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Commentary: Beyond a black and white election

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

A UMNS Commentary
By the Rev. Adam Hamilton*

Nov. 6, 2008

Watching Barack Obama’s victory speech and reflecting upon the significance of his election as the next president of the United States left me profoundly moved.

In his gracious concession speech, even Sen. John McCain acknowledged that this was an historic moment, describing Obama’s election as a "great thing" for the nation. Newspapers sold out across the country as people snapped up tangible reminders that they were present for this event.

The election was the fulfillment of a dream and the beginning of a new chapter in America. This was clearly true when it came to the issue of race. It was seen in the tears flowing down the faces of African Americans at 10:01 p.m. on election night as the race was called in Obama's favor. And it was felt in the hearts of all Americans, black and white, who have longed for an end to the racial divide in our country.

Beyond the question of race, Obama’s election marks the beginning of a new chapter in America’s international relations. After years of declining international public opinion toward the United States, this change in office symbolizes what many believe will be a significant change in how America is viewed by other nations—both our friends and our foes. On the continent of Africa where China is gaining increasing influence, Barack Obama’s election was hailed with resounding enthusiasm. In Asia, in Muslim countries and throughout Europe, the president-elect is seen as a new kind of American leader—one who inspires hope while leading with confidence and humility on the world stage. One senses that there is a new day dawning and here, too, race was a positive factor. Further, his election itself reminds those in other nations of the promise and hope that America represents.

Yet in the final analysis, Obama’s election was about far more than race and international affairs. Most who voted for him saw in him an ineffable quality of leadership that is essential to the task of leading. Great national leaders articulate a country’s highest ideals in such a way as to inspire others to sacrifice in order to live into these ideals. Obama’s election signals his ability to do just that. As but one example, 52 percent of people making more than $200,000 per year voted for him, despite the fact that Obama’s plan calls for an increase in taxes for most of them.

In the midst of times of crisis, the gift of leadership becomes even more important. A major theme of both the Obama and McCain campaigns was "change." Most Americans know that what most needs to change is us—"we the people" need to change. Obama was willing to articulate that in his campaign. His election is in part a sign that many voters believe he has the capacity to lead us to change.

“Obama’s election represents the desire of millions of voters for a president who can see the gray in a world that is often painted in black and white terms. He is comfortable dealing with paradox and complexity.”
Finally, Obama’s election represents the desire of millions of voters for a president who can see the gray in a world that is often painted in black and white terms. He is comfortable dealing with paradox and complexity. He has the ability to pursue a conjunctive approach to faith and politics—one that brings together concerns of both the left and the right into a powerful third way. This is something familiar to United Methodists. Methodists have historically had the ability to hold together the concerns of both liberals and conservatives, to preach both the evangelical and social gospels, and to attempt to understand and acknowledge the important positions deeply held by people on opposite sides of the theological or political divide, bringing them together in what some might call a "radical center."

A few examples: Obama articulates a personal Christian faith and a desire to follow Jesus Christ, and he holds this together with a progressive concern for social justice and individual rights that he sees as rooted in his faith. He supports the right of a woman to choose, and he is the first Democratic candidate for president to write into the Democratic platform a commitment to reduce the number of abortions in America. He believes that marriage is defined as the union of a man and woman, and he supports the rights of states to grant civil unions. He believes that government has an important role to play in addressing the welfare of the populace and, to the chagrin of some in his party, he supports faith-based initiatives as important to addressing the welfare of our people.

The challenges facing our country are great. Barack Obama is not the answer to all of these challenges. But to the degree that he exercises his leadership potential well, he will bring Americans together around a common vision; he will draw upon divergent perspectives in developing a plan to address our challenges; and he will inspire and lead us to make the sacrifices and changes necessary to navigate through our present crises in pursuit of a brighter future.

*Hamilton is the author of Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White: Thoughts on Religion, Morality and Politics, and is senior pastor of the 15,000-member United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan.

News media contact: Marta Aldrich, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

Audio: The Rev. Adam Hamilton

“I think this signals a real change for how other nations will see us…”

“I thought John McCain’s concession speech was remarkable…”

“He articulates a personal Christian faith and a desire to follow Jesus Christ…”

“what he offered was neither completely what you would find on the left, or on the right…”

“The future of The United Methodist Church is going to look like that radical center…”

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