I was asked to speak at a Barack Obama rally tonight. Here's what I'm going to say. In this speech I will explain that I am speaking as a pastor of the Open Door but not for the Open Door. I am speaking for myself.
I believe there are two general ways to live our lives in this world. We either live under a paradigm of hope or we live under a paradigm of despair. Despair is built upon distrust, fear, hopelessness, greed, and an ego centric lifestyle. The paradigm of hope is built upon relationships with those we once did not trust and whom we once feared, it is built upon a willingness to see all of God’s creation as sacred and in the end not ours to possess, it is built upon an ability to understand our neighbor’s needs as our own.
America has been governed under the paradigm of despair for too long. It is time for us to live by hope. Paradigm shifts do not come about easily, moving from subconscious despair to an overarching paradigm of hope is not easy, but I believe many of us are ready. Those of us who are beginning to function under a paradigm of hope are being told that it is unrealistic… it’s unrealistic to think that Sunni’s and Shiites can coexist in peace, it’s unrealistic to think that all children in the United States can have good health care, it’s unrealistic to believe there can be peace in Iraq, it’s unrealistic to believe that American’s will ever elect an African American as their president! My message to you today is that this is not an unrealistic hope that we are called to, but it is a courageous hope. If we have any faith, this kind of hope is not unrealistic. If enough people in this country have this kind of courageous hope (or as Barak would say, audacious hope) then our ideals will become a reality.
My church, the Open Door in East Liberty, is a church that has hope. We are a new church consisting of many young people from all around Pittsburgh and the United States. Upon moving into the neighborhood of East Liberty we were very excited to diversify our cultural and ethnic makeup as a church. This didn’t happen. Most of the people in our church look about like me, grew up in families about like mine, and attended school just like I did. Some of the families in our neighborhood are also like me, but many others come from very different backgrounds. As a church we quickly realized that issues of race and class are still very real in our city, and if we are to deal with those issues it will be a long and hard process. But we, the Open Door Church, have committed to give reconciliation and relationship our very best try. We’ve committed to building relationships, helping low income families afford first time home ownership, and we’ve committed ourselves to repentance and reconciliation.
Barack Obama’s speech on race a few weeks ago will go down in history. It is a shame that he was forced to give this amazing speech because of controversy. It’s easy to condemn the few sound bites that we’ve heard from Barak Obama’s former pastor, some of the things he said were off base. But the statements that Rev. Wright made do not surprise me. African American’s in the United States are still suffering oppression and injustice. There is still covert racism in the subconscious psyche’s of millions of people. By living in a predominately African American neighborhood I’ve learned that many African Americans are still dealing with the inheritance of the disadvantaged. As a white, middle class, male pastor, I have realized that I must humble myself and be willing to hear very difficult things from and about the disenfranchised in our communities. My church must be willing to take the humble posture of sitting at the feet of our African American brothers and sisters so that we may learn from them, learn about the injustices they have faced, and form friendships that move beyond the despair of the past.
According to Mark Gornick, another pastor doing amazing inner city ministry in Baltimore, we must even be willing to repent, as individuals and as a church, from the racism and classism and sexism still latent in us. We have hope that one day God’s church will be a humble, accepting and diverse community. We have hope that those with power in our culture will learn to live with an open hand, freely giving over their privilege for the sake of justice.
Many of us believe that Barack Obama will be the president who can help heal wounds that have been festering for centuries. We believe Barack Obama can unite this nation, not only for the sake of political advancement, but for the advancement of peace and justice. The biblical understanding of peace and justice is called Shalom in the Hebrew language. The idea of Shalom is an all encompassing wellbeing, physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. And it is for all people. According to the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, it is especially for the poor, the disenfranchised, the sick, the orphaned and the widowed. As a minister of Jesus Christ, shalom is my primary hope, peace and justice especially for the suffering and disenfranchised of our world. While I do not believe any government can ever fully bring about this biblical shalom, I believe Barack Obama’s ideas and vision for our nation can set the stage for God’s people to work for peace and justice for the poor, not only here in America, but throughout the world. My hope is for a global culture that is a little closer to what we believe God wants us to be, a culture where shalom rules.