Saturday, January 24, 2009
Obama's Nonbeliever Nod Unsettles Some
By MELINDA HENNENBERGER
(Jan. 23) - Not everyone was happy with President Barack Obama's nod to nonbelievers and non-Christians in his inaugural address. And some of the stiff criticism about Obama’s religious inclusiveness is coming from African-American Christians who maintain that no, all faiths were actually not created equal.
"For we know that our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness," the new president said. "We are shaped by every language and culture, drawn from every end of this earth," he also said. Nothing too controversial, proclaiming that America's strength lies in its diversity.
But between those two statements, the new president got specific:
"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus, and nonbelievers."
By mentioning, for the first time in an inaugural address, the 16.1 percent of Americans who check "no"’ when asked about religion, Obama turned it into the most controversial line in his speech -- praised by The New York Times editorial board and cited by some Christians as evidence that he is a heretic, and in his well-spoken way, a serious threat.
With that one line, the president "seems to be trying to redefine American culture, which is distinctively Christian," said’ Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Va. "The overwhelming majority of Americans identify as Christians, and what disturbs me is that he seems to be trying to redefine who we are.’"
Earlier this week, Jackson was a guest on the popular conservative Christian radio show 'Janet Parshall's America,' where a succession of callers, many of whom identified themselves as African-American, said they shared the concern, and were perplexed and put off by the president’s shout-out to nonbelievers.
Parshall noted that atheists were celebrating the unexpected mention, and indeed they were: "In his inaugural address … President Barack Obama did what many before him should have done, rightly citing the great diversity of America as part of the nation's great strength, and including 'nonbelievers'’ in that mix,’" said Ed Buckner of American Atheists.
"His mother would have been proud,"’ Buckner said, referring to the fact that Obama’s mother was not a church-goer. "And so are we."
Jackson said he and others have no problem acknowledging that "this country is one in which everybody has the freedom to think what they want.’" Yet Obama crossed the line, in his view, in suggesting that all faiths (and none) were different roads to the same destination: "He made similar remarks in the campaign, and said, 'We are no longer a Christian nation, if we ever were. We are a Jewish, Hindu and non-believing nation.'"
Not so, Jackson says: "Obviously, Jewish heritage is very much a part of Christianity; the Jewish Bible is part of our Bible. But Hindu, Muslim, and nonbelievers? I don't think so. We are not a Muslim nation or a nonbelieving nation."’
With all the focus on Obama as the first African-American president, the succession of black callers to Janet Parshall's show was a reminder that the "community"’ is not a monolith, and that many socially conservative black Americans are at odds with Obama's views, particularly on abortion and gay rights. Nor do they all define civil rights in the same way.
The Rev. Cecil Blye, pastor of More Grace Ministries Church in Louisville, Ky., said the president's reference to nonbelievers also set off major alarm bells for him. "It's important to understand the heritage of our country, and it's a Judeo-Christian tradition,"’ period.
But his even bigger beef with the president, he said, is that a disproportionate number of "black kids are dying each day through abortion. President Obama is supportive of abortion, and that's a genocide on black folks. Nobody wants to talk about that as a civil rights issue."
And now, back to me.
Since when is inclusiveness a bad thing? This was the first time that I, as what I call a Free-Thinker--which is a Carlos word--felt included. In the past when I heard politicians talk about Christianity, I thought, Hmmmmm, not me. Or Catholicism, or Judaism....it wasn't me they are talking about.
Now we have Obama, mentioning all faiths, including the faith of non-believing, as well as mentioning the LGBT community. Well, I thought how happy I was that I checked off the box next to his name last November. I was included. Finally. I was being mentioned. Finally. That felt great.
And now we have these ministers criticizing the President for including anything other than Christianity. For including 'them.' Those people who don't believe the exact same thing as these 'ministers.' Those people who believe in a different god, or no god at all.
I'm confused. So, religion is divisive? Religion is meant to keep us separate and apart? Unless you believe in this one thing, you don't belong? God, or I ought to say, gosh, I love organized religion. They're so welcoming. Unless you're one of 'them.'
Bishop E.W. Jackson of the Exodus Faith Ministries in Chesapeake, Virginia, says the majority of Americans identify as Christian, so we should only include Christians. Well, Bishop, the majority of Americans also identify as white, so should we exclude everyone else? The majority of Americans are aged between 20 and 64; why don't we stop talking about those who fall outside that range. The slight majority of Americans are women; let's give men the boot. I love flawed logic.
Most of us think this way so everyone should think this way.
'Jackson said he and others have no problem acknowledging that "this country is one in which everybody has the freedom to think what they want.’" ' Go ahead, acknowledge those people over there, yeah, 'them,' but for the love of God, er, gosh, don't include them.
He says we are a Christian nation, and maybe a Jewish nation, but not a nation of Muslims or Hindus. I got news for you, Bishop, we are a nation of all kinds of people, all colors, all languages, all faiths, all orientations, genders, ages, all everything. And Barack Obama is including all of us in this country's dialogue. You need to shake off the old rhetoric and look to the future, man, because it's here.
In addition to Obama's inclusiveness, the Rev. Cecil Blye, pastor of More Grace Ministries Church in Louisville, Ky, has an issue with the President's stand on abortion, and a woman's right to choose. He says '"black kids are dying each day through abortion. President Obama is supportive of abortion, and that's a genocide on black folks. Nobody wants to talk about that as a civil rights issue." '
But Rev, why don't you use your ministry, your church, your pulpit, to tell women to protect themselves during sex so they don't become pregnant; then the abortion rates will drop. Why don't you tell the men in your congregation to put a glove on it before having sex, so they aren't creating more children. Get to the source of the problem, Rev; and that isn't abortions. It's men and women having unprotected sex.
I find it funny that these men of the cloth are so narrow in their thinking. So closed off to the possibility of hope; the possibility of One Nation Under Gosh, or God, or Buddha, or Mohamed or whomever you believe. I think we'd be a much better nation if we showed the world that all people are welcome here, all faiths, ages, genders, sexual orientations, colors, languages, heights, weights, shoe size......the list goes on and on.
But that's just me.