Obama the Convert: Why Indian Evangelicals Could Rejoice At Obama’s Victory

Obama the ConvertBarack Obama’s victory is of historical significance to Afro-Americans. But it could be of historical significance to Indian evangelical Christians as well.


Dear President Elect Barack Obama,  

Congratulations on your well-deserving victory.  As thousands of black preachers always began, we too want to begin our congratulatory note with “All Glory and Honor to God”.  

Your victory is of historic significance. It is of historic significance to Afro-Americans. You know it. The world knows it. Even your opponent John McCain stated this in his speech. We, the Indian Evangelical Christians, are happy for that.  

But we are more than happy for a different reason. Your victory is of historic significance to us in a different way. You may not know it. The world may not take note of it. Your opponent has not stated it. That is the reason, despite no mandate to speak on the behalf of Indian evangelical Christians, I ventured to speak so. For us to see a convert, that too a converted Christian, as the President of the most powerful nation is of no small significance.  

Before I go further, let me tell you that most of us differ with you on many vital issues. For example, we differ with you on the issue of abortion and gay rights. Now, you may think that we are more like the White American Powerful Evangelical Christians because we take this stand. If you take only our position on these issues, that maybe right. But socially and politically that is wrong. So, it maybe better to compare  us with Black African Evangelical Christians. We not only agree with them on these vital issues, we have more similarity with them socially and politically.  Hope you would give us hearing now.  

Now let me repeat- your victory is of great significance to us as you are a convert. We liked your speech "A Politics of Conscience" at Hartford, Connecticut where you explained about your conversion. We liked the entire speech. We would like to highlight three things we loved most in the speech- we loved the context of your conversion, we loved the reasons for your conversion and we loved the title of your speech.  

Context of President Elect Obama’s Conversion:

You said and I quote in length- It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma. In a sense, what brought me to Chicago in the first place was a hunger for some sort of meaning in my life. I wanted to be part of something larger. I'd been inspired by the civil rights movement – by all the clear-eyed, straight-backed, courageous young people who'd boarded buses and traveled down South to march and sit at lunch counters, and lay down their lives in some cases for freedom.

I was too young to be involved in that movement, but I felt I could play a small part in the continuing battle for justice by helping rebuild some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.  So it's 1985, and I'm in Chicago, and I'm working with these churches, and with lots of laypeople who are much older than I am. And I found that I recognized in these folks a part of myself. I learned that everyone's got a sacred story when you take the time to listen. And I think they recognized a part of themselves in me too. They saw that I knew the Scriptures and that many of the values I held and that propelled me in my work were values they shared. But I think they also sensed that a part of me remained removed and detached – that I was an observer in their midst.  

And slowly, I came to realize that something was missing as well – that without an anchor for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.  And it's around this time that some pastors I was working with came up to me and asked if I was a member of a church. "If you're organizing churches," they said, "it might be helpful if you went to church once in a while."

And I thought, "Well, I guess that makes sense."  So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago.” 

We see nothing wrong in this context. It is the context of service. In fact, most of us have a similar context for conversion. We may first see their fruits, their actions before we hear their words and convert. But we are told by many Indian State Governments, many Indian politicians and even many who are known as moderates in India that this context is unethical and wrong. They call it allurement. They made laws against it.  But now we can saw, even the most powerful man on earth also converted in a similar context. Will you also please tell them this? 

Then we like the content of your conversion:

You said, “And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope." And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I 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 placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.  It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard Go

d's spirit beckoning me.” 

Yes, President Elect Obama. We can echo your words. We can echo your words verbatim. We can say along with you, “And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.” But Mr. President Elect, we are told here that faith should be based only on “spiritual reasons” in a narrowly defined way. If we were to see faith as you beautifully expressed, “an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life,” then that for many in India is no faith at all.  

Further, if we were to tell that “The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me” we maybe sued.  We are told that we should have the thorough knowledge about our former religion and our current religion before we convert. If we were to hear only the beckoning of God as you heard or felt, our conversion experience is considered as invalid.

It is not just that these experiences are considered as invalid, they are considered as one of the worst criminal offences. Sadhvi’s who make bombs may get more supporters than Christians who have this experience. Many among us have been brutally killed, a few have been raped, numerous houses have been burnt down, and Churches have been demolished. All of these because many of us, the Indian evangelical Christians, share the same experience you had.

