Spectrum Blog caucus: Obama vs. Paul (two pastors face-off)

Thus far, two pastors have sent in posts for our Spectrum Blog Caucus. I appreciate both of them for being willing to speak up for their convictions. Most pastors have enough "political" and personality issues within their local church to worry about without overtly mixing politics with their religion.

But faux quietude often creates, at least in Adventism, a culture in which we separate our personal beliefs from our public hopes. We also lose the civility and broadmindedness that comes from listening to others reason from their experience. By coming together to talk about what matters to us as believers, as peculiar Adventists and as members of a certain geographical community, we can get past the world's left/right acrimony and move toward something like the common good and that kingdom of God.

From Pastor Bill Cork, Houston, Texas:

In the aftermath of the American Revolution, our founding fathers sought to enshrine the lessons they learned in their recent past, and the hopes they shared for their children’s futures, in a Constitution. Having rebelled against tyranny, they wanted to ensure that tyranny would not rise in this nation. The Constitution they crafted was a compromise, to be sure--some of its weaknesses were soon corrected with the adoption of the Bill of Rights. The Constitution assumed the existence of slavery, as many of the writers profited from that system, but the insights they there sketched regarding political principles necessary to preserve freedom provided the basis for the ultimate elimination of the slave system in the 19th century and for the spread of civil rights in the 20th. While William Lloyd Garrison had deemed the Constitution a “covenant with hell” for not condemning Southern slavery, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other lovers of liberty had a broader vision and a deeper intuition, and found in the Constitution all they needed to let freedom ring more clearly.

The Constitution has been much battered over the decades, however, by some styling themselves to be patriots, who are in fact simply cowards and opportunists. Times of crises lead them to advocate extreme measures; they convince many that it is necessary to limit freedom for some to preserve it for others. In the aftermath of such crises we invariably share a collective shame at our gullibility, and at the acts that were done in the name of defending liberty. Few, however, are the courageous men who will stridently remind us of our founding principles when our passions are roused against real or imagined enemies. Few are the men who will stand on principle instead of counting real or imagined votes.

As I look at the candidates today of both parties, I see only one man who has had the courage to consistently and firmly stand for the principles of the U.S. Constitution and articulate those principles in his stump speeches and in debates. I see only one man affirming the plain reading of the Constitution on subjects such as whether the President can go to war without a declaration of Congress, whether we should torture, and whether separation of church and state is a good thing.

I believe our freedom can only be preserved by being constantly reminded of the jots and tittles of the Constitution. That’s why I’m supporting Congressman Ron Paul of Texas.

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From Pastor Ryan Bell, Hollywood, California

On the eve the Iowa caucuses – the first measuring stick in the race for the Presidency of the United States – I thought I would put down a few words about why I have decided to support Barack Obama for President.

For months I had been on the fence. And for a change, the democratic field offered some real possibilities. But there were several early signals that I was destined to be an Obama man. First, I was watching the Democratic Convention in 2004 when he gave that remarkable speech that launched him on a national stage. I had goosebumps. Second, I read his book The Audacity of Hope when it came out. Third, shortly after he announced his candidacy I logged onto his website and made a donation…in exchange for a bumper sticker, of course. But still, my first campaign donation…EVER. Since that time I have donated twice. Certainly not enough to help him win election, but significant for me. But none of this goes to the “why” question.

For me, the reasons I support Obama are almost all intangibles. I think he stands the greatest chance of moving America beyond entrenched divisions. He has backed this up by taking a principled stand again campaign financing from lobbyists. Indeed, the conservative Andrew Sullivan said this in the December 2007 issue of The Atlantic Monthly (I highly recommend you read the whole article).

Obama’s candidacy in this sense is a potentially transformational one. Unlike any of the other candidates, he could take America – finally – past the debilitating, self-perpetuating family quarrel of the Baby Boom generation that has long engulfed all of us.

Obama holds his faith in public life in ways that are not antagonistic and divisive. Neither does he deny the role of faith in his personal life in forming his view of the world and his place in it. He does not resort to attacking the views of his opponents but genuinely puts forth his own views.

I have repeatedly said that in our post-9/11 world we lack leaders with imagination. Where are the leaders with the imagination of Martin Luther King, Jr or Mohandas Ghandi? Is our only imagination about foreign policy an imagination of violence and coercion? Is our only imagination about economics an imagination of scarcity and competition and unrestrained market forces? Where are the creative leaders that can set our polis on a different course. I think Barack Hussein Obama could be this imaginative, creative leader!

Of course, a candidates philosophical views and positions on key policy questions are at the heart of why anyone votes for a public official. Everything from his plan for health insurance for all Americans, his vision for education and his consistent stand against the Iraq war are part of why I’m supporting Barack Obama. But the intangibles – his presence, his person – make the difference, for me, between him and his Democratic colleagues. I'm naturally drawn to him as a community organizer working for grassroots change in neighborhoods. Hopefully, if elected, he will not forget those days when other community organizers come knocking on his door.

No candidate for president has ever inspired me to donate money and I’ve done that for the first time. I’ve taken one more step last week: I’m the Precinct Captain for my precinct. Here’s to a new future for our country. I invite you to join me in supporting Barack Obama for President.

Finally, I want to say that I participate in the political process of my country, not because I think my national government (or the government of any nation) holds to keys to humanity's telos. I believe the church is the political and social body that is the locus of God's action and God's future. Neither is my participation in my nation's political process to be construed as an extension of my role as pastor of my church. I also reject the arbitrary division of public and private, so this is a difficult dance for me. At its best, I hope my political actions give witness to the greater reality I believe is embodied in Jesus Christ and the community called together in His name by His Spirit. Obama is not Jesus, nor is the USA the hope of humanity. But it is the place I live and therefore I participate on that basis.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/234