President Obama gave his farewell address to the nation last night. He spoke from McCormick Place convention center in Chicago, less than four miles from Grant Park, where he gave his 2008 victory speech.
Watching his address, I was struck by two contrasting themes.
One: Mr. Obama clearly wanted to claim success for his last eight years in office. Every president leaving office wants to do the same. It’s a natural way to consolidate gains and celebrate progress. At the end of his speech, he repeated the familiar “Yes we can!” from his 2008 presidential campaign, followed by “Yes we did!”
Two: The president wanted to cast his vision forward, clearly setting the stage for confrontations with the Trump administration and its competing agenda. He cited a laundry list of contentious issues, from climate change to discrimination to health care, and made it clear that he is not going to fade from view. His party has no clear leader and could face even more congressional losses in 2018. It seemed to me that Mr. Obama was not only framing his administration now ending, but also making a campaign speech for his future now beginning.
In coming days, I plan to share my thoughts regarding Mr. Obama’s worldview and its consequences for our culture. For today, let’s think about his farewell speech and more specifically, the right spirit in which to respond.
Consider a lesson from the recent election. In the current edition of Newsweek, Michael Wolff notes that the establishment media was so surprised by Trump’s success because they were so out of touch with Trump’s America. Their alignment with liberal values and cultural elites made it difficult for them to see other worldviews coherently or objectively.
Those of us who embrace biblical values must be careful not to do the same.
For instance, I know pro-choice supporters who are personally opposed to abortion but believe the choice should be with the mother rather than the government. They see themselves as defending both the mother and the child. I disagree strongly (for my white paper on this issue, see Abortion and the Mercy of God), but I need to understand their position before I can persuade them to change it. Denigrating them as “baby killers” is as offensive to them as calling the pro-life position a “war on women” is to me.
We can be “culture warriors” or we can be cultural missionaries, but we cannot be both. There are times when we must defend biblical truth, as did the prophets and apostles (1 Peter 3:15). But there are also times when we should build relational bridges over which to lead people to biblical truth. Jesus condemned the Pharisees’ hypocrisy (Matthew 23), but he engaged the Samaritan woman in gracious conversation that led to the conversion of her village (John 4).
As we respond today to President Obama’s farewell address, let’s do so in a way that respects both his office (Romans 13:1) and his person (2 Timothy 2:24). Let’s stand for truth, but let’s do so in love (Ephesians 4:15). Let’s value the people we influence more than the debates we win.
There are no red states or blue states in heaven, only eternal souls.
Publication date: January 11, 2017
For more from the Denison Forum on Truth and Culture, please visit www.denisonforum.org.
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