Has President Obama Been Reading the Baylys?

Sometime ago, to ridicule two-kingdom theology even more, the Baylys ran a post on whether the resurrection has any public policy implications. Apparently, Obama took the bait and issued remarks at the White House Easter prayer breakfast that outlined the implications of the resurrection for civil society. (By the way, how do you spot the difference between a religious and a political prayer meeting? Depends on whether they are serving eggs.)

Obama said (thanks to Touchstone):

I can’t shed light on centuries of scriptural interpretation or bring any new understandings to those of you who reflect on Easter’s meaning each and every year and each and every day. But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ’s sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.

For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind’s eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world — that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.

We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.

And such a promise is one of life’s great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs — by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.

It’s not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered — by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.

Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging — watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.

“Father,” He said, “into your hands I commit my spirit.” Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God’s children.

So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption — through commitment and through perseverance and through faith — be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.

To borrow a line from Tonto, who is this “we” and “us” to whom President Obama refers? Does it include Jews, Buddhists, and non-Christians, does it merge Mormons into generic Christianity, and does it speak for Roman Catholics and Protestants? This is the sort of universalism in which civil religion always traffics if Christianity is going to serve a religiously plural society.

And what of the theology behind these remarks. As much as I like the priority of the forensic, when Obama says that redemption makes for virtuous character, for the president grace simply seems to be the door prize for contestants who don’t live up to be good and decent folks. People rightly faulted President Bush for trivializing Christianity when he used it in public speeches. Obama may be more eloquent but he is just as guilty of taking something that is sublime and holy and reducing it to having us all get along. Getting a long is a good thing. Christianity is profounder than that.

And yet, if Obama were on the right side of gay marriage and abortion, I suspect readers of the Baylys would be happy to see such policy implications of the resurrection.

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3 thoughts on “Has President Obama Been Reading the Baylys?

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