In a few months, when you swear in as the President of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy, can you kindly tell the leaders of the world’s largest democracy that there is nothing undemocratic and criminal in conversion experiences like yours? 

Last but not least you titled your speech as A Politics of Conscience. There maybe many reasons why you titled it so including taking care of the orphans and poor. Whatever maybe the reasons, we think it is apt. But if this is politics of conscience, then what should we call politics that deny and criminalize experience like yours and attack orphanages and poor? Can we call that politics without conscience? 

Your predecessor, the current President George W Bush, called Islamic terrorists as enemies without face.  For whatsoever reason, our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told him that all Indians love him. But in our case, we know the face of those who attack us, we know their names too. So you should not call the same name for these Hindu terrorists. Probably you should call them ‘enemies without conscience’. That would be more apt. I do not know how many of the Indians would love you after that. But I can tell you that many like me will agree with you. We anyway love you.  

Once again, whether you chose to speak or not, your victory is of historical significance to us because of your conversion experience.  At least now we can say: “look at President Obama”.  

May Jesus Christ, give you wisdom to rule over the most powerful nation.  

Let me end with the words of your hero and my hero- Martin Luther King: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends–Martin Luther King, Jr”.  

God Bless You and Your Nation. 

In Christ 

An Indian Evangelical Christian 

Jerry Thomas 

 

 

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13 Responses

  1. What about the news that he loves HANUMAN idol and wears it always?If that is true,What is there to celebrate his victory as Indian Evangelicals?

  2. Hanuman, abortion, gay issue are all against the evangelical faith. Maybe Jerry should add that. Also, it is possible that he is a apostate even from Christian faith.

    But I think the thrust of this article is on the ‘right of conversion’ and not on the endrosement of all the aspects of his faith.

    The premise of the article could be stated as:

    1. Obama converted in a particular context with a particular experience

    2. Many Indian Christians too have that context with similar experience.

    3. But Indian Christians are criminalized for that context and experience.

    If Jerry can add a note at the end of his article that he does not endorse all aspects of Obama’s faith, but is more looking from the angle of ‘right to conversion’, the argument will still hold water and we can avoid criticisms from likes of Sam.

    Regards

    Varghese

  3. Sam, you seems to be very quick in dismissing the faith of Obama. That is a lucky charm. It is no doubt a supersition but not an idol.

    Let me prove this point:http://www.time.com/time/politics/whitehouse/photos/0,27424,1811278,00.html

    Obama’s Lukcy Charm: Amongst the things that Barack Obama carries for good luck are a bracelet belonging to a soldier deployed in Iraq, a gambler’s lucky chit, a tiny monkey god and a tiny Madonna and child.

    If Obama were a worshipper of Hanuman, would he equate it with madonna and child???

    Hindus who wants some western approval for their faith will make Obama a Hanuman worshipper.

    Now, Obama is not the only one who carries Lucky Charm read the below:

    John McCain’s Lucky Charm:

    In addition to a lucky penny, John McCain carries a lucky nickel, and a lucky rubber band, which he wears around his wrist. He also has a lucky sweater and a lucky hotel room in New Hampshire.

    Hillary Clinton:

    People give Ms. Clinton lucky items all the time on the campaign trail,” said a Clinton spokesman. “Recently, for example, she’s received a lucky coin, a lucky handkerchief that a woman in Texas gave to her that she sometimes keeps in her pocket, and a lucky bracelet that a woman in Ohio gave her that she wears every day. She keeps all of them.

    lucky handkerchief, hanuman, bracelet, rubber band etc. Actually, Hindus more than Christians should take objection to this for equating thier monkey god with rubber bands etc.

    I too would like to treat hanuman with rubber band. Will you call me an idol worshipper???

  4. Thanks Jerry for this timely collection of very valid speach by Obama

  5. I wrote “Before I go further, let me tell you that most of us differ with you on many vital issues.”

    Again, I was citing examples and not exhaustively covering every aspect of his faith. Therefore if you notice, I wrote “For example, we differ with you on the issue of abortion and gay rights.”

    So, in no way, it was an endrosement for all aspects of Obama’s faith.

    But both to Muslims (for whom he is an apostate) and Hindus (for whom conversion itself is an anthema) Obama has a message.

