by Rahiel Tesfamariam
While watching the national conventions these past two weeks, I’ve found the unspoken role of religion hard to ignore. Republicans appealed to a conservative base nervous about society’s growing tolerance for abortion and acceptance of same-sex marriage.
Democrats portrayed themselves as the party of inclusion — so much so that GOP vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan accused them of intentionally removing the word “God” from their 2012 platform.
While I can understand why many Christians are now finding their affiliation with the Democratic Party at odds with their faith, my decision to cast a vote for Barack Obama on election day has yet to waver.
The audacious hope that Obama maintains for America is at its core a matter of faith, and his policies have been rooted in that faith. It’s the belief that “we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights — rights that no man or government can take away,” as he eloquently said during his speech at the DNC on (last week) Thursday.
President Obama’s desire to protect those rights are grounded in the unique hardships that he has experienced in his life. Hardships tied to his biological attachment to Third World countries, living in a single parent home, not having the resources to pay for college, engaging in grass-roots work and losing loved ones to illnesses. Those factors are why he knows that we are “surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on Earth,” but doesn’t favor the haves over the have-nots.
I’m encouraged by his presence in the White House, because it leads me to believe that America is willing to put more chairs at the table for people originally left out. People like the little girl that Obama spoke of in his DNC speech “who’s offered an escape from poverty by a great teacher or a grant for college” and may one day “become the next Steve Jobs, or the scientist who cures cancer, or the president of the United States.” People like me, who are first-generation immigrants and the product of working class families.
As I watched the two conventions, that’s what I thought about — who was and wasn’t being seated at the table as an equal in two party platforms. I took note when a “diversity game” ensued on Twitter during the Republican National Convention, granting players points for every person of color that they could spot in the crowd. I also paid attention when delegates at the Democratic National Convention more accurately reflected the melting pot that is America.
If I were to picture what the Biblical conception of heaven might look like, there’s no doubt in mind that it would better resemble the rainbow of ethnicities that moved through Charlotte this past week.
No one can fault Romney for being born into the life that he was. But I want a leader who is committed to leveling the economic playing field. Obama’s commitment to this has been so firm that he has been called a closet socialist and a free-enterprise opponent. He has risked his popularity for the values that he believes in, and that suggests to me that principle is the compass guiding his decision-making.
I believe it was principle and not popularity that led him to take the health insurance industry to task in his first term. I have yet to meet a Democrat who advocates for the Affordable Care Act because she believes it’s flawless in its conception and practicality. But I also have yet to meet one who doesn’t think it’s time for America to step up to the plate when it comes to health care reform. America’s capitalistic approach to medicine is embarrassing to us as a nation. What does it profit us to strive to surpass the rest of the world in production and intellectual property if we’re not alive and well to reap the benefits?
Obama’s emphasis on the need to provide affordable, quality health care to millions of Americans who would otherwise not have it resonates with my image of “a disciple.” After leading a healing ministry that focused on curing people of illnesses, Jesus directed Christians, in Matthew 10:8, to do what he had — “heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons.” In following Christ, we are commissioned to help in healing God’s people, which in turn frees them up to be what God has called them to be.
Obama is far from perfect. I cringe whenever I hear his militaristic rhetoric, particularly his boasting of Osama bin Laden’s death. But my mind goes back to an elder who once told me that I should never expect him to play the role of a prophet or priest in his capacity as commander in chief. Jesus was the prophet who openly criticized empire. He was the peacemaker who told Peter to put away his sword. Jesus was everything that Obama can’t be, but that goes for every president before and after him.
When I heard President Obama quote President Lincoln say that he has been “driven to [his] knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that [he] had no place else to go,” I knew that I was supporting the right candidate: one whose humility will keep his eyes constantly set on God. But most importantly, a person whose sense of calling is rooted in sacrificial service to others.
Rahiel Tesfamariam is a columnist and blogger for The Washington Post and The RootDC. She is the founder/editorial director of Urban Cusp, an online lifestyle magazine highlighting progressive urban culture, faith, social change and global awareness.