Q&A: What Obama's Election Means for the Segregated Church Michael O. Emerson on why black and white evangelicals can't believe the other voted as they did. Interview by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstraposted 12/19/2008 08:12AM
Michael O. Emerson is founding director of the Center on Race Religion, and Urban Life at Rice University.
What does an Obama victory mean for potential racial reconciliation in the church? How would his loss have affected reconciliation?
If he had lost, I would be worried. There would have been less hope, among African Americans in particular. But the fact that he won has the opposite effect—there is a hope. It provides a new energy to discuss race reconciliation. We're becoming a more diverse nation. He didn't get the majority of the white vote, so that means nonwhites overwhelmingly voted for him. They will also have power and influence in our churches and everywhere else.
Did white Christian or evangelical voters miss an opportunity by not supporting Obama?
Yes. I'm already hearing that. I've heard some African American leaders questioning white Christian leaders who questioned Obama's depth of faith and his commitment to Christian principles. There's the potential for more divide on that front.
What is more likely to happen: racial reconciliation because of Obama's win, or racial divide because of how Christians split over the vote?
It depends on what Christian leaders do. Will they get together and discuss what it means and how can we move forward? Or will they fire stuff back and forth, questioning one another's Christianity? I'm hopeful that there will be reconciliation, but there are some steps along the way that will decide for us what really happens.
I am almost – but not quite yet – tired of thinking about Barack Obama. For these comments, I am assuming that Michael O. Emerson’s comments as given above are an accurate summary of what went on in the last election with that large segment of American Christendom that we label ‘Evangelical.’
I sometimes wonder if I even live in the same world as described by some. I have never held ill-will toward anyone because of skin color. But it seems that is all some can think about recently with the election of a somewhat-black President. I think that lightly-brown color of Obama is very becoming. Being all ‘pinkish’ as I am seems rather bland in comparison! In the end, that shouldn’t be important.
Perhaps I bring a unique perspective to all this. I don’t dislike Obama because his skin is darker than mine. I have no problem whatsoever that his father was from Africa, while mine was from Indiana.
What I don’t like about Obama is his leftist, statist, totalitarian ideas. I wouldn’t object to his holding those ideas, but when he was made President he gained the power, along with his friends in Congress, to impose those ideas on the whole country.
But why, you ask, do you so dislike those ideas? I find them revolting for two main reasons.
First, if fully implemented those ideas will damage civilization. That is a long story that I have hinted at elsewhere in the blog, but I won’t detail it here.
Secondly, and this is also part of the reason behind that first point, those ideas are brazenly anti-Christian. There is no way to reconcile using the force of the state to make people pay for abortions with the teaching of the Christian faith, just for one very significant example.
A brown man who would properly apply Christian principles to the office of Chief Executive would have been something I would have campaigned for, voted for, and supported with enthusiasm. But Obama is nothing close to that, except for the skin color part.
So if it is true, as the interview above indicates, that ‘African American’ leaders can’t understand why some ‘white’ Christian leaders have questioned Obama’s faith, I have to be very worried that my perhaps naive view that ‘color doesn’t matter’ was stupidly mistaken.
If ‘African American’ Christians really would have had “less hope” had Obama lost the election, I have to worry that perhaps these ‘African American’ Christians are not really as color-blind as I thought Christians should be.
And if ‘African American’ Christian leaders cannot understand why some people might question Obama’s commitment to Christian principles – that is, if they really think that Obama’s principles are Christian – then there is a great ‘racial’ divide where there should not be one.
That divide, if things are as this interview indicates, is between the understanding of these ‘African American’ Christians and the Christian faith itself.
In other words, if you examine Obama’s principles and do not realize that they are distinctly not Christian, then I have to worry about your understanding of the Christian faith.
This indicates that there is a very dangerous split in the Christian community. It is not a simple split along the lines of race – as bad as that would be. Rather, it is a split between Christians willing to recognize that Obama does not hold Christian principles, and those who do recognize that fact.
Truly tragic here is the fact that many on one side of that split are ‘African Americans’ who are apparently more enamored with having a black President than adhering to the Christian faith.