    Thanks!

  6. Bro. Jerry wrote: Before I go further, let me tell you that most of us differ with you on many vital issues. For example, we differ with you on the issue of abortion and gay rights.

    Americans while electing Obama disagreed with him on these too.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/06/us/politics/06marriage.html?ref=us

    Bans in 3 States on Gay Marriage

    In California, where same-sex marriage had been performed since June, the ban had more than 52 percent of the vote, according to figures by the secretary of state, and was projected to win by several Californian news media outlets. Opponents of same-sex marriage won by even bigger margins in Arizona and Florida. Just two years ago, Arizona rejected a similar ban.

    The across-the-board sweep, coupled with passage of a measure in Arkansas intended to bar gay men and lesbians from adopting children, was a stunning victory for religious conservatives, who had little else to celebrate on an Election Day that saw Senator John McCain lose and other ballot measures, like efforts to restrict abortion in South Dakota, California and Colorado, rejected.

    “It was a great victory,” said the Rev. James Garlow, senior pastor of Skyline Church in San Diego County and a leader of the campaign to pass the California measure, Proposition 8. “We saw the people just rise up.”

    Americans were mature enough to accept the postive side of Obama and reject the negative side.

    :grin

    A lesson to learn from them – reject the negative side and accept the positive side :)

  7. I am perplexed and intrigued.

    May i infer from the comments that An evangelical can carry the idols of Hanuman, Sai,Ram and Krishna just in the guise of a superstition?What message one is giving to the world?One calls it Superstition,but for the commoners it is Idol worship.Bible categorically says Idol-worshippers can’t inherit the kingdom of God.

  8. 1. I raised the question- Is lucky charm a supersition or an idol worship? By the time Sakshi Administrator published it, second part is missing.

    If you ask an American, then probably you would be able to relax.

    2. Is Obama an evangelical?

    At least, did Obama say that he is an evangelical? Which in case we should have been bothered about what message the evangelicals would sent to the world. No.

    Did the article say Obama is an evangelical? Did I miss out reading it? No, I read it again. The article is about conversion. The article said- he converted and it quoted him.

    Does the world see him as an evangelical? No.

    So I guess, you can relax and focus on the right to conversion for now.

    3. Did Obama convert?

    – Yes, Obama said so

    – Yes, Article said so

    – Yes, World sees it so

    So, the discussion should be about what it is said (conversion) and not what is assumed (behavior of an evangelical).

    Conclusion: No one will mistake Obama for an evangelical so no one is arguing about supersition or idol worship.

    Plain, simple- right to coverision.

  9. Sam,

    I would agree with your point- let us keep away any images of any gods for whatever reason-supersition or not. If we overlook those in the name of superistion, slowly our hearts maybe tempted to convert it as an idol. Either way, Bible does not support superisition too.

    But I also want you to think- Can a Chrisian quote Obama on Conversion?

    The Biblical answer would be yes. Apostle Paul quoted a Greek poet to speak about immensity of God, we as His children and the futility of idol worship(!!!).

    Does that mean Apostle Paul agreed with Greek poet on everything else?

    In a similar manner, we can quote Obama on conversion- which does not mean we agree with Obama on everything else.

    Hope this helps.

    Thanks Jerry! This is a good argument.

  10. I thought this would be interesting:

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122593560219503829.html?mod=article-outset-box

    Democrats Gain With Religious Voters

    By SUZANNE SATALINEArticle

    A concerted effort since 2004 helped Barack Obama and the Democrats make significant inroads with religious voters.

    Reversing his party’s poor showing among faith-based voters in the 2004 presidential election, Mr. Obama won among Catholics, 54% to 45%, made gains among regular churchgoers and eroded a bit of the evangelical support that has been a fixture of Republican electoral success for years, exit polls showed.

    The Democrats’ gains among the religious undoubtedly were aided by worries over the economy, which surveys have shown to be the main concern for voters. But Democrats also have made a strong effort to woo faith-based voters, hatched in the wake of the 2004 loss, which was adopted by Mr. Obama in the early days of his campaign and carried through the convention and the fall campaign.

    Sen. John Kerry, the 2004 Democratic standard-bearer, lost the Catholic vote while President George W. Bush gleaned 78% of white evangelical voters. Mr. Obama reduced that to 74% and also cut the Republican share of votes among those who attend church weekly or more often to 55% from 61%.

