Because of the theme of this blog and the topic of our conversation over the past few days, I feel obligated to post something here about “that speech.” But, man, this is one of those times when I really feel there’s nothing left to say—except maybe this: Barack Obama’s Philadelphia address from this morning, “A More Perfect Union,” is probably one of the most important American speeches of the last 40 years. In fact, at the risk of sounding too high on the Kool-Aid, I believe it’s the 21st century continuation of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream.”
I wasn’t able to watch the speech until this evening, but I read the text and viewed video excerpts at my work desk this morning. Just reading it gave me chills.
What Obama was able to say about race, religion, and the hope for national reconciliation was inspiring. It was eloquent, honest, and deep. It left me feeling both hopeful and ambivalent. Hopeful because he was able to articulate in 37 minutes much of what I’ve been trying to express on this blog and in all the talks I’ve delivered at churches, colleges, and conferences over the last year. In many ways, he told the whole American story in that speech, in all its complexity, unpleasantness, and messy contradictions. Yet, if we’re honest, we can also see God’s redemptive hand at work through the mess. As Obama said, “in no other country on Earth is my story even possible.”
My ambivalence comes from the cynical side of me that thinks, That speech is too important to be wasted on this presidential campaign. When I read comments about the speech on blogs and message boards and listened to some of the political pundits afterward, I realized that for some folks, nothing Obama says will be taken seriously, simply because he’s not Hillary or McCain, or because he’s too liberal, or because he chose to attend a church like Trinity United Church of Christ and remain friends with a pastor like Jeremiah Wright for 20 years.
Sadly, for many the speech was just another part of Obama’s campaign strategy—and certainly it was a speech designed to repair the swelling damage done by the Jeremiah Wright sermon snippets and save Obama’s candidacy—but it was really so much more than that. It was a message that needed to be delivered to our nation—and the American church—for such a time as this.
As Obama said, there are racial issues in this nation that we’ve never worked through. And I’m convinced we will be condemned to keep repeating our fear and anger and distrust over and over again unless we dive deep and apply justice and grace to our divided nation’s root issues of racism, resentment, and unforgiveness.
Whether Obama wins the presidency or not, I believe the message he shared this morning was as important as anything a president or national leader has delivered to the American people. And really, only a person of his unique background and experience could have offered that message in such a way. My prayer is that God will help us, as a nation, to press pause on the politics long enough to honestly listen to Obama’s words and contemplate their implications for our lives.