A Christian President?

Such signs say far more about the persons holding them than they do about their intended target. Expressing God’s love in ways these people and I can both agree on is a difficult challenge, because it requires that I be just as open to being changed by that love as I hope they will be. It would be far easier, and less challenging to my own peace of mind, to simply shut the door to relationship by dismissing such people as not worth listening to – which is what those signs are attempting to do in terms of their bearers’ relationship with me – and our President – after all…

11206010_429794493875511_1026886848675139799_nLike you, I’ve seen signs like this posted by relatively conservative groups and individuals on social media and elsewhere. While I understand the impetus behind such signs, that I understand does not imply that I agree with them – far from it!

For one thing, we must remember that our President IS a Christian.  Until shortly before his election to the Presidency, he and his entire family regularly attended worship at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, one of the largest and most dynamic churches within my own denomination.  In fact, more than a quarter of a century ago, our future President made a conscious decision to become a Christian when he joined that church after being, as he put it, a “religious skeptic” for many years.  (One should also note that Trinity Church’s motto is “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” …And as an organization serving a community deeply and continuously affected by racism and injustice in this society, how can their motto be otherwise?)

Now, I am a Minister in the tradition of the United Church of Christ (UCC), and for over three centuries members of my family and our ancestors have been faithful members of a church that is now part of this same Protestant Denomination that Barack Obama chose to become a member of at age 26.  Obama is one of three presidents who were affiliated with this same religious tradition that the UCC descends from (Congregationalism) at some point in their lives.  So, I see signs such as this being evidence that their bearer does not believe I am a Christian, either.

This brings me to my second point: as Christians we all worship the same God, whom we understand to be an infinite God.  Our God is not limited by human limitations or understanding.  Given that I am human, and therefore cannot fully comprehend the God I love, let alone expect God to conform to my expectations, I cannot expect my understanding of God, or of the Bible, or of the nature of the relationship I believe I have with God, to be the standard for judging others’ faith.  We are all unique, therefore each of our relationships with God are unique.  Our God is big enough to handle that.  Our God is big enough – infinite enough – to love Barack Obama, myself (and you) equally, just as we are.

Our President says he is Christian.  If he really believes this (and his own life and actions provide abundant evidence that this is the case) then I have no reason to doubt or question it, though I certainly can (and do) disagree with him on some of his policies and ways of dealing with issues.  In other words, he is just as human as you and I: just as flawed, just as faithful, sharing the same faith, and just as prone to demonstrating his own uniqueness through our diverging views and ways of doing things.

So, it seems we already have the Christian President these sign-bearers claim they want.  Or do they really want what they claim they do? Would it be more accurate to rephrase these signs to say “I want a President with a Christian Faith just like mine”?

That’s an entirely different issue, and an impossible dream.  Our faith will never be “just like” that of anyone else’s; we always diverge from each other on some points, and converge on others. And yet God loves us all: valuing each and every one of us despite our differences.  An infinite God is certainly capable of tolerating such differences, and continuing to love us and value us just as we are, despite them.  In fact those differences make us lovable; otherwise, we’d all be clones of each other: none distinguishable from the next.  God loves us because of our differences.

Any leader will ultimately fall off any pedestal we put them on, because they are not us.  No leader, no President, will ever fully live up to our expectations, nor should they.  Even God does not always live up to our expectations, especially if we view God as a static entity.

We see God through a prism that is built from our expectations, experiences, and needs.  As we grow, that prism changes, and so our view of God, and the nature of our relationship with God, will also change.  If we refuse to make room for our own maturing and growth, or if we demand that others conform to our own particular understanding, then we have a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature of our faith.  Our faith is a journey, not a static state – not a fixed goal.  Jesus is Emmanuel – the God with whom we walk – the journey never ends, we are always walking with God – journeys cannot occur without change and growth, because each step changes our location, and opens up new views for us to see (and learn from).

Is Obama a perfect President?  No, but he’s not bad, and far better as a leader than many others that we’ve had in the past.  He is a man who takes his faith seriously, a man who is willing to confront difficult issues and challenge the status quo because of – and through – the living faith within him.  Those who do as he does will never win popularity contests, which is a good thing.

In conclusion, when I see such signs it saddens me: for I know that those who express such sentiments are – ultimately – doing so out of fear.  They are expressing such things in an attempt to deny and prevent change and growth that they do not understand and do not want.  Ultimately, such signs say far more about the persons holding them than they do about their intended target.  The only way I know of to deal with such anger and pain is to recognize that such folks are just as human as I, and just as worthy of God’s love – and my love.

Expressing God’s love in ways these people will understand is a difficult challenge, and is a challenge that I fear, because to love them not only requires that they be open to being changed by that love; but that I be open to being changed by it, too.  It would be far easier, and less challenging to my own peace of mind, to simply shut the door to relationship by dismissing such people as not worth listening to – which is what those signs are attempting to do in terms of their relationship with me – and our President – after all!  But, I am confident that with time, and with God’s help, they and I will both eventually see and rejoice in what we have and hold in common, and rejoicing in our uniqueness, rather reacting to each others uniqueness out of fear.  For we all have the same God – a God that loves us because of our differences, not condemning us because we are not like God.

Copyright (c) 2015, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Author: Allen

A would-be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is the proud father of a daughter and son, and enjoys life with his wife near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PastorAllenV/.

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