With a new president, Donald Trump, entering the White House, there has rightfully been a lot of discussion about our outgoing president’s legacy—not least when it comes to matters of faith. To be sure, Barack Obama’s legacy in this area is both complex and important to understand for the future of our nation’s politics.
However, as a Christian, I believe we must not only think of how politicians interact with religious issues, but also how we ourselves interact with politicians and the work they do. What is the legacy of Christian witness in the Obama years, and what lessons can we learn to apply in the Trump era?
Here are three recommendations, based on my personal experience in the Obama White House.
When it comes to faith and policy, take politicians’ words seriously.
A certain kind of cynic tends to think that political wisdom consists of discrediting everything a politician says. On this way of thinking, realism demands that we understand that politicians have a motive for everything they suggest, and therefore nothing should be taken at face value. This approach was a major hindrance to the efforts of conservative Christians during the Obama years.
Partisanship played a major role in hardening this posture. A deep antagonism toward Democrats from Religious Right groups filtered down to the average Christian as a general distrust of Democrats, including Obama. When you consider the eagerness of some Christians to take even the slightest Trump utterance on judges or family values as a sacred promise, the partisan nature of (at least some) distrust toward Obama becomes clearer still.
A better approach would have been to take the President’s words seriously, to make clear that Christians ...1