Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Ex-Obama aide says Christians must defend ‘poor and vulnerable’

Ex-Obama aide says Christians must defend ‘poor and vulnerable’As an undergraduate at George Washington University, Michael Wear had the audacity to approach then Senator Barrack Obama and not only encourage him to run for President of the United States-but also to ask for a job. 

As a Christian, Wear was convinced that Obama would be an attractive candidate to fellow believers, and he wanted to be the man to make that case on his behalf.

Wear would go on to work for Obama’s historic 2008 campaign, serve as a White House staffer in the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and then lead the President’s faith outreach during the 2012 campaign.

In his newly released book, Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House about the Future of Faith in America, he offers a sober analysis of the successes and failures of the Obama administration and its relationship with people of faith.

Wear’s book is impressively self-reflective and offers a blueprint for principled engagement in the public square for Christians of all backgrounds. 

I recently spoke with Wear to discuss his thoughts on issues ranging from abortion and contraception to refugees and race relations-and how the Christian virtue of hope might just be the key to navigating an increasingly divisive political terrain.

White: In this book you speak about the virtue of hope in politics and its possibility to be advanced by non-Christian sources and means, including government. With such a statement, are you hoping to persuade fellow Christians to have a more positive view of the role of government? 

Wear: I want Christians to view government and politics as an essential forum for loving their neighbors. I think in Christian experience we have had a pretty wide range of attitudes toward government, and I think different arrangements and attitudes are appropriate in different times and contexts.

For us, in this moment, we must recognize the power government wields to affect people’s lives, and use our interactions with governmental power to direct it towards what is good, true, and just.

You write at the end of the book-speaking specifically to Christians-“our goal is not victory, but faithfulness.” How does this principle translate into reality when we think about how to engage in the public square?

Concretely, it means that we do not sacrifice moral commitments for short-term political gain. So we do not lie about the facts, because we’re afraid we’ll lose if we are honest with people. We are attentive to the ways our political activity can manipulate people-through arousing fear, anger or self-righteousness, or placing a moral burden on people’s political views that is unjustified-and we do our best to avoid those kinds of tactics.

These are the kinds of things Christians can think about when voting-standards they can apply to politicians-but they are also standards for our daily interactions around political issues with the people in our lives.

Okay, let’s talk specifics. You write that religious freedom is currently “under pressure” in our country, and you’re highly critical of the Obama administration’s handling of the contraceptive mandate. In the end, why do you think the White House was so committed to the mandate, including ignoring advice from the highest levels of the administration, such as the Vice President? 

Well, there’s a reason I spent an entire chapter on the issue, and it’s because the mandate is complicated, and the decisions made were a result of a complex intermingling of policy concerns and political judgments.

Let me lay out just a few of the factors here: there was a sincere long-held policy aim of increasing access to contraception; women’s groups, especially Planned Parenthood, were essential to the passage of the ACA; there were concerns that deferring to religious freedom on the mandate would set a precedent for future policy disagreements; and a political judgment that the issue could be used against Republicans in what was going to be a difficult re-election campaign.

Folks such as Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden have publicly said that there’s room for pro-life feminists in the Democratic Party. Is this mere rhetoric, or is there actual evidence that there’s a willingness to make space for a variety of opinions on this issue?

At some level this is an existential question, right? Anyone is welcome to register for any party. The question is whether Democratic Party leaders will decide to further entrench not just the legality of abortion, but a judgment that abortion is a social good, as party dogma.

The further down the spectrum the Democratic Party goes, the more discomfort pro-life voters will feel affiliating and voting for Democratic candidates. As I argue in Reclaiming Hope, this would be bad for the party and bad for the country.

Do you think that the Republican Party’s positions on immigration, refugees, and matters surrounding race relations appeal to religious believers? 

Certainly, they appeal to some religious voters, but they don’t appeal to religious motivations as I see them. Not if we’re talking about concerted Republican attempts to disenfranchise black voters. Not if we’re talking about Republican rhetoric that seeks to raise suspicion and paranoia about immigrants, rather than compassion and mercy.

Religious people have an obligation to stand up for the poor and the vulnerable. I saw them do so time and time again during my time in the Obama Administration, and I will be standing with the faith community as we do so during the Trump Administration.

If you had the opportunity to speak with President Trump, what initiatives would you encourage him to continue from the Obama administration’s outreach to people of faith? What would you suggest he do differently? 

It is vital that the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships continue to focus on serving those in need, and not merely become another political platform for the president. 

I would urge President Trump to restore the Executive Director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships to the role of Deputy Assistant to the President, and to charge that staffer to focus on strengthening government relationships with faith-based and other non-profit organizations.

A senior-level person-an Assistant or Deputy Assistant to the President-in the Office of Public Engagement or even in the Chief of Staff’s office should be primarily responsible for religious outreach and policy engagement that is outside of the purview of the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

You write that “Christianity is an abolishment of tribes. It is radical in its openness and, therefore, in its application.” Yet Christians seem-just like the rest of the country-to be move divided than ever. What gives you hope that we can change this? 

For those who love Jesus to be united is the will of God, and so I feel very hopeful that it will be done. This is John 17. We must acknowledge that this is His will, and ask ourselves how we can respond to it right now.

It’s very important to understand that to be united does not mean that we all have the same politics, just like it does not mean we will all share the same culture or language or hobbies. 

What it means is that our love for Jesus will transcend these lesser loves, and that we will gain the perspective to see from outside of our parochial interests.

In politics, we are compelled to consider and act on others’ interests, not just our own.

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