The following is part of a fascinating discussion that took place in my Ethics class this week. Students were given this discussion topic:
As we approach President Elect Obama's Inaguration, there is speculation about his choices of religious speakers. These include a progressive Protestant (Rick Warren), a gay Episcopal Bishop (Gene Robinson) whose consecration caused the worldwide Anglican Communion to split, and a liberal woman who works for the left-leaning National Council of Churches.
Obama's choices reflect his commitment to multi-culturalism and diversity. They are political choices more than religious ones. They do not commit the new President to a religious position.
How is this different from the King-Priest relationship of the ancient world? Then the relationship between the ruler and his chief priest solidified their divinely appointed power and unified the people in a single worldview.
Discuss your views on Obama's choices. By inviting these 3 religious figures to speak, is he inadvertently highlighting divisions or is he building unity?
STUDENT 1: President Elect Obama is ushering in a different era for the American people. Can we finally put away our racist and intolerant biases? I hope so. His choices illustrate his desire to unify this country as a multicultural community. This concept seems slightly odd--unity and diversity, but that is what American has always been about. Perhaps, this move would have been more easily accepted if we were all members of Afro-Asiatic tribes, whose chiefs were related by marriage. I think that Obama's choice is a good one, as an American community we must come together not just in toleration, but with acceptance and understanding of belief systems that we do not necessarily share.
TEACHER: Great observation, Sarah! Afro-Asiatic tribes were not multi-cultural, but there was diversity within the Afro-Asiatic Dominion which extended from the Atlantic coast of modern Nigeria to the Indus River Valley. What held the Afro-Asiatics together was a common (binary) worldview. Americans no longer have a common worldview. Maybe Obama is attempting to fix that by creating a new worldview for Americans?
STUDENT 2: I feel that President Elect Obama's choices of speakers is showing a very diverse decision coming from the top. He is showing that he is not gender-biased, sexual orientation-biased, or religious-biased. His choices shows all people that they are not being divided by any means. We all live in the same world, experiencing the same things everyday on our jobs, at schools and in churches, so why not have speakers representing all walks of life as we know it. No he is not stressing any divisions at all, if anything he is stressing unity.
TEACHER: So by inviting a progressive Protestant, a gay man, and a liberal women to offer prayers at his Inagural, Obama hopes to bring about unity? That doesn't make sense, since progressive Protestants, gay activists, and feminists have been unified in their support of him all along. Perhaps he is paying back political favors from gay activists, progressive Protestants, and feminists?
Traditionally Inagural prayers are offered by a Catholic, a Protestant, and a renown rabbi. Catholics and the Jews, generally more socially conservative, didn't support Obama in his run for President as much as he had hoped.
STUDENT 3: When America voted Obama as the next President, change and diversity was already a huge issue. I believe he is trying to please people. I feel he made this decision as a strategy in trying to convince America that he was the right choice. His motto was change and a different America. America is always going to have some sort of division due to race,religion,sexual orientation, etc. He is trying to appeal to everyone. When there was questions surrounding his pastor and that pastor's beliefs, it was a big issue. I think he is basically trying to cover his butt this time around.
STUDENT 4: I do not believe Obama is stressing divisions among groups, but rather he is embracing diversity. He wants a united America not a divided America. During his campaign, Obama pledged to be a unifying leader. Obama’s job is to be the president to all Americans at all times. He has been compared to Lincoln who also had to bring the nation together in the face of a crisis. Everything Obama has done has seemed impossible from beating Hillary Clinton, fundraising goals, and changing red states blue. Look who he has picked for some of his cabinet his rivals, people more experienced, people more educated, some of Bush’s staff etc. Obama’s inauguration theme is “A New Birth of Freedom” and it is fitting with what Obama is trying to accomplish. History is being written.
STUDENT 5: I feel that President Elect Obama's choices of speakers for the Inaguration was a very smart decision. This truly shows his ability to work with all types of people regardless of their religion, gender, or sexual preference. This shows that he is willing to work with anybody to make our nation stronger. Hopefully this will help in the every growing problems of different cultures being able to work together, President Elect Obama seems like he can and will work with different countries to fix any existing conflicts or hopefully prevent any future conflicts with other nations. Obama's choices also help America see that we all need to work together and set aside our differences to better our world.
TEACHER: We can certainly hope he will work with different countries to make a better world. This was inherent in his campaign promises. It is interesting that his first meeting with a foreign head of state was with President Calderon of Mexico. In that meeting many photographs were taken of Obama and Calderon skaking hands, etc., but Calderon (whose life is threatened every day by the drug cartel) received no promises from Obama. In fact, Obama's spokesman, Robert Gibbs, made it clear that Calderon could expect a reversal of Bush's Meridan Initiative Program. Without the help of the USA, the Mexican drug lords will take full control of Mexico. They have already assasinated Calderon's right-hand man and have control of the city of Juarez, where on the day before Obama was elected, the cartel executed 58 people.
As President, I hope that Obama will take a tough approach toward the drug lords because these are the people who don't mind helping terrorists. They are ruthless in their grab for money and power and they are able to smuggle just about anything into our country.
STUDENT 6: Obama chose these people to speak because he obviously feels they are qualified for the position and have been educated enough in order to perform at their highest ability and at our countries best intrest. Although the "mixture" of these people may seem absurd at this time, our world is changing and becoming more accepting towards gays and other racial, cultural, or ethnic differences. I do not believe it is a matter of whether Obama is stressing the divisions between these groups, but rather to unite America back as one, and having people who have different backgrounds could be influential enough to drive America back into some sanity.
TEACHER: I agree that Obama selected the religous speakers for in Inaguration very carefully. He seeks to build a wide base of support for a second term in office. That means reaching out to everyone. But he has also alienated many by inviting gay bishop Gene Robinson to speak. By inviting Robinson, Obama has slapped the faces of millions of Anglicans worldwide who have fought for 5 years to