The Audacity of Hope: A Foreigner’s Reflection on Obama’s Speech
I’m a citizen of a different empire (Phil 1:27; 3:20) and therefore a foreigner in this one (Heb. 11:13; 1 Pet 1:17; 2:11). I’m only here as an ambassador and soldier sent to defend and advance the interests of my own homeland while being careful not to get too involved in civilian affairs (2 Cor 5:20; 2 Tim. 2:4). Given this, I don’t feel I need to try to decide how much of Obama’s speech last night was rooted in reality and how much of it was empty rhetoric, as some allege.
Yet, as a person who knows a little bit about public speaking, I have to say that this was the most brilliantly crafted and powerfully delivered speech I’ve ever heard. It was, in fact, close to perfect. (I say “close” only because I thought his comment about McCain being unwilling to go to Bin Laden’s cave was beneath him). Obama’s combination of eloquence and personal gravitas is like nothing I’ve ever seen. So is his ability to pull sides together and rally people around a common cause. Politics is about overcoming divisions in the polis (society), and in this sense Obama’s speech was pure political genius. Add to this Obama’s own unique story and the fact that he’s an African American giving this speech on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and it’s hard not to be moved, even for foreigners like myself and regardless of what you think of his specific political proposals.
But would Obama substantially change things in America if he was elected? It’s questionable, but it sure would be nice if even a fraction of what he so eloquently spoke last night could become reality. Among other things, it would be absolutely wonderful if he could help bring an end to the ugly, stagnant, counter-productive ideological divisions that now plague America.
Consider the abortion issue. Americans obviously have very different convictions about the status of the unborn and about how to balance the rights of the unborn against the rights of women who become pregnant. One can wish we weren’t divided on these matters, but we are. Yet, every poll taken on this subject reveals that almost all Americans agree that the fewer abortions there are, the better. So why over the last thirty-five years have we made no progress reducing abortion rates in our country? It’s because of the politics of division.
Paranoid that if they give an inch their opponents will take a mile, leaders of the “pro-life” and “pro-choice” camps have continued to rally people at the extremity of our differences rather than around the convictions we all share. Instead of working together to reduce abortions, the two sides have demonized each other, perpetuating a hopeless gridlock that keeps us from achieving what we all want. This polarization helps certain wedge-issue politicians get elected and stay in power, but the ones who pay for it are the unborn.
Would Obama help unify our country on this and other issues if he was elected? He has such exception personal and political qualities it almost seems possible. Even a foreigner like myself is tempted to hope.
But its precisely at this point that I have to remind myself that I am a citizen of a different empire and am not to get overly invested in civilian affairs. I have to therefore regard Obama’s call to embrace the audacity of this political hope as a temptation. (I’m of course referencing Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope). Whatever good Obama, McCain or any other politician may or may not be able to accomplish, the ultimate hope and allegiance of all Kingdom citizens must remain in Jesus Christ and in the mustard seed Kingdom he established. Our call as ambassadors of Christ is to individually and corporately look like Jesus in how we love and serve people, including the poor, the marginalized, the judged — and women with unwanted pregnancies. And our call is to trust that God will use the foolishness of this humble, servant activity to advance his Kingdom and ultimately transform the world.
This is the audacious hope we foreigners are to embrace and passionately work for.
I just wish I could articulate it as eloquently and as powerfully as Obama.