“Barack Obama is a strong, Christian family man”

So said Gov. Ted Strickland of Ohio, at a rally in the southern part of this state (scroll down to the bottom of this Washington Post blog posting).

"Barack Obama is a strong, Christian family man."

My question: How is Obama's faith relevant to his candidacy for the presidency?

My next question: Isn't this identity politics at its worst?

The answer to the second question helps us understand the first.  This is all about identity politics.  Barack Obama – an intellectual, Harvard-educated black man – has a difficult time relating to Joe Six Pack, who is white, and has probably never been to Cambridge, MA.  Part of the political game is about identifying with voters.  Obama needs to relate.

Bowing to political expediency, then, Obama needs to be explicit about his faith, because for many voters faith might be the only part of his persona that appeals to them.  And for many voters personal appeal is just as or more important than policy proposals.  Sad.  But Christian faith makes a personal connection to many voters.  Personal connection yields votes in November.  Votes in November yields power on Innaugeration Day.  Christian faith – in part, anyway – leads to political power.  What would Jesus say about that?

[I'm not arguing that Obama's faith is a political creation.  By all accounts, Barack Obama is a deeply committed man of faith.  But politics has called for him – and his surrogates – to be explicit about his faith on the campaign trail and but faith to work for political ends.]

But this creates another problem.  His "Christian family man" approach to campaigning in Ohio's appalachian region (see also his "Committed Chrisitan" flyer from the Kentucky primary) reinforces – rather than challenges – the notion that
A) we live in a Christian nation (a nation of Christians is not a "Christian nation");
B) we need Christian politicians to lead this Christian nation. 
This faith-based identity politics is a direct affront to our Constitution, creating a de-facto unConstitutional faith-based requirement for the presidency.

And it is a direct affront to Jews, Muslims, and other non-Christians in our country.  The more our candidates perpetuate – rather than challenge, rather than change (to use Obama's word) – the faith-based mypoia of national identity, the harder we make it for religious minorities – or for Christians who do not want to play the faith-based game of identity politics – to claim their rightful place in the American democracy.

Oh, and don't get me started about the ways in which Christian faith gets distorted by politics.  In fact, I fear more for the church than the state when the two get intertwined, but I don't think that either is served the injection of religion into politics.  I've said that before, in many different ways, in my posts on Church & State issues.

Published by Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. Veteran. Jedi. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.

5 thoughts on ““Barack Obama is a strong, Christian family man”

  1. I think Ted Strickland was trying to stamp out the efforts by some to label Obama as a closet Muslim. Familiarization with Islam does not a Muslim make. What I find more disturbing is Obama’s relationship with the left-wing version of Timothy McVeigh or Eric Rudolph.

  2. I think Sam’s right about Strickland’s motives, although getting people to relate to Obama through religion is probably another motive.
    I also think, though, that very few people understand politics. Really understand politics. And so for Obama to get up last Tuesday and really talk numbers and politics, probably confused a lot of people. But to remind them that he is governed by a religious and moral code that they’re familiar with will help them understand why he makes the decisions he does–even if they don’t understand those decisions.
    While what I said is pretty much exactly what you said, I don’t think it’s as offensive. I’d love it if church and state were separate, and I’d love it if any African American/woman/Jew/Muslim could become President, regardless of their not-old-white-Christian-man status. I just don’t think we’re quite there yet. But a lesson is repeated until learned. It’s OK to elect a Catholic. Now it’s OK to elect an African American. Next a woman? Who knows where we’ll go from there?
    But for right now we need to keep learning that lesson. Barack Obama is not scary! He will govern this country with all the grace and wisdom he’s got, just like any other person would.

  3. I agree with the other posters. I also imagine it has something to do with the Ayers nonsense. “Christian family man” sounds a lot better than the “terrorist sympathizer” tag the right has been trying to pin to Obama.

  4. All true, friends, but . . . no Muslim or Jew or Athiest could ever be introduced as “a strong, Jewish family man” or “a strong, Muslim family woman,” or “a strong, Athiest family man.” Drawing attention to one’s religion – if it is not Christianity – is largely a political liability. Obama’s political use of his religious faith only reinforces this crap . . .

  5. But Sam, this Ayers guy has been in the public eye for years, working with liberals and (gasp!) conservatives alike to reform Chicago’s public schools. If he’s such a terrorist, perhaps the Bush administration should put him behind bars. And if Bush isn’t pursuing this “domestic terrorist,” is Bush “soft on terror”?
    Ayers has been working with the Annenburg Foundation and the University of Illinois at Chicago for years – are these terrorist organizations? If some want to say that Obama has been “palling around” with a domestic terrorist, then they’d also have to include many conservatives – including some McCain donors – as pals with terrorists.
    To hear how silly the whole “palling around” with a domestic terrorist claim is, listen to this piece from NPR, including a quote from an Illinois Republican about just how “silly,” “rediculous,” and “nonsensical” this whole Ayers business is (quote from the Republican is near the end of the report).

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