The Hope That We Confess

I’m not a very political person. I lean Republican, but not always very strongly. I tend to be apolitical. If you’ve been reading this blog or known me for very long, you’ll know that’s true.  I mention these things to back up the fact that I’ve never been too bothered by anything Obama has said in the sense that I understand what he’s thinking and why he thinks that, even though I don’t usually agree with it. But tonight I heard something that made me nearly fall out of my chair, or shout, or I don’t know what.

This commercial was released by the Obama campaign recently in which they lift some audio from the end of Obama’s recent speech at the DNC. In case you don’t have time to watch the ad, this is the end of the section of the speech they use in the ad, and to which I’d like to draw your attention (emphasis mine):

At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future.  Let us keep that promise – that American promise – and in the words of Scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

When I heard it, I had to stop and rewind. Here, Obama is quoting Hebrews 10:23. You might like to take a look at the surrounding passage or the whole chapter to get a little context. It’s worth it, go ahead and read. If you’re not really into reading the Bible, try this version.

With that verse in its proper context, the hope is the promise of God to save us from our sin through the sacrifice Jesus made. The hope we have is based on God’s faithfulness in keeping His promises.

I know Obama is a Christian and not a Muslim. But a person who takes his faith and his scripture seriously, no matter what religion he is and what his holy book is, would never leave the ambiguity that Obama did when lifting that reference to Jesus, the single most important character in the Bible, and his God as a Christian, out of scripture and putting it into his speech. Why? Because in the context of his speech, our hope becomes something else altogether. Hmm… what could that hope be in, I wonder?

I suppose we’ll just have to fill in the blanks ourselves.

I would sooner die than distort scripture like this. Dude is not a Muslim. He’s not a Christian either. He’s an opportunist.

22 thoughts on “The Hope That We Confess

  1. Dude is not a Muslim. He’s not a Christian either. He’s an opportunist.

    I think you need to be very careful with statements like this. Did Obama take use this scripture out of context? Absolutely. Did he use it for his own personal gain? Perhaps. Does doing so mean he’s not a Christian? I feel strongly that the answer to that question is no, absolutely not.

    I’m guilty of taking scripture out of context, even for my own benefit, many times throughout my life. Does that negate my Christian status? I sure hope not.

    Obama self-identifies as a Christian. You can see the marks of Christ in the way he’s lived his life. The way he’s carried himself during this campaign, while not perfect, has been incredibly more Christ-like than nearly all of his opponents, especially McCain/Palin in the last few weeks. Their behavior has been downright disgusting. That’s another discussion, though.

    I’m not going to lie – I’ve been a very strong Obama supporter since he announced his campaign. I *have* had serious doubts along the way about the authenticity (or lack therof) of his profession of faith. It was only after much prayer and thought, that I came to the realization that it’s not my place to judge whether or not someone is a “real” Christian. That matter needs to be between a person and God.

    To conclude: It *was* absolutely inappropriate for Obama to take that scripture out of context. I hope that he’s recognized this and has settled things out between himself and God. If Obama and Biden end up getting elected, I have no doubt that, at some point in their term, they’ll end up doing something stupid – something that we’d rather not have associated with Christian culture or values. However – despite these inevitable mistakes, there’s no doubt in my mind that Obama and Biden will lead in a much more Christ-like fashion then McCain and Palin. They will govern with true fairness, mercy and justice, not the type of “fair” governance we’ve come to know all too well the past 8 years. At the end of the day, I will, God willing, consider it a blessing to have had a Christian brother in the White house.

  2. Is it inappropriate to take quotations out of context and use them to your own gain? Probably. But to say you would rather die than distort scripture is quite horrifying. Scripture isn’t holy or sacred, it’s just words that guys wrote a long time ago. It’s no worse than distorting anybody else’s writings. Do the scriptures have value? Yes. But no more so than any non-religious writings of that age.

  3. Josh, Erik is right. There’s no way you or anyone but God can make that call. No doubt out of context, and for all we know and to his own fault Obama may have never checked it for himself when the speech was handed to him, but we certainly cannot, and should not, make this call about his relationship to God. I love you, Josh, but I do think you jumped the gun on this.

