For Christians, President Obama Said Much More Than You Think He Said

Well, he finally did it.

This afternoon, President Obama said in an interview with ABC’s Robin Roberts that he supports the right of lesbians, gays, and bisexual people to marry the person they love. Here are the three short clips ABC has shared, followed by the reason I think this matters. (Hint: It’s a game changer, and not for the reason you think.)

I’ll let others talk about why this is a monumental step from an LGBT point of view. Joe Jervis and Pam Spalding had particularly insightful reactions over at the Village Voice. Over at America Blog, Joe Sudbay and John Aravosis outlined the history that led us to today’s statement. And David Badash has official reactions of many Gay, Inc. leaders. And of course, anti-gay industry leaders are uniformly apoplectic. Jeremy Hooper has those statements.

As for me, I’d like to recognize what Obama said to religious Americans, because it was something different than most people think, and that difference could help craft the discussion going forward.

Religious Americans, particularly Christian Americans, are the ones holding back LGBT rights in this country. Just yesterday, Pam’s House Blend ran this picture of a church marquee at a church that doubles as a polling place in Wilmington, North Carolina. It was a pointed declaration to Christians going to vote on an anti-gay marriage amendment that if they wanted to be “good Christians,” they had no choice but to vote for the amendment.

This is what we call "passive electioneering."
This is what we call "passive electioneering."

(It’s a United Methodist Church, because of course it is.)

Planned or not, this is the context of the president’s statement, so it’s important to note exactly what he said to Christians who have been told for generations that as Christians, they can’t be in favor of civil rights for LGBT people. Watch the second video again and notice what he’s not saying.

He isn’t saying “I’m a Christian, but I think LGBT people should have rights.” He’s not even saying, “I’m a Christian, and I think LGBT people should have rights.”

No, President Obama is saying, “I’m a Christian, and that’s why I think LGBT people should have rights.”

Linger on that for a minute. The difference between those three statements is not inconsequential. In fact, it’s hard to overemphasize the importance of that nuance.

As offensive as “God is in the mix” was during that debate about civil marriage rights in 2008, the way he said it gave religious people permission to question their cradle-born beliefs about gay people. And as frustrating as “I’m evolving” has been for those of us who could really use (and deserve) equal rights right now, it has given Christians who might not know any out LGBT people permission to find room within their faith for new understanding.

And now, President Obama has called on Christian Americans to take the next step. He hasn’t told them to throw away their faith; that’s a fool’s errand. Rather, he has pointed out to them that LGBT inclusion very easily blends into the core of their faith as it already is. Just as importantly, he has given a voice to Christians who have already made that journey but have been intimidated into silence.

Will he convince the religious right? Of course not. I daresay that wasn’t even his goal. But there are people in the pews whose anti-gay positions are just an unconsidered default, and he might convince them to adjust their thinking to a more Christ-like attitude. He might get pastors in Middle America not to go quietly along with what Maggie Gallagher and Tony Perkins say they have to do. He might give closeted LGBT kids, teens, and adults who are steeped in anti-gay Christian dogma a new perspective that leads them safely out of the closet.

Like I said, this could be a game changer, far beyond just a conversation about legal rights. Well done, Mr. President. I’m impressed. (Now don’t make us push so hard for the next one. Deal?)

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5 thoughts on “For Christians, President Obama Said Much More Than You Think He Said

  1. Very insightful.  Thank you.  Though one tiny little quibble…there are a whole lot of us Christians who have not been holding back America on this issue, but have been working for decades to get us to where we are now.  Let me introduce you to my little branch of that group of Christians at http://www.ucc.org

    The Rev. Dr. James J. Olson
    Senior Pastor 
    Center Congregational Church
    Meriden, CT 

    1. In case it wasn’t as clear in the post as it is on much of the blog, I’m one of those Christians you speak of, specifically of the United Methodist branch. But there is no question that it is religious people (in America, mostly Christian religious people) who have done the most damage to LGBT rights and civil rights in general, always under the guise of religious (by which they mean “Christian”) liberty and authority.

      So while I agree with you that not all Christians are doing harm, the very vast majority of the people doing the very vast majority of the harm are Christians. It is up to religious people like you and me to correct that harm, and I’m glad to know that you have been working to do just that.

      I hope that clears it up. Thanks for your comment and God bless.

  2. Harry Reid also set a great example of a faith-based response:

    “My personal belief is that marriage is between a man and a woman. But
    in a civil society, I believe that people should be able to marry whomever they want, and it’s no business of mine if two men or two women want to get married. The idea that allowing two loving, committed people to marry would have any impact on my life, or on my family’s life, always struck me as absurd.”

    As a practicing Mormon, Reid doesn’t believe that same-sex marriage should affirmed by his church.  But, as a citizen, he doesn’t believe that the LDS creeds should be written into the Constitution.

  3. Pretty amazing how quickly Gays & Lesbians are drinking the BS
    flavored Obama “Kool-Aid”.   I found this from a post you wrote on Dec 17 2008, “According to a press release
    from the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, noted
    homophobe and warmonger apologist Rick Warren will be giving the
    invocation at President-elect Obama’s inauguration.
    To say this makes me unhappy would be an understatement of near-criminal proportions.”     Did the President have a magical change of heart?  Or maybe a change in the latest re-election polls?  Wake up!!  Obama doesn’t give a Bleep about Gays & Lesbians in any sincere way, shape or form

    1. Yes, I was angry about Rick Warren’s inclusion at the inaugural. Still am, in fact. That doesn’t mean that I can’t appreciate what President Obama said this week, and honoring his words doesn’t mean that I’m drinking Kool-Aid of any flavor. In fact, I acknowledged the frustration of the past three years in this very post.

      Rest assured that I and many others will be openly bothered if/when President Obama messes up again.

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