“We lose ourselves when we compromise the very ideals that we fight to defend…And we honor those ideals by upholding them not when it is easy, but when it is hard.”- Remarks by President Barack Obama at the Acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize
by Jamye Wooten
On January 20, 2009 Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th President of the United States. The inauguration, which set a record for attendance for any event on the Mall, drew an estimated crowd of 1.8 million people. According to Nielsen, approximately 37.8 million Americans view the inauguration from home. Millions also tuned in from around the world to witness this historic event, the election of the first African-American to the nation’s highest office.
Boston.com captured this historic event with 40 breathtaking photos. But it was the picture above that really caught my attention. Pakistani Christian children holding posters with a portrait of President Obama and signs that read “Pray for Peace” and “Peace for Ghaza and Palestine.”
For many around the world the election of President Obama was the fulfillment of Dr. Martin Luther King’s Dream. Many had great expectations that he would walk in the footsteps of King and promote peace around the world. In 2009 he joined the company of Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela by winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Thorbjorn Jagland, Chairman of The Nobel Peace Prize Committee, stated Barack Obama’s leadership had been a “call to action for all of us…Dr. King’s dream has come true.”
But it has been more like a nightmare for the young Pakistani children that live in constant fear and suffer from the psychological trauma caused by drones that hover above their neighborhoods. President Obama has been very aggressive with his use of drones. A new report, Living Under Drones, conducted by NYU Law and Stanford Law states “Drones hover twenty-four hours a day over communities in northwest Pakistan, striking homes, vehicles, and public spaces without warning.” According to the New America Foundation, President Barack Obama has authorized more than four times the number of attacks than President George W. Bush authorized during his two terms in office. Living Under Drones further states that “from June 2004 through mid-September 2012, available data indicate that drone strikes killed 2,562 – 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474 – 881 were civilians, including 176 children.” But no one knows the real numbers of deaths. According to the New York Times the administration “counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants … unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” So kill first and prove their guilt or innocence after death?
President Obama’s war machine did not stop in Pakistan, he also bombed the African country of Libya. Former Congressman Rev. Walter Fauntroy upon returning from Libya spoke with the Afro and said “Contrary to what is being reported in the press, from what I heard and observed more than 90 percent of the Libyan people love Gaddafi…We believe the true mission of the attacks on Gaddafi is to prevent all efforts by African leaders to stop the recolonization of Africa.”
- President Obama has signed the very controversial$662 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) which would allow the military greater authority to detain and interrogate U.S. citizens.
- Sign deal to open military bases in Columbia
- Sign an extension to the Patriot Act
- Expands AFRICOM, the U.S. militarization of the African continent
I could go on, but I think you get it. President Obama is no Martin Luther King, Jr. In the words of Rev. Jeremiah Wright “He’s a politician”. It was Rev. Wright who told then Senator Obama, ‘If you get elected, November the 5th I’m coming after you, because you’ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people”’. Rev. Jeremiah Wright loved Senator Obama, but understood his role as a minister of the gospel. A role that too many of today’s ministers don’t seem to understand. Those who have access to the President have spent more time leading Get out the Vote Campaigns then addressing Obama’s foreign policy record and the pain that many are suffering from in their congregations.
So what is the role of the righteous in politics?
Revisiting the Politics of Jesus
This week I decided to revisit the work of one of my favorite biblical scholars, Dr. Obery Hendricks, author of “The Politics of Jesus“. Dr. Hendricks argues that Jesus was a political revolutionary “who sought to change the power structures of his time”, to set the captives free and bring liberty to the oppressed. Dr. Hendricks also examines the politics of Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and the church during their administrations.
In chapter 6 Hendricks states that Bush “has so little respect for human life despite the admonition of his Lord and Savior to love one another… and that he openly spoke of killing human beings.” When speaking about Osama bin Laden, Bush said “We will kill him…bring him back dead or alive.”