    The campaign wooed clergy in ways small and huge, from personal notes and meetings with Mr. Obama to large Christian “faith rallies” intended to win over young Protestants. It trained thousands of volunteers to frame social concerns such as poverty as moral issues, while benefiting from the work of several small, liberal Catholic nonprofits that separately contacted churchgoers to present topics such as poverty, immigration, war and the environment as moral issues, while downplaying abortion.

    “They let it be known, ‘We want their vote, he deserves their vote…and we are not going to automatically assume you are going to vote for the Republicans,'” said the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell, a Houston supporter of Mr. Obama and a United Methodist pastor who has had longstanding ties to President Bush’s family.

    That said, it could be a challenge for the party to hold its gains long term. Some religious supporters will be looking for Mr. Obama to quickly end U.S. involvement in the Iraq war, ensure that detainees aren’t tortured and bolster programs to aid the poor and those without health insurance. Hispanic Catholics and evangelicals may press him to modify immigration laws that have led to the detention of thousands of illegal residents.

    But Mr. Obama has indicated the economy will be his top priority. Having raised expectations for left-leaning religious voters, he may be hard-pressed to deliver on some of them amid the financial crisis and economic slump.

    The Obama campaign prevailed among Catholics despite sermons and letters from several conservative bishops across the country, who warned it would be a grave sin for Catholics to elect a candidate who favored legalized abortion. In a nod to abortion concerns, the party platform suggested bolstering aid programs to reduce the operations, which total more than one million annually.

    The campaign staff enlisted Doug Kmiec, a Catholic adviser to Mitt Romney’s campaign, and former Reagan White House aide, who threw his support behind Mr. Obama because of his opposition to other “life issues” such as the war and lack of health care. “People realized for the first time that there was an alternative way to promote the culture of life and how much they were missing in their faith tradition when they focused on the Supreme Court,” Mr. Kmiec said.

    The model for Mr. Obama’s religious outreach was framed in 2005 by two Democratic advisers — Mara Vanderslice and Alexia Kelley, an evangelical Christian and a Catholic, respectively. They blamed Mr. Kerry’s loss among religious voters on his unwillingness to talk about his faith and address their moral concerns. In a white paper that circulated around Washington, the women said that if Democrats were going to shed an anti-religion reputation, candidates had to talk about faith, go on Christian radio, grant interviews to reporters for Catholic media and discuss issues that Republicans were not addressing: namely, poverty, immigration and the environment.

    In 2006, Mr. Obama made a speech, “A Call to Renewal,” before a large crowd of Christians in which he discussed his faith and urged secularists and progressives to embrace moral issues. His staff mailed excerpts of that speech to 40,000 pastors, an aide said.

    The next year, he began courting Christian professors, theologians and ethicists, writing letters expressing enthusiasm for their work and inviting them to meet with him. One, Christian ethicist David Gushee of Mercer University in Atlanta, eventually was invited to the Democratic convention to talk about his faith-based effort to stop torture.

  11. Jerry brother, thanks. when some are irresponsibly harping on conspiracy theories about Obama(anti-christ etc), nice to see- as Amy Grant would sing- to look at things with Heavenly Father’s eyes- seeing good in little things too.

    This would surely help us to pray for Obama as Apostle Paul writes in epistle of Timothy

  12. The article is good and refers to obama’s speech/claims that he has become a christian.I rejoice over this fact.I dont know weather he personally beleives in hanuman and lucky charms or it was a political gimmick to appease voters by his co-workers.

    For argument sake, what if he does beleive? should a christian beleive in carrying such lucky charms and idols of hanuman? can we call such persons who personally beleive in lucky charms to be christian even if he/she confesses? Example:I know one person(s) people in my locality who declares to be a christian,comes to church regularly, has a good moral life, speaks christian jargons BUT also keep saibaba’s idol in their home. now should I call such person a convert? should we overlook this aspect and yet call this person a christian?

  13. Ther’s a strong link between your personal conviction and your public confession…

    Being a diplomat doesn’t work in the kingdom of God…You cannot have this as well as that…If you don’t stand for some thing ..You can fall for anything…News channels could have exaggerated some things but all of it is definitely not untrue…

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