This year, the prestigious Morehouse College was among the fortunate few to be afforded the privilege of having a sitting president deliver the graduation address. Thousands sat reverently in the open arena as the stubborn drizzle soaked their newly acquired garments. The gray skies and persistent precipitation were not enough to damp the spirits of the graduates and celebrants who were transfixed on the one whose presence transformed a routine event into an unforgettable moment.
To the undiscriminating mind, this son of a Kansan should have felt at home surrounded by a host of supporters whose African ancestors’ contribution to their genomes was obvious to the naked eye. However, his upbringing was radically different from most of the men who would soon receive their diplomas. Many of them housed chromosomes from European ancestors whose genes had sometimes been introduced to their gene pool through forbidden love, but more often through violent lust. Nonetheless, few would have known how it felt to refer to White people as “mom,” “nana” or “grandpa.”
Although an “outsider” in his early life, by virtue of his family and geography, the former Barry experienced the birth of his inner Barack while working as a community organizer in Chicago’s South Side. This was to be the place of his second upbringing as his baptism at Trinity United Church of Christ birthed and nurtured him in a social environment that encapsulates the complexity of what it means to be Black in America.
Anyone questioning the authenticity of the extent to which the President identifies with the African half of his ethnic identity would have quickly been silenced by the themes covered in his address. Marcus Mosiah Garvey himself would have been proud of the call to self-empowerment and personal responsibility. Obama was unnerved by the potential backlash from Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck and other right-wing bigots who use every excuse to discount the authenticity of his “whiteness”. As one who appears to have embraced the reality that many from his mother’s race have rejected him, he did not shy away from the use of the first person plural pronoun as he called his Morehouse brothers to make a difference for their people and nation.
Probably the most touching part of the speech was when he singled out a graduate who had taken an extended time to finish because he was providing for a family he had helped to create through an unplanned pregnancy. This young man was placed on the President’s pedestal of pride as an example of one who understands that those who make children are obligated to mold them. Mr. Obama’s personal passion for this topic soon became clear as he replayed reels from his own life when he wished his father had been more involved in his upbringing. In the absence of meaningful memories all he had was deluded dreams. Indeed, it is this lacuna in his soul that fuels his decision to devote concentrated periods of time to his daughters and wife instead of engaging in political backslapping.
Judging from the audience’s vocal response, the President’s emotional call to responsibility was very well received. Maybe this is what emboldened him to venture onto tenuous territory in this African American cultural river. Gearing up for a rhetorical run, he drove home his point with the words: “That's what I'm asking all of you to do: Keep setting an example for what it means to be a man. Be the best husband to your wife, or your boyfriend, or your partner. Be the best father you can be to your children.” All of a sudden, a “no he didn’t” reaction rippled through the stadium. In case you didn’t know, Morehouse is a historically Black all male school.
In the subtlest of ways, President Obama took this opportunity to challenge the moral norms of the very community that has unconditionally embraced him. But he didn't stop there. Persistent in his presidential prerogative, Michelle’s husband further baited the crowd by comparing the “sting of discrimination” experienced by the negroes and coloreds under Jim Crow with a stranger passing judgment on gay people’s “parenting skills or the love that they share.”
The reference to “parenting skills” activated my mind’s “rewind” button as I recalled the earlier part of his speech when he lamented the absence of his father from his life. He was definitely not lacking a “father figure.” After his parent’s divorce, Ann Dunham entered into a second marriage with Indonesian native, Lolo Soetoro, with whom the young Barack lived for four years. Following his relocation to Hawaii, it was his grandfather, Stanley Armour Dunham, who assumed the paternal role in his life. However, even with male caregivers in his life, Obama still missed his father.
With the way in which his own experience has shaped his parenting decisions to this very day, I cannot understand why the President is so obsessed with enforcing a lifestyle with which he himself disagreed just four years ago. Here is a person who openly admits to psychological and emotional dysfunction brought about by his father’s absence, yet he has assumed the role of spokesperson for same-gender “marriages.” By their very definition, these are unions where children are raised in environments that—for the most part—preclude the unrestricted involvement of one biological parent.
When he reflects on the irreversible pain wrought by his noninvolved father, why would he want countless other children to go through this? If his loving heterosexual grandparents could not take the place of his biological parents, what makes him think that two homosexuals can? Why endorse an agenda that guarantees paternal obliteration for countless children? Don’t they deserve to grow old with the same type of dreams about their fathers and mothers that Sasha and Malia currently cherish?
Sadly, it seems as if the same delusive spirit that has possessed so many of our thought leaders has now beguiled the President. These so called “progressives” live their lives “leaning on their own understanding” and show little interest in “trusting the Lord.” They fail to see that in pushing their anti-God agendas, they have effectually violated the first commandment. With the hubris encompassing Protagorean relativism, they pompously declare themselves to be “the measure of all things.” Fortunately, some of these can still hear the Spirit’s gentle call to submit to Godly authority. As you contemplate how you will respond to the Spirit’s call, never forget that “a tree is known by its fruit.”
Keith Augustus Burton is the Director for the Center for Adventist-Muslim Relations at Oakwood University, where he also teaches classes in the School of Religion.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5316