Barack Obama: Doing the Lord’s Work

In Mein Kampf, Adolph Hitler writes, “I am convinced that I am acting as the agent of our Creator.” He also writes, “I am doing the Lord’s work.” He writes this, as well: “I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.” Persons of faith wishing to distance themselves from Hitler’s deeds insist he was an atheist. It doesn’t seem so reading the pages of Mein Kampf. It seems he saw himself as chosen by God to lead Germany back to a glorious (imagined) past. History indicates that it’s a lot scarier for a man to tell the world he’s on a mission from God than it is for a man to admit he doesn’t believe in one. Indeed, the man who doesn’t believe in supernatural things isn’t scary at all. At least not for that reason.

This appealing to God—to being God’s agent, to aligning one’s actions with God’s will, to doing God’s work—is what is so troubling about the Obama campaign’s Kentucky flier (see below). Obama is standing at a pulpit with a giant lit cross in the background. “Faith. Hope. Change,” reads the title. In it, it reads, “My faith teaches me that I can sit in church and pray all I want,” says Obama. “But I won’t be fulfilling God’s will unless I go out and do the Lord’s work.” In a private letter to God left at Jerusalem’s Western Wall in the summer of 2008, Obama writes, “Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.” (The controversy over his words has not been about his desire for God to make him an instrument of his will, but the fact that a newspaper published what he wrote, which is supposed to be just between Obama and God. In other words, he wasn’t just pandering.)

In the campaign literature below, “Barack Obama: Answering the Call,” echoing the story of Jesus as a boy, Obama writes that he “knew the Scriptures” but that he was “removed and detached” from the Lord. Obama was challenged to attend church by the community he was working in and, there, “learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I place my trust in Him.” He writes, “I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.” The title of this section is “Called to Christ.” In the section titled “Called to Bring Change” Obama compares himself to Moses, who at first was unsure of himself, but “[t]he Lord said, ‘I will be with you…. I’ll show you what to do.’” In the section “Called to Serve” Obama is said to be “[g]uided by his Christian faith” and is, therefore, trustworthy. And, in the section “Committed Christian,” Obama is quoted as saying “I believe in the power of prayer,” that found in this power is “the will” to act.

Readers of the blog will recall that Bush’s establishment of a Faith-Based Initiative by executive order in January 2001 was deeply disturbing to liberals and progressives. Marvin Olasky, author of the 1994 book The Tragedy of American Compassion, who inspired Bush’s “compassionate conservative” theme, was a chief architect of the program. John DiIulio, Jr., a political scientist known for coining (or at least popularizing) the term “super predator” that spread popular fear of black youth, was its first director. Now we learn that Obama is intent on keeping the program. On July 1, 2008, he said, “I’ll establish a new Council for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The new name will reflect a new commitment. This Council will not just be another name on the White House organization chart—it will be a critical part of my administration.” [Note (1.28.2009): Obama has tapped DiIulio to adapt the initiative under his presidency. He appointed pastor Joshua DuBois to head the new program.]

In a campaign stop in Lebanon, New Hampshire, on January 7, 2008, Obama told his audience that on election eve “a light will shine through that window, a beam of light will come down upon you, you will experience an epiphany … and you will suddenly realize that you must go to the polls and vote for Obama.” At his nomination victory speech in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 3, 2008, he told the throng that “generations from now, we will be able to look back and tell our children that this was the moment when … the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal; this was the moment when we … secured our nation and restored our image … when we came together to remake this great nation….”

Obama delivering his victory speech, St, Paul, Minnesota

During George W. Bush’s administration, there was concern about the degree of religiosity expressed not just by those around him but, most troubling, by the president himself. (I wrote about this in 2003 in a piece titled “Faith Matters: George Bush and Providence” in The Public Eye Magazine. I was asked to speak about it at the United Nations University in Amman, Jordan in November 2006: “Journey to Jordan.” I adapted this speech for my 2007 blog entry “Christian Neo-Fundamentalism and US Foreign Policy.”) Bush believed he was chosen by God to lead the Christian world against the Axis of Evil. The press made a big deal of this. Where are the questions from the press about Obama fulfilling God’s will by doing God’s work? Where is the popular concern that Obama prays to be the instrument of God’s will? Why are liberals and progressives so apathetic about the question of church-state separation when it comes to a candidate for the Democratic Party? The hypocrisy is astounding.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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