Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Reflections on a historic day

I didn't wake up thinking about the election. Actually, I woke up thinking about UFO's -- a result of watching one of my perennial favorites last night while Shannon attended her women's Bible study -- Close Encounters of the Third Kind. While she studied the Patriarchs I studied Steven Spielberg's fairy tale of latter-day exodus and apotheosis. It didn't hit me until a few minutes after my feet hit the floor that this was the day (I voted on Saturday).

When I walked outside there seemed to be a sense of something big in the air. This will be a historic day no matter the outcome, but especially if the polls are to be believed and America elects Barack Obama our first black President. I wave hello to my neighbor at the end of the street -- Mister Ed everyone calls him. Mr. Ed and his wife are retired postal workers, and they proudly display a Postal Workers for Obama sign in their yard. My next-door neighbors also have an Obama yard sign, but they've already left for their jobs driving a truck for a construction company and driving a school bus for the county. "Salt of the earth" people and wonderful neighbors are these folks. We went through three hurricanes together. Their daughter returned from a tour in Iraq not too long ago.

Most of my neighbors are African-American and many are old enough to remember when discrimination on account of the color of one's skin was enshrined in the very laws and fabric of this nation. I wonder what they're thinking and feeling today. If Sen. Obama becomes our next President, what a powerful testament to the world of how far we've come in actually living up to our founding ideals. What a powerful statement to a generation of young, black males that you don't have to be a gangster, entertainer or athlete to be somebody. Not only that, the most powerful, respected African-American in the world is by all acounts a model husband and father. Talk about a paradigm shift! A possibility worth celebrating. This is a great day to be an American.

Yet. I can't unreservedly celebrate the possibilities of this Election Day 2008, because there's a tragic irony at the heart of it. Barack Obama, whether he wants to be or not, is a powerful symbol of how far we've come from the evil days when a class of human beings were considered non-persons, unworthy of protection by our laws and Constitution. But Barack Obama, despite all the rhetoric and smoke screens, is on the same side as those who believe unborn children are non-persons unworthy of protection by our laws and Constitution. He's said this issue is "above my pay grade" and has indicated a desire to reduce the number of abortions, but he's promised to sign the Freedom of Choice Act which would erase decades of incremental pro-life progress, supports repealing the Hyde Amendment which would open the door to federal funding of abortion (here and overseas), and believes Roe v. Wade is defensible. I'm sorry, if you want to reduce the incidence of something you don't subsidize it and remove restrictions on it. Bottom line -- he thinks "choice" or a "right to privacy" trumps the fundamental right to life of unborn children in all cases. I say all because he's never seen his way clear to vote for any measure that would indicate he thinks otherwise.

I know there are other sanctity of life issues besides abortion. "The least of these" includes the homeless, the elderly, the disabled, the outcast, but it certainly includes the voiceless unborn child. It doesn't have to be an either/or issue. I've read the "pro-life/pro-Obama" arguments and heard a lot of false equivalence proposed i.e. "this issue trumps this issue, etc." But it's clear to me that on this defining human rights/social justice issue of our time, Barack Obama is AWOL. For that reason, my rejoicing at his election (should it occur) will be mixed with mourning.

This struggle won't ultimately be won or lost in this election. Could a President Obama have a change of heart? Should we pray that happens? Yes and yes! This is going to be a struggle for the long haul. Remember Wilberforce? It may be that standing up for life in our culture is about to get a lot harder. Russell Moore issues a stirring challenge:

The question for us, then, of whether we are truly pro-life or not, has very little to do with how many signs are in our yards or what bumper stickers we put on our cars. Indeed, it may be the case that after this election the abortion debate will be over in this country politically.

But even if that's the case, it's not over. Our churches are to follow in the walk of faith, which means that--like Joseph walking away from stability and comfort--our churches must be different, they must be counter-cultural, the kind of place where the teenage mother is welcomed and loved, where abandoned children are received, and where a culture that is in love with death can come and hear a message saying that life is better than death because there is a man, an ex-corpse, a former-fetus, who is standing as the ruler over all the nations and the universe. And he is not dead anymore.