    Nevertheless, our hope lies in Jesus. Politicians are politicians and speechmakers are speechmakers with all their messed up political rhetoric… but God is God. As exciting as some of the things Obama espoused in his speech (which was overall an excellent oration) I don’t count on him or McCain to change the world. That is always done on the personal level. Always. I have been more involved in this election because it really is an exciting election(a possible first non-white president or first possible female vice president! Come on! It’s about time!), but Jesus knew that it wasn’t laws that changed people. GUNS change people! HA! Just kidding. No, but seriously, we should take that Scripture INTO context and focus on what’s way more exciting and controversial than anything else going on! Hope, hope, hope in Jesus!!! Our hearts are sprinkled in His blood!!! YAY for his promise! I’ll take a dose of that. Thank you, Josh, for bringing the real context of that verse to my attention. It is so powerful.

  4. Josh, your point is well-made and well-taken. I wholly agree that he used this verse out of context. But to say that Obama is not a Christian because of that is going too far. We can find even the most well-meaning, humble, devout and good-hearted preachers and Christian leaders using scripture out of context. Not to mention the everyday lay Christians who do so even more unknowingly. In fact, one of the biggest problems with the evangelical movement in America is its tendency to pull single verses out of their context and use them for whatever suits their purpose at the moment.

    One classic example of this is the oft-quoted Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. Plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” How many times have I heard that tossed out in church services to bolster the teaching that the Lord has a very special plan for my life and everyone else’s life? I can’t count the number of times. And while it MAY be true that God has a plan for each individual’s life, the verse to support that belief is not Jeremiah 29:11. The context of that verse shows us that it is God addressing the Israelites who are down about yet another problem they’ve run up against as a people-group. And God is reassuring them: I have a plan for (all of) you (Israelites). I have a plan for the future of Israel and the future of the Jews, so cheer up. Given the context of that verse, I don’t quite see at ALL how it could be meant for ME PERSONALLY to understand that God has a plan for my life specifically.

    This is just one example, but there are PLENTY others. As a theology major in college, it was sort of drilled into us to keep our eyes open for such common textual mishandling and try to avoid falling into that trap ourselves.

    ON THE OTHER HAND: I believe, in part, as Karl Barth did. That the Bible comes alive and has meaning to the extent that the READER finds meaning in it for themselves. I DO think that – to a point – there is value in taking Biblical soundbites to pepper our daily lives with hope or comfort.

    Nevertheless – the way Obama’s ad used it here was inappropriate. But CERTAINLY not different from what is rather common practice – intentional or not – among even a very many conservative evangelicals. So once again, to say he is not a Christian because of this is a very serious accusation. And one that no person should be making about another person no matter WHAT the disagreement. It isn’t our place to say whether so-and-so is or is not a Christian.

    Just my thoughts. I’m a democrat and an Obama supporter, but have tried not to let that color my response here. Like I said, I agree with your initial sense of disapproval to this ad. But not with the conclusions you draw or your caustic way of stating it.


  5. I think he’s speaking about the hope that we have in America, and using the language of Scripture to talk about how we shouldn’t waver in that hope. This is something politicians have done again and again–our current president would be a prime example.

    Obama’s spoken before about American being “the world’s last great hope.” I think he’s wrong, but it’s the language of politics and I don’t really fault him for it. I don’t see it as any different than McCain’s “Country First” slogan, which can hardly be an honest statement for any Christian.

  6. Thank you all so much for your excellent comments! I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the gentleness with which you converse with and even correct me when I explode into angry flames in an entry. Unfortunately that is a quality that I seem to require occasionally of my friends. I’m still getting that under control.

    I have properly stricken the “He’s not a Christian either.” sentence from the entry, as you can see above. I agree that this is not my place to decide, and I was speaking out of momentary frustration.

    However, I do stand by the rest of what I said above, as you can infer by the fact that the rest of it has no strike through it. I don’t think it’s appropriate to put an argument of, “Oh, politicians say a lot of things, those crazy politicians!” on this. I think the danger of taking scripture out of context and using it like a Hallmark card (for that extra-special emotional impact) without doing any exegetical analysis is an egregious error, and tips the hand of the true spiritual beliefs of the person doing it, especially in cases like this where the fantastic core spiritual meaning of the text is removed and thus neutered. Furthermore, in this particular instance, we are left with a very valid interpretation of his statement that is strongly heretical. It’s unlikely he was intending to make that statement. Based on the care with which the passage was handled, it’s also unlikely he cares very much one way or the other what we think he meant by that, as long as we’re hoping in something-or-other. Don’t tell me he’s busy or didn’t have time to review it. As a presidential candidate, you had better believe the ending lines and the climax of your acceptance speech get reviewed.

