Paying Attention to the Voice of that Woman: President Obama and a Spiritual Act of Witness

“Can you tell the Muslim people that their lives are as precious as our lives?  Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the innocent family victims? That will make us safer.”

I have not been a big supporter of Barack Obama as a politician and I have mixed feelings about him as a leader.  In no way do I think he deserved the Nobel Prize he was awarded (I won’t say “won”).  I think his initial efforts to speak to the international community (such as his June, 2009 speech at the University of Cairo) were spot on, intending to right the wrong direction of the previous administration.  Yet too many consequent decisions (drone strikes, anyone?!?) raise questions about walking the talk.   Yes, it’s awesome that he is the first sitting president to embrace the GLBT community – it really is!  And I want to know what took him so damn long (particularly because I believe he didn’t “evolve” as much as he used political strategists to calculate the win/loss of such an announcement last May…)

I have never been a fan of the word, “liberal” to describe my politics or passions.  For a time in college it seemed like I might rightly earn the title, “radical;” yet what seems much more accurate is the word, “progressive.”   But I didn’t have to get off the Obama train of Hope and Change during the first term because I had never gotten on.  I think this reflects the influences of my populist Democrat-leaning extended farming family from rural Oregon, who had little trust for elected officials.  I believe that if you get that high in elected officialdom, you are likely corrupt and have already sold your soul.

My decisions can be both concise and informed by consensus.  I can tolerate the strong feelings that come from people who are displeased with my decisions (particularly if they are my own children).  Yet, my Achilles heel is that I do not want to be seen as part of the regressive, oppressive establishment – “The Man,” as it were – and worry that I am seen for the former activist sell-out with liberal, rather than radical, leanings that I have become.  As part of my ministerial formation, I will have to work on this because, unchecked, it could fuel unhealthy congregational dynamics.

So I write this blog knowing that some of my friends will see me finally being fair (and not unduly harsh) towards Obama while others will see this as being apologist for Obama and for sticking up not only for the man, but for The Man.

So the mild admiration that I had for this guy grew ten-fold yesterday as I listened to his speech on drones yesterday.  It’s not that I am in love with the policy announcements he made.  I just really liked how he responded to Medea Benjamin as she shouted for accountability (what the media calls heckling) at this public setting.  You can watch it here.  In addition to thanking her (yes, as a polite way to get her to shut up – like that’s going to happen!), he said things like, “Give her slack,” and referencing her, “It’s worth being passionate about.”  He even endorsed her act of asking, “Is this who we [as a nation] are?” as legitimate and necessary.

Of course she was hauled off by security and no doubt, given how determined and persistent she was, Obama was probably wishing she had been hauled off much sooner.  And I’m guessing the right-wing pundits are using his patience, and the fact that she was able to disrupt his train of thought, as a sign of his weakness.  Whatever.

As I listened to the radio yesterday, and watched online this morning, I was filled with simple admiration.  As security took this woman, who is the founder of the awesome Code Pink peace and justice organization away, he witnessed her.  I saw it as was a spiritual act.  He showed her respect and deference.  There was no mocking.  No shaking his head in condescension.  No acting like he and the rest of the audience were sharing a joke at her expense.  None of that.

He said, “The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to.” 

“Can you tell the Muslim people that their lives are as precious as our lives?  Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the innocent family victims? That will make us safer.”

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0 Responses to Paying Attention to the Voice of that Woman: President Obama and a Spiritual Act of Witness

  1. David says:

    Do you think his religious faith gets in the way? Maybe, but maybe it informs as much as it hinders. I often wonder how one can reconcile one’s religious values with universal human rights. Is it wise to have a president who believes in an afterlife? or believes homosexuality goes against gods law? etc etc. Why work hard for the environment if we are all going to heaven anyway 🙂 Maybe religious faith should preclude one from making decisions for others since one has chosen a narrow group and path instead of choosing all life.
    Will we ever have an atheist president?

    • irrevspeckay says:

      David, I don’t know if his religious faith gets in his way. Certainly, it gets in the way of many politicians. I could spin a speculative story that if faith is a strong thing for him, it might help him through the stressors of being president. I find him authentic and believable when he reaches out to families and individuals after tragedies. If part of what helped him see the humanity of queer people is his faith, then it has been a good thing. All that is pure speculation. I am not sure I understand the conflict you see between religious values and universal human rights — though some people on the fundamentalist side of religion do not respect human rights, many of the most ardent supporters of human rights are people of deep and explicit faith. Tom Fox. Archbishop Oscar Romero. Rabbi Abraham Heschel. In terms of an atheist or humanist president in the US? Let us hope some day it will not be a barrier to US citizens seeing competence — surely since the Pope has just said the atheists can be good people, something is going in the right direction…

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