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July 8, 2008

Obama at the AME

Now up on YouTube, Obama's speech to the African Methodist Episcopal Convention in St. Louis Saturday continues the theme of service that he spoke of in his earlier addresses last week. The Fourth of July could not be, he said a "passive celebration," but had to involve "service, and sacrifice and each of us doing our part to leave our children a world that is kinder and more just." And just as that could not be "an idle celebration," so "our faith cannot be an idle faith...It must be an active faith."

Beginning with the importance of helping those in need with the right domestic policies and programs, Obama went on to stress the need for African Americans not to be content with blaming its troubles on racism: "I'm not interested us in adopted the posture of victim.... [W]e cannot use injustice as an excuse. We cannot use poverty as an excuse." His support for faith-based institutions was, he said, "how we match societal responsibility with individual responsibility."

In the current issue of Religion in the News, Steve Warner nicely elucidates this classic black-church synthesis of collective and personal obligation, which cuts across conventional American political categories of left and right. Here Obama makes clear not only how faith-based programs express this synthesis but why they represent the moral core of his campaign.

One might add that the synthesis is not only classically black but also classically Methodist. And it can be found not only in Methodist denominations like the AME Church but also, as a kind of moral undertone, in the public culture of the Midwest. A tip of the hat to Mark Noll for this insight, which he discusses in his chapter in Religion in Public Life in the Midwest and we discuss in the Midwest chapter in One Nation, Divisible.

This article is cross-posted from Spiritual Politics.

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Comments

I think what Obama says about Independence Day not being just a "passive holiday" is right on. I'm interested to see in what direction he takes his plans for "faith-based initiatives" and how the evangelical community at large responds. Thanks for the great post.

Well now, that indeed seems interesting. Mr. Obama can spin his words quite well, and many of those little bits that he promises to accomplish were we to grant him executive power sound, well, promising. In this case, I wonder what, if anything, he will do in this regard, dealing with faith-based initiatives.
I'd be willing to let him give it a go, though perhaps more out of curiosity than faith in him. Heaven knows he looks a little less on the unsavory side than McCain, though.

From what's presented here, Obama seems to understand the kind of role religion should play in the broader society, moreso than most Conservative Evangelical leaders, anyway.

Despite having lived in the Midwest for the past 15 or so years, I don't quite see what you mean by it being present as a moral undertone in the culture of the Midwest. Maybe I just lived in the wrong part. It certainly seems to be evident in my new home of Florida, however.

It's interesting to me to see the ways Obama has tried to straighten out his faith since the Jeremiah Wright fiasco.

I don't have sound on my computer, so I haven't listened to his speech, but I'd be interested to know how he plans to play out his "active faith" if elected, as many Democrats seem to want faith to be as inactive in politics as possible.