    Whether he’s a Christian or not is less relevant than the fact that the mistake he made shows a strong disregard for scripture, bordering on malice. I’m not asking for him to be a Christian or even have Christian values. I’m asking for him to not molest scripture.

  7. It annoyed me when Bush put quotes for old hymns in his speeches (see: “Wonder Working Power”). I’m not particularly moved by Obama quoting scripture either.

    However, I think it’s too far to stretch to accuse him (even implicitly) of declaring himself to be “the hope” in that passage. If you’re going to go for full context, why don’t you include the line from his speech right before your block quote? “We cannot walk alone.” Or include the quote from Hebrews right after that quote: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Or heck, even the first line of that commercial “This election has never been about me.”

    Do I think it was the best scripture quote he could have pulled out? No. But don’t be making this into something it isn’t.

  8. Sarah, that Jeremiah passage is a great example. That verse always bugs me. The context of the passage is that the people are complaining because they’ve just been taken into captivity. And God tells them to settle in, buy houses, have babies, etc., because they’re going to be there for a while. But God’s going to take care of them. It’s not exactly comforting news. 😉

    Gos raises a good point. From George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address:

    “There’s power, wonder-working power, in the goodness and idealism and faith of the American people.”

    I don’t think Bush was trying to equate the goodness of the American people with the blood of the Lamb. And I don’t think Obama is trying to replace the hope of America with Jesus. Both of them are using biblical language (OK, for Bush it’s just Christian language) to describe something, not as a slam to that language but as a way to harness something familiar. When I said this is something politicians do again and again, I didn’t mean that as a way to excuse what they were doing, but I meant it as that’s how language works. You reference something and sample it and mix it and repurpose it. I think you need to be careful when and how you do that (neither of these examples is a particularly good way to reference/reuse/repurpose familiar language), but I don’t think it shows “a strong disregard for Scripture”.

  9. Josh,

    I completely agree that mis-using the scriptures for political purposes is wrong. Unfortunately, it’s not so limited to just an Obama problem, as it is a problem of modern politics — as most brazenly adopted by the Bush campaigns and presidency.

    There are a lot of interesting dynamics to Faith & Politics this election season. I really appreciated a dialogue broadcast on NPR with Chuck Colson, Greg Boyd, and Shane Claiborne. Each had interesting and unique perspectives and it was really informative for me:

    I am also concerned about those who would question Obama’s salvation. While you clearly have not done that, it is another unfortunate intersection of faith & politics this season. Here’s a clip from CNN last night that I think is relevent:

  10. This is part of the subject of Jon’s dissertation. Using scripture in political speech is basically a founding trait of American Politics. We probably inherited it from the British (if not Europe as a whole) but I don’t know that for sure. It is VERY common. Jon is actually analyzing transcripts from presidential nominees’ acceptance speeches to see if the use of Biblical language has increased, decreased or otherwise changed.

    I would love to do a study on accuracy with relation to the context of the passage. My hypothesis would be that the speaker’s meaning has gotten further and further from the contextual meaning over the last 233 years. That is not part of Jon’s study though.

    I agree that Obama’s meaning is far from what the writer of Hebrews intended. Unfortunately, this is rather common. That, however, does not make it OK or somehow not a big deal. Scripture is God’s Word and woe to him/her who does not handle it with GREAT care.

  11. What a great discussion! As Emily said, this is something that’s been on my mind for a while. For better or worse, we have a civil religion in the U.S. that comes through in our presidential candidates’ (mis)use of scripture. Sen. Obama has lots of company. Since 1960, the candidates have used (abused?) biblical references almost 30 times in their acceptance speeches.

