I’m trying to avoid talking too much about politics and current affairs on this blog as it can be so divisive and it’s also something I think a lot about at work. When I get home at night I like to turn to fiction, music, television, and general ho-hum conversation. But sometimes there are shows on TV which I hear about at work and make a mental note to watch later. This very scenario occurred this week when I was made aware of a program (kudos to Krish) put together by Robert Beckford, a theologian and documentary presenter for the BBC, called “God Bless You Barack Obama?” (Although in this particular documentary he was missing his characteristic dreadlocks.) The program was, in short, about Obama’s journey of faith, particularly his Christian faith which he espoused in his mid-20s while working as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago.
The usual suspects were interviewed, including Jim Wallis, Richard Land, and Newt Gingrich, but he also interviewed the controversial Jeremiah Wright (Obama’s former outspoken pastor) and James Cone, one of the seminal figures of black liberation theology. I didn’t have much time for Wright who seemed to have a huge chip on his shoulder, not only about the religious right but about how he was treated during the campaign (although he was very forgiving of Obama, who severed ties with him). However, I listened with interest to Cone’s comments. His shrill voice was somewhat off-putting, but his emphasis on black churches and black liberation theology attempting to restore “blackness” as something that is not inferior but worthy of full human status was welcome. Given the history of America’s treatment of blacks it is hard not to sympathize with that goal, although I’m sure there are many things about black liberation theology that would give me great pause.
But on to Obama. There’s no doubt that it’s extremely refreshing to have a Democratic president who not only celebrates his faith but welcomes people of all faiths into the conversation. Whether he accomplishes that is another matter, of course. I found Robert Beckford’s exploration into Obama’s church history fascinating. Soon after moving to Chicago, he figured out that the best way for him to engage with the black community was through the local church. He found a small Baptist church with a pastor he admired, but he told the pastor that he didn’t want to attend the church just out of convenience – he wanted his faith to be authentic. And so he came to saving faith in Christ. Isn’t that the kind of honesty we want all Christians to have?
Now I’m uneasy about some of Obama’s policies and the occasional populism that springs up every now and again (although that can be found on both sides of the aisle), but I really do respect his commitment to his family, his championing of racial justice and community action, and most especially his faith in God. This program helped give a bit of the story behind it, so if you’re in the UK I recommend watching it, but hurry up as it’s only available until Monday night the 1st of February.