Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Wear - Reclaiming Hope

Shadi Hamad, a colleague I met in Qatar and follow on Twitter (@shadihamid), highly recommended Michael Wear’s Reclaiming Hope (2017). Shadi offers insights that many other authors miss so I thought Reclaiming Hope could be a good read. I was not disappointed and other reviewers have already endorsed it as well. Although Wear’s overall assessment of the Obama years, seen through the eyes of a deeply committed Christian working in the White House’s faith-based initiatives, was peppered with disappointment, it nevertheless credited Obama with a number of important stands that served to embrace and draw Christian leaders and believers closer to the Democratic party than they had been for many years.

On the day the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships was launched by President Obama he said, “Instead of driving us apart, our varied beliefs can bring us together to feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted; to make peace where there is strife and rebuild what has broken; to lift up those who have fallen on hard times.” (9% into digital text) Wear worked for this office for 40 months following a stint as a volunteer campaigning for Obama during his run for his first term. Wear characterized his coming of age “during a time when the Religious Right had great influence and many Christians were coming to accept that some of the tactics of that movement actually caused damage to the witness of the American church.” (14% into digital text) The hope was that the Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office would create constructive ways for the Democratic Party to embrace this influential segment of the electorate by linking evangelicals to a commitment to social justice and the common good of all citizens. This would be a reawakening of the ideal that “I am my brother’s/sister’s keeper” that is so central to most religious traditions.

Zealousness can sometimes be expressed by those who have deep convictions. Wear acknowledged the need to learn how to not “kill the rabbit,” an image borrowed from Of Mice and Men used by one of Wear’s mentors to help him learn to keep his passions in check. The point being that when we love something, we should not hold it so tightly that we risk killing it. Although Wear does not portray Obama’s advocacy for faith-based work as tightly held, some of the ambivalence he describes may have indicated this to be the case. Regardless of the ambivalence, Obama’s resolve to engage faith-based groups was unshakeable and focused on four priorities; strengthening the role of community organizations, reducing unintended pregnancies and supporting maternal and child health, promoting responsible fatherhood, and promoting interfaith dialogue and cooperation. In this reviewer’s opinion, it was perhaps Obama’s clear, balanced, and unifying message and its potential to engage those of strong faith that posed the greatest threat for the Republican right, a threat that may have driven some of them to create the preposterous claims of Obama being a Muslim and not a real American-born citizen.

Learning how to disagree without being disagreeable is a phrase that Obama used many times and it was certainly a mantra to the faith-based initiatives. Only a year into Obama’s Presidency, two evangelical leaders, Os Guinness and Mark DeMoss, sought the commitment of every member of Congress to greater civility, only to fail due to the perception of some that civility was no more than unilateral disarmament. Unfortunately, the Affordable Care Act, the resulting conservative uprising against it, and the loss of the majority in the House of Representatives would put an end to any and all willingness to engage in civil discourse on shared concerns. Even President Obama’s vast capacity for gracious humor, even temper, and unapologetic proclamation of his Christian faith could not bridge the widening gap between the Democratic Party and evangelical Christians. Indeed, Wear spent five chapters explaining how pivotal conflicts and “the structural realities of our media and political institutions, and the strategies of politicians and strategist conspired to drive polarization to the truly corrosive levels we see today.” (39% into digital text) The conflicts include; abortion, the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s shifting views on LGBTQ rights/protections, and ultimately the lack of White House staff understanding the Christian right.

Wear closed by exploring whether or not there was any justification for hope in U.S.A. politics or, more importantly, in human progress. Wear cited Coates (author of Between the World and Me, 2015) and the struggle for hope he addressed. Coates’ critics focused on the lack of hope in his book yet he himself responded that, “a writer wedded to ‘hope’ is ultimately divorced from ‘truth.’” The hard truth is that the U.S.A. is in a very difficult time, one characterized by extreme isolation and antagonism among many of its politicians and citizens. However, Wear proposed that faithful hope is still possible, primarily because realistic faith accepts the reality of man’s sinful nature and God’s constant work to reunite with us in a reconciling life. Quoting Dr. Raphael Warnock, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King was pastor, Wear proposed, “’It takes a tough mind and a tender heart to hold on to hope.’ But hold on we must. Hope is our tether to reality, and our bulwark against despair.” (66% into digital text) Advocating for readers to be active, volunteer, invest their talent and resources, and remain humble in all that they do, Wear closed by identifying the two biggest issues he believes people of faith must address in the coming years – racial justice/reconciliation and religious freedom. Now it is up to people of faith to find a way to bridge the faith chasm that most likely gave the White House to an individual who least represents conservative Christian values in the modern day, Donald J. Trump.

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