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How Urban Christians Failed President Obama
In my community, I hear Christians discussing their political and social values in a way that is distinct from the spirit of the day. Most other urban Christians I know tend to be more traditional than secular, more social activist than reactionary. We neither celebrate recent liberal gains nor internalize conservative losses. We stand apart, loathing both the lack of timeless conviction and the lack of compassion, respectively.
The Obama administration’s directive ordering transgender bathroom access in all public schools has called this urban Christian sociopolitical posture into question. While the bullying and dehumanization of transgender people is completely unacceptable, the stealth advance of this new ideology raises questions and should be subject to debate. By failing to assert our convictions, we have failed our president and our country.
In years past, black leaders, such as Fannie Lou Hamer, fought against conservatives on segregation and against the secular left for the sanctity of life. Speaking truth to power wasn’t a matter of partisanship, but a matter of right and wrong. Classic values like the importance of marriage, the sanctity of life, charity, and parental responsibility were just as important as social justice. But the former has been plainly absent from urban politics as of late. While social justice fills the inner city's sociopolitical narrative, classic values fly under the radar. Our beliefs aren’t hidden so much as they are dormant, privately professed but recused from the larger social debate.
I too was compelled by the historic nature of President Obama's election. As a certified Obama apologist, I still smile in the glory of this collective prize. A culture of reverence and loyalty were aroused to historic proportions by a man who achieved the impossible. Not much more can be written about the historic nature of Obama's election. The rejoicing mirrored the completion of a revolutionary effort. Reverence for a hero was immediately labeled sacred, and enshrined.
But the reward wasn't without a price for black and Hispanic Christians. While our social concern was given voice, our values were muffled and dismissed. These slights were overlooked as we focused on protecting our protagonist from the far right. By code, we will condone our leader's flaws before conveying the slightest hint of dissension to outsiders. That, after all, is family business.
Biting Our Tongues
This steadfast sense of loyalty held by urban Christians forms a protective shield around our leaders. It’s dependable, almost unconditional. Our loyalty stabilizes our leaders and offers assurance in a country that has stripped much of their dignity, and too often their lives. But it can also stifle accountability, making them more susceptible to their own faults.
We happily manned the front lines as Obama fought for the poor and underserved. We held our noses when he championed policy contrary to our beliefs. The unspoken, but understood call was to stand down lest we undermine our brother and empower his enemies. And stand down we did, submitting to the Obama Effect.
When Louie Giglio “withdrew” from events in Washington for having the audacity to question the orthodoxy of popular culture, we bit our tongues. When pastors in Houston had their sermons subpoenaed by the mayor, we didn’t demand that our President weigh in and condemn this gross injustice. Instead, we watched tainted and tone-deaf conservatives clumsily fight battles that belonged to us.
By neglecting to speak up on issues that support human flourishing, we allowed for a false dichotomy between traditional morals and social justice. The culmination of this failure enabled a gender identity policy that is in direct conflict with the truth about biology and gender (Matt. 19:4). Moral implications aside, the policy is not sound. In haste, no one prepared school leaders for the administration of this novel, and at times ambiguous, policy. Can you imagine the government taking funding from our children’s education based on a directive that few fully understand?
Make no mistake, Christians should be the first to affirm the dignity of our transgender brothers and sisters and rail against any mistreatment. That said, the idea that one could define one’s own gender would’ve sounded absurd just three years ago. Now we’re expected to be comfortable with its conclusions. What’s more, we’re supposed to treat this continuation of the sexual revolution as the rightful heir of the civil rights movement.
Meanwhile, the left colors our silence as approval and impels the urban political class to cross the line while the gatekeepers slumber, believing the sentiment will eventually trickle down to the grassroots. Consequently, secular liberalism controls the urban public dialogue and voting booths.
Silence in politics is death. If you don’t push and prod in the political arena, you’re invisible, no matter who your elected officials are. Urban Christians’ failure to provide our President with direction on issues dealing with the family ethic and morality was a serious misstep in an otherwise favorable tenure. We short-changed our beloved President by failing to offer him not just praise and affirmation, but correction and clear boundaries.
As Obama's second term ends, this trend will also come to a close. Young urban Christians are restless, unwilling to accept silence as the price for any political expediency. Contrary to conventional wisdom, faith isn’t the opponent of tolerance. Activism isn’t at odds with classic values.
Neither the right nor the left should get a pass when their positions and policies are flawed. A foregone moment in history may have suggested passivity, but deeper loyalties insist that we reassert our political perspective in its entirety. Christians of conviction must stand on their principles and refuse to kneel before any political party or ideology.
Justin Giboney is an attorney and political strategist in Atlanta, Georgia. He has managed successful campaigns for Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education and referendums relating to the city's transportation and water infrastructure. Mr. Giboney is also the Co-Founder of the AND Campaign and Founder of Crucifix & Politics. In 2012 and 2016, Georgia’s 5th congressional district elected him as a delegate for the Democratic National Convention and he served as the co-chair of Obama for America’s Gen44-Atlanta initiative.