“…those in the church who had Bush’s ear offered few words of challenge or critique to him…
Hendricks writes about Bush’s declaration of war against the sovereign state of Iraq without any evidence of weapons of mass destruction. He mentions the $4 billion Americans spent per month on the Iraq war that could be spent on American citizens. He goes on to say that those on the religious right who had access to the Reagan and Bush “said virtually nothing against their unjust policies.” Hendricks stated “[T]hose in the church who had Bush’s ear offered few words of challenge or critique to him, except with regard to their own particular issues of interest, such as same-sex marriage’. They used every resource to be heard on that issue..”
Much like the conservative preachers on the right, the black church has been silent on war. Let us not forget it was the Obama administration that assassinated the unarmed Osama bin Laden.
In May I wrote a piece entitled Obama, Jamal Bryant and the Politics of Selective Outrage admonishing black clergy that had been in a prophetic slumber and for only speaking out against same sex marriage and ignoring the issues that concern the African American community. Now last week a group of prominent black clergy lead by Rev. Al Sharpton held a press conference supporting same sex marriage. According to the Washington Post the press conference was organize to capitalize “on the presence of many well-known pastors in town for the Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference to build support for a November referendum on the Maryland Civil Marriage Protection Act.”
Huh? So you’re telling me that prominent black clergy came to Washington, D.C., met with black political leaders, held a press conference, and no mention of black pain and suffering? Do they not know that African-Americans in Maryland are facing record level foreclosures? Or that in Baltimore City blacks are losing their homes for $300 water bills, lead flows through the school water fountains, high black unemployment and under-employment, gentrification of black neighborhoods in East and West Baltimore, schools are crumbling and recreation centers are being privatize, or that the democratic Governor wants to spend $100 million to build a youth jail and black bodies live under constant threat of the occupying Baltimore City Police Force? Even Black businessmen are being left behind and recently filed a multi-million dollar law suit against the city of Baltimore.
Hendricks continues his critique of conservative religious leaders,
“But rather than use their intimate access to the corridors of power to hold Reagan and Bush to the high standards and responsibilities laid upon them by the Gospel of Jesus Christ, instead these religious leaders have reduced the demands of holiness from doing just and righteous deeds to voicing religious slogans and pious rhetoric. In other words, as long as Reagan and Bush called themselves “men of faith,” quoted scripture, and kept certain religious leaders close, these handpicked ministers chose to be silent…”
Hendricks concludes that Conservative preachers had neglected the politics of Jesus and were practicing the politics of Baal (1 Kings 18), referring to the prophets of Baal who had aligned themselves with King Ahab for their own self interest. ” Why didn’t they condemn the presidents’ un-Christian policies and show themselves willing to rise up in prophetic indignation if their counsel was ignored?”, stated Hendricks.
“The calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak…” MLK, III, Beyond Vietnam
So what will the righteous do? In Dr. King’s Beyond Vietnam speech he stated, “The calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak, …We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.” Kings’ Beyond Vietnam speech caused many in the civil rights movement to condemn him and he was later banned from the White House by President Lyndon Johnson.
A people cannot seriously engage in liberation struggle until they develop a revolutionary theology. – Jaramogi Abebe Agyeman (Rev. Albert Cleage)
Faith-rooted leadership must be bold, principled and righteous. We must stay true to the freedom fighters that came before us and pursue righteousness and justice no matter who is in the White House. We must move beyond personalty politics. This is not about Reagan, Bush or Obama, it is about a system, a structure that bent on war to secure resources and protect the wealth of the elite.
Fighting voter suppression is important work, but we must began thinking about Black Politics Beyond the Ballot Box , and moving toward a Black Church United Fund, a spiritual, cultural and economic based movement.
Get out and vote black people. But whomever is President we must hold them accountable. We dishonor the memory and legacy of our ancestors, not when we fail to vote, but when we fail to advocate for justice.
Will you be a Cheerleader for the Empire or Drum Major for Justice, Peace, and Righteousness?
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Mr. Glen Ford of BlackAgendaReport.com Debate on Obama’s Presidency. Mr. Ford said that our first role and responsibility is to tell the truth.
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson speaking at the “We Count! The Black Agenda is the American Agenda” Conference in Chicago, Saturday, March 20, 2010
Dyson said “Don’t mistake cultural pride for political accountability.”
- US drone ‘kills seven’ in Pakistan (bbc.co.uk)