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Barack and the Beatitudes
Some years ago, when I was living and working in Central Florida, my family and I attended a Sunday service at a Congregational church in Winter Park. In his sermon that morning, the minister envisioned Jesus’ long-prophesied return to our midst. In the preacher’s telling, the Prince of Peace so alarms some of the populace with his public denunciations of rampant materialism and his insistence on ideals such as humility, forgiveness, charity and non-violence that he is soon murdered all over again.
The sermon echoes back to me as Barack Obama finishes his second and final term as President of the United States. And no, I do not believe that Obama was the Second Coming or any kind of messiah. He’s just a bright, reasonable man with a strong moral compass and a pretty good jump shot, an alternately buoyant and contemplative fellow who tried to do a lot of the right things and got treated with hostility by too many of his fellow Americans, including some who refused to believe he was in fact an American.
Some of those same doubters and haters continue to insist President Obama adheres to the Muslim faith which, if it were actually true, is perfectly permissible under our beloved Constitution. But the ironic thing about this notion is that, regardless of his religion or lack thereof, it’s difficult to recall a President, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter, who has behaved more like a Christian while in office.
Drone strikes and terrorist-hunting notwithstanding, much of Obama’s POTUS playbook has been straight out of the New Testament, especially ideas about compassion, forgiveness, mercy and the like that Jesus articulated in the Sermon on the Mount.
Obama made a vigorous effort to help the sick and the poor with the Affordable Care Act. He took a stand against state-sanctioned torture — the sort of horrors Jesus endured — and attempted to shut down our infamous prison in Guantanamo, Cuba. He didn’t have us invade any new countries and tried to get our soldiers out of countries his predecessor had. He advocated for a saner, reasonable approach to gun control. He encouraged us to be better, more conservative stewards of the miraculous planet we share symbiotically with countless other species. He asked us to be more inclusive, to at least respect, if not love, our fellow citizens of different race, national origin, religion, gender and sexual orientation.
All this plus helping to retrieve our economy from the cusp of catastrophe, demonstrating exemplary parenthood and lifting his voice at a funeral to sing “Amazing Grace,” a Protestant standard for which he needed no hymn book or prompter.
Yet none of it seemed to matter much to a sizable portion of our population, including quite a number who identify themselves as devoted followers of Jesus. If anything, it inflamed them. And thus we now have, slouching toward Washington, a rough beast, a boastful, conspicuously acquisitive, vindictive President-elect whose philosophy of life and lucre is more in sync with that of the late novelist and philosopher Ayn Rand, who was hostile to religion of any and all stripes and considered the Christian ideal of living for others to be the height of stupidity.
It’s almost enough to make me doubt the life lessons I learned in Sunday school. Almost.
Yes, I see posts on Facebook almost every day by people whose comments and shares about scripture, salvation and Second Amendment rights would leave a reader to believe that “Blessed are the semi-automatic weapon owners” is one of the Beatitudes. But I also see as many or more posts and shares from folks – some Christian, some Jewish, some Muslim, some nonbelievers – who firmly believe that Barack Obama is a man of conscience and good intentions whose Presidential actions, even though they haven’t all worked out as he or we had hoped, warrant our gratitude, admiration and respect, not more slurs and false witnessing.
To put it biblically, he’s been a good and faithful public servant. And we have been blessed.
Image: Screenshot of President Obama’s mic drop at the White House Correspondence Dinner via WhiteHouse.gov.