What we must have is a church in which the gospel we give is the kind of gospel that leads people out of death and despair and toward the kind of life that is found in confessing a name--a name that was first spoken by human lips by a day-laborer in Nazareth, "Jesus is Lord."

If we follow this kind of pure and undefiled religion, it doesn't mean we will be shrill. It doesn't mean we will be culture-warriors. It doesn't mean we'll be belligerent. It will mean that we will have churches that are so strikingly different, that maybe in ten or fifteen years the most odd and counter-cultural thing a lost person may hear in your church is not, "Amen," but is instead the sounds of babies crying in the nursery.

And hearing the oddness of that sound, when they look around at the place in which all of the Lord Jesus' brothers and sisters are welcomed, protected, and loved, the place in which the lies of a murderous and appetite-driven dragon are denied, the lost person might say, "What is the sound of all these cries?" And maybe we'll be able to say with our forefather Joseph, "that's the sound of life. That's the sound of hope. That's the sound of change."


Tara said...

I really enjoyed reading your reflections...so much of the human fabric woven through it.

The shared paragraphs at the end are a very worthy read. Thanks for sharing.

Kimberly said...

Well said. I may link to this later on if that's OK....you've said what I don't have the energy to write!

Stephen Ley said...

Thanks, Tara. I'm glad you found my conflicted thoughts on this day worth reading.

And thanks also, Kimberly. Feel free to link to this.

Grace and peace to you both!

jessica said...

i usually loathe entering any sort of abortion discussion, but your post makes the pro-choice president-elect sound pro-abortion, which he is not.

he is interested in getting to the root causes of abortion, and not just making it illegal. he wants to create an approach to politics that supports women in crisis so that they CAN choose life.

during the last debate he said, "We should try to prevent unintended pregnancies by providing appropriate education to our youth, communicating that sexuality is sacred and that they should not be engaged in cavalier activity, and providing options for adoption, and helping single mothers if they want to choose to keep the baby. Those are all things that we put in the Democratic platform for the first time this year, and I think that's where we can find some common ground, because nobody's pro-abortion. I think it's always a tragic situation."

my opinion is...if this is a tough issue for folks, they should 1) pray for the president and his administration, which you suggested and 2) take it upon themselves to DO SOMETHING on their own accord if the they feel the government isn't. what a crazy wonderful world it would be if all of the people who are anti-abortion would sign up to be adoptive parents...or, if that's too extreme...help fight for an easier and more affordable adoption process.

Anonymous said...

Careful you don't fall off of the fence you are riding.There are black and white issues and there is right and wrong.Pick a side.

Stephen Ley said...

Jessica, when I first started focusing on the campaign I heard people say that Sen. Obama was the most extreme pro-choice candidate ever to run for President. I didn't believe it until I looked into his record and the positions he took during the campaign. It's undeniable. Believe me, I was looking for any evidence that he was a moderate on this issue.

I'm all for attacking root causes and making it easier for women in crisis to choose life. We also need to encourage male responsibiity and hold up models of fatherhood (one of the reasons the work you're doing is so vital). But that doesn't foreclose working to pass laws that further the cause of justice in our society, or working to prevent the erasing of all the progress that's been made.

I'm encouraged that the things he mentioned in the last debate were put in the Democratic platform for the first time, but I'd note that pro-life folks have been at the forefront of all those things for a long time now. It used to be said that pro-lifers only cared about the baby and not the mother. That can't be said anymore.

I'm with you on suggestions #1 & #2. Thinking and writing about this issue has provoked some soul-searching of my own to see how my own actions can more reflect a consistent ethic of life.

Responding to anonymous...having conflicting emotions about something isn't the same as riding the fence. I've made it clear where I stand on the issue that matters most to me.

Warmly in Christ.

jenny said...

I came to this post through Kimber and have to echo the sentiments "well said." I appreciated Jessica's comment and your interactions with what she is saying as well. We must learn to talk with people...not at them.