about climate change or deforestation or any of the other ills humanity continues to inflict on our planet:

  1. God is in control
  2. The earth’s purpose is to be used, not protected
  3. It’s going to be destroyed anyway

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One Year and Counting

Today is the first day of class, which means I’ve now been in grad school for a full year. I have no idea how that happened.

It also means I’ve been blogging for more than a year – I started this thing in late July 2011, and here I am, somehow still trucking along. In celebration, here are the top 10 posts by pageviews this blog has had since its inception. If you’re newish, maybe you’ll find something you like; if you’ve been here from the beginning, thanks! Maybe you’ll find something you missed or forgot you liked. Or maybe the fact that these posts are the most viewed here will make you once again wonder why you’ve wasted so much time reading this blog.

Without further ado:

Continue reading One Year and Counting

The Theology of Paul (Ryan)

A friend asked me on Facebook the day Mitt Romney tabbed Paul Ryan to be his running mate in the presidential race what my “personal, theology-based thoughts” were on the pick.

So here goes.

As prologue, I recommend reading some of my posts on Amos from earlier this summer. Should you not have the time or inclination, I’ll sum them up this way: A reading of the prophets in a christocentric manner makes clear that God calls Christians living in society to above all care for others – and have particular care for the voiceless, marginalized, powerless and impoverished among us. That’s probably not terribly controversial. But the American system of government is set up in such a way that every Christian by virtue of the vote is a member of the powerful, and that we therefore are judged by God on how we exercise that power – either for or against the powerless.

This does not mean that we create a “Christian nation” that outlaws all the vices God doesn’t like. Doing so does nothing to help the powerless. It doesn’t mean that we legislate a so-called Christian morality and impose our chosen moral lifestyles on those who do not accept them; Jesus didn’t do that, and the prophets say next to nothing about personal morality. What it means is that we Christians, all of us members of the government and more so we Christians who seek and hold public office, have a duty to govern in the interests of the voiceless and powerless.

It should not be surprising, moreover, that governing in this way is a proven winner. America’s economy has grown most when inequality has been minimized (note I don’t say eliminated), and its growth has been tepid over the past decade, when inequality has skyrocketed. By “inequality,” I mean the gap between the economically powerful and powerless, which is now at alarmingly high levels.

All of that means that by voting or by holding office, Christians exert considerable pressure on the political system to mold our society in the ways we choose. We can mold that society in a way that is in line with the call of God for societies to be just, or we can do so in a way that enriches the powerful at the expense of the powerless – a condition against which Amos, Isaiah and Jesus, to name just a few, railed.

What kind of society does Paul Ryan envision?

Continue reading The Theology of Paul (Ryan)

Joining Jesus’ Story

Right on the heels of my post on Monday about rethinking our approach to salvation, Daniel Kirk said something very similar, raising an issue of scholarship I’ve mentioned here before: the question over whether Paul talks about salvation through faith in Christ or salvation through the faith of Christ.

One of those is the foundation for classic soterian thought – have faith in Christ, and you’re in, no followup necessary – the other calls us to a real, lasting response.

As Kirk writes: “The idea that we’re justified by our own faith in Christ is part of a larger way of construing Christian identity in terms of believing the right things about God.”

On the other hand, if our justification is completely outside of our ability, then – perhaps counterintuitively – the question becomes: How do we respond to this overwhelming act of grace?

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