    Bill Clinton wins my award for stretchy exegesis when he said in 1992, “Our eyes have not yet seen, nor our ears heard, nor minds imagined what we can build” (1 Cor. 2:9, mostly). That was also the speech in which he repeatedly offered a New Covenant with the American people. In 1960 Kennedy said that “seven lean years of drought and famine have withered a field of ideas” (Gen 41). In 1964 Goldwater warned us against “hiding freedom’s light under a bushel of mistaken humility” (Lk. 8:16). McGovern called on an American faith “that can literally move mountains” (1 Cor. 13:2). And of course Ronald Reagan loved calling America a “shining city on a hill” (MT. 5:19).

    I share your concern, Josh, over how our politicians handle the Word of God, especially when they campaign for office. Was Lincoln in the right when he warned that “a house divided against itself cannot stand” (Mt. 12:25)?

  12. Hi Josh,

    New here, arrived via a comment you made in 22Words (the ‘who are you where do you live’ one -we live not-so-far apart) – anyhoo, I saw this post and had to say something..

    I completely agree with the “opportunist” label, perfect.

    I personally do not believe that any politician should be spouting off scripture because they are speaking to a discerned people (1Cr 2:14) not a body of Believers. It’s obviously a carrot-on-a-stick for the religious-right “movement”, which includes many unconverted “religious” people…and that’s a rather large contingency.

    Jesus Christ and His Gospel are not a “movement” that can be wedged into the political machine.

    Hearing Obama “quote scripture” gives me a sick feeling, maybe it’s just me. Check this out and you’ll see what I mean (I hope you don’t mind my leaving a link or two here):
    More Obama eye openers: (warning: shows Rev Jeremiah Wright screaming “g*******m America” during one of his “sermons”)

    But – all that aside, here is the bigger question for anyone claiming to be a born-again, biblical Christian:
    How can such a one so much as even glance at a candadate for President who is pro-choice? with a 100% NARAL rating? How can this be, Christians? Obama is not just pro-choice “lite” (whatever that is) but pro abortion enough so, that he allows for the killing of babies at full term, partial birth.. as well as provision to “finish” the job if it didn’t “get done” in the womb.

    Here’s a sample of Obama’s true scripture:
    ”I am going to teach them first of all about values and morals. But if they make a mistake, I don’t want them punished with a baby.”
    – Barack Obama

    He is talking about his own daughters..yike.

    I won’t ramble on and leave more links.. and I’m not pointing at anyone in here inparticularily (i don’t know you guys) – please forgive me if I’ve trampled too hard.

    Grace & peace ~

  13. I agree with Suzanne. How can we put our trust in a man who promises to “change the world” (he did yesterday in New Hampshire) and yet will not protect the most innocent and helpless among us?

    Many decry the stances of his opponent from Kyoto to welfare reform to the war in Iraq, but reasonable Christians and reasonable people can disagree and debate all those topics. As stewards of God’s creation, we want a clean environment. As followers of Christ we want to help those who cannot help themselves. As followers of the Prince of Peace, we want and must pursue resilient peace. Yet there is room for discussion on how to achieve those goals in a lasting way that does not cause more harm in the process to the poor and helpless or to those who aren’t, who despite their poverty OR wealth and power are created in the image of God as well (I know that makes many choke, but it’s the truth. Remember Zachaeus?).

    But to defend the killing of the unborn for any and every reason, to say that a mother has a right to terminate the life of her child for the sake of financial or personal convenience, to say that in a botched abortion, the care givers should be forbidden to even minister to a child that is struggling to live, is not Biblically debatable. Obama said that if his daughter became pregnant, he would not want her punished with the burden of a child. His solution: kill the child; kill his grandchild. What does that tell you about this man? And saying that such a response is no more objectionable than another’s stance on global warming or an economic bail-out or energy independence is breathtakingly wrong. Reasonable people can disagree and debate the later topics. Keep the child, raise the child, love the child or kill it? Where is the room for debate? What topic is more fundamental than the right to life? Yet he would deny that right.

    Obama voted “present” over 130 times in his tenure in the Illinois State Senate, but he made sure he showed up to vote to deny medical help to that child and any other like it. He wanted his voting record on abortion to be above reproach. He didn’t want his hard left credentials to be threatened. He would need them to defeat Hillary.

