By Jeff Fulmer
Originally posted at Hometown Prophet
I should confess right off that I voted for George W. Bush in 2000 because, in part, he was a man of faith. He called himself a “compassionate conservative,” which was how I liked to think of myself. After a couple of years, I realized the man I had voted for wasn’t very compassionate or conservative, at least not fiscally. By the end of his second term, I was ready for someone totally different. Yet, even though my politics had shifted, I still wanted to vote for someone that shared my values.
In 2007, I heard a rumor that Barrack Obama was going to visit the Bethel AME Church in my hometown of Nashville, Tennessee. He was here to campaign with Harold Ford, who was running for the US Senate. While then-Senator Obama wasn’t yet running for President, he was obviously considering it. Like a lot of people, I’d heard Senator Obama’s speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention and was intrigued enough that I drove across town to see him in person.
When we got there on Sunday morning, we were surprised that the small church wasn’t even full. It didn’t seem like word had gotten out. I don’t remember any cameras or reporters. While we were about the only white people, we were warmly welcomed. The young minister admitted he was nervous and then went on to pray in a moving way. The singing rang to the rafters and there was a real feeling that the Holy Spirit was in the house.
When it came time for Senator Obama to say a few words, I expected to hear a well rehearsed stump speech. Instead, he openly and enthusiastically talked about his background and his coming to faith. Apparently, he told us a lot more than he told Franklin Graham about how he came to accept Christ, at least more than Franklin chooses to remember. We all left moved by the entire service and I felt that I had not only witnessed a great speaker, but someone I could believe in again.
As President Obama’s first term nears completion, I am still proud of my vote and the record he is running on for re-election. He has not worn his faith on his sleeve or taken up the social issues that divide us as a country. For me, that’s a huge step in the right direction. To my continual amazement, he has consistently risen above the rancor and the hostility that is regularly hurled at him. And, whether conscious of it or not, he is quietly following the principals I find in the Bible.
For example, President Obama has provided access to medical care for people who least can afford it. He expanded the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to insure four million children and pregnant mothers. (President Bush vetoed two attempts to expand coverage to this same group). Prior to the Affordable Healthcare Act, anyone with a ‘pre-existing condition,’ could be denied coverage, charged two or three times what they were paying, or have their benefits slashed.
Another tangible way of sticking up for the little guy is through the Credit Card Reform Act. This caps and cuts an assortment of fees, gives consumers more reasonable opportunities to pay off their debt, and restricts a credit card company’s ability to arbitrarily raise interest rates. President Obama boosted funding for the SEC to fight insider trading and started the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, once again standing up to challenges from the powerful banking lobby and Republicans.
While domestic oil production has increased during President Obama’s first term, he has given the EPA more tools to enforce existing laws on the books. He’s also been investing in cleaner forms of energy, such as wind, solar, and bio-fuels. Perhaps over-reaching at times, he’s at least attempting to give alternatives a chance to compete with big oil, gas and coal. Taking a stand for the environment sometimes comes at political peril and there will be many who will ridicule anything that deviates from business as usual.
President Obama is in the process of ending two foreign wars that have cost thousands of lives and billions of dollars. While no can accuse President Obama of being weak on defense, he has sought peaceful solutions first. His critics will point to the deficit, which is a valid concern. However, slashing the budget during a recession is a sure way to extend the economic downturn. It also seems to me that President Obama has been more than willing to negotiate in good faith on deficit reduction, putting cost-cutting measures on the table in exchange for very modest tax increases on the most wealthy.
These are the types of the issues that affect people’s lives and where principles intersect with reality. Despite his critic’s inexplicable outrage, President Obama seems to be a pragmatic politician who is gently nudging the country toward being a fairer and more just place for all of its citizens. And many of the issues he’s promoted are the modern day equivalents of what Jesus cared about in his day. Whether it’s standing up to bullies (the Hate Crimes Bill), defending “the least of these,” protecting creation, or being a peacemaker, President Obama continues to represent my values as a Christian.
Jeff Fulmer is the author of the book "Hometown Prophet."