Thursday, February 5, 2009

Obama and Faith Based Initiatives

Today President Obama will sign an executive order creating a White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships. He will however slow down on his previous pledge to outlaw discriminatory employment practices by faith based groups taking government money. Instead he will order a legal review of employment practices.

This morning Obama spoke about his approach to faith based partnerships with government. This is President Obama's National Prayer Breakfast Speech

I have mixed reactions to the speech. He says some wonderfully inclusive things. He sets a clear agenda for unity in diversity. He speaks powerfully about his own faith experience as a call to compassion and social justice.

However, he still confused me with his reference to God's purpose. "It was on those streets, in those neighborhoods, that I first heard God’s spirit beckon me. It was there that I felt called to a higher purpose – His purpose." He had me at "higher" purpose, and left me wondering with "His" purpose. Obama has outlined the higher purpose as unity that transcends partisanship, religion and ideology. Thats a higher purpose I can get excited about. However "His" purpose seemed to lead me back to something too specific and ideological.

Am I being too literal, or did Obama blur the lines between church and state?

What do you think?
Is Obama saying much the same as President Bush said in his speeches on faith based partnerships with government?
Should he be acting more decisively on discriminatory employment practices?

7 comments:

Pither said...

I'm willing to cut him some slack. I think in order to be heard by the vast majority of Americans, he needs to speak in their language. And these days, despite your and my best efforts, that language is still the language of Christian orthodoxy. If dropping in the occasionally capitalized pronoun in reference to the majority's deity is the worst this president does, we'll be in fine shape.

Keep up the good work, Ian. I'm an avid C3 podcast listener and now avid Ian blog reader!

fadeproof said...

"Is Obama saying much the same as President Bush said in his speeches on faith based partnerships with government?"

I don't think so, although it sounds like it. As with Lincoln and most of our other Presidents, it is metaphorical rhetoric, "civil religion". With the last President (and Reagan at times) it was catering to an extremist base, and all the more dangerous because they wanted you to think it was as innocuous as the traditional rhetoric.

"Should he be acting more decisively on discriminatory employment practices? "

Absolutely! He's too "soft on conservatism" in my book.

Oberon said...

Remember, we are the Mother of All Minorities in the faith community! I'm sure "His purpose" has some meaning for the great majority of his audience. I don't think Jack Spong would have a problem with this language, and he's my yardstick.

Rev. Scott said...

I think you're reading too much between the lines there Ian. Remember 2000 years of baggage and rhetoric is a lot to carry and a lot to get over.

Anonymous said...

Ian, though I'm disappointed to hear my President speak in such orthodox terms, I can understand. It's habit..habit..habit! It is so difficult to reframe our language of God. That whole purpose phrase bothers me more than referring to God as a He. I think we make our own purpose.

litmaster said...

Oh, Anonymous! Do we want to reframe the language? Or reframe the understanding?

zapmama27 said...

I'd say he believes in Jesus and knows he has a purpose thru him. The bigger question you should be asking yourself is this: why are you so easily offended by the acknowledgement of Christ when you are the pastor of a church called "Christ Community".