    He is smooth. He speaks the language of bringing people together, but as a community organizer he taught people how to harass others, engage in class warfare and divide a community. He is an oratorical genius. He looks good, but in his heart he is a hard left opportunist who will use the his ties to the Chicago political machine to achieve his ends. He used (as long as it worked) his link to the twisted, radical, Afro-centric (as opposed to Christ-centric) theology of Jeremiah Wright (and then swiftly repudiated his virtual ‘father’ Wright when it threatened his purposes). He used his ties to Bill Ayers to launch his political career. Ayers is a man who at last report had a picture on the door of his university office of a man who was convicted of putting a bullet in the head of a Philadelphia policeman as he lay helpless and dying in the street. The picture was not in a collection of America’s Ten Most Wanted, but rather an example of some of Ayers’ (other) political heroes. He will use Acorn and massive voter fraud. He will use thuggery and his ability to fool most of the people most of the time (and he has it) to win power. When he has it, God help us all. Well need it.

  14. Documentation for the above:

    And to quote: “There is one thing, however, that is certain: Barack Obama’s partnership with William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn calls into question not only his political judgment, but his ethical reasoning. Their sustained relationship raises the question of his soundness to serve in high office. The mounting evidence indicates that Barack Obama is morally unqualified to be the president of the United States of America.”

    — Joseph Morrison Skelly, a college history professor in New York City,

  15. POP, I read the article you linked to at Powerline. I don’t see the relevance to a) being a liberal, or b) going to a Christian college. Perhaps you can clarify that for me. (I’m surprised that you think that Christian colleges are teaching that having liberal politics is the Christian thing to do. Although I can think of professors who might think that, it was was certainly not my overall experience at Bethel.)

    About the article itself: The article seems to make some basic factual and argumentative errors. For instance, it decries Andrew Sullivan as a liberal. In fact, he is a self-proclaimed conservative and widely thought to be so. (However, his support for Obama in this campaign muddles the issue somewhat.) The article also says that the lurid portrayals of Palin are coming from the political left, but I see no evidence that people on the left are more likely to treat her in an inappropriately sexualized manner than people on the right. Do you have some reason for thinking this is the case? Additionally, the article’s attempt to draw out the contrasts between a non-existent pornographic treatment of Obama and a pornographic treatment of Palin seems to ignore a fundamental and important distinction about the way that men and women are differently portrayed in sexualized or pornographic manners. I also see no reason to think that “on the Left, anything goes–the more slimy and disgusting, the better.” What is the connection between liberal politics and being “slimy”? Am I supposed to conclude that because Andrew Sullivan linked to a dirty video (I haven’t seen it, but I’ll assume), that liberal politics is somehow morally bankrupt? That’s an incredible reach. There must be more to the argument, but I don’t see it.

  16. 1. Andrew Sullivan’s “conservative” credentials are on life support, having lost his mind over the past few months. At best he fits the libertarian mold, a libertarian being a person who desires discretion with money but not morals. As Paul Mirengoff said of another east coast “conservative” offended by we middle-American people with manure on our boots and who therefore joined the lemming parade and endorsed Senator Obama, “An Obama administration would almost certainly be to the left of the Clinton administration. It might well be to the left of any U.S. administration ever. A person who votes to bring on that administration may be admirable in many respects. He or she may have been a conservative recently. He or she may become a conservative soon, and should be welcome in that event. But if the term “conservative” is given its ordinary, contemporary meaning, how can he or she be considered a conservative now?”

    (For some insight as to why we rubes like Palin:

    2. There is a great difference between producing a video such as the one mentioned above and on the other hand, an individual who whether agreeing or disagreeing with a candidates policies would comment, as Senator Biden did about Governor Palin, that she is attractive. Only the former would be properly classified as being pornographic.

    Both are “inappropriately sexualized?” Please! Let’s not yield to a spirit of inordinate political correctness.

  17. And I quote from the 2008 Democratic Party Platform p. 50: “The Democratic party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman’s right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.”

    There are many ways to debate our proper role with welfare, the Iraq war, energy policy. That debate will consist of shadings of wisdom and poor argumentation, shadings of moral and immoral solutions. But the debate over the unborn is either kill a child or defend its life. There is no shading there.

    With the number of abortions in America EACH day eerily close to equalling the number killed on 9-11 (3500-4000) as well as the number of American deaths in the Iraq war it would seem that those defending abortion have a VERY significant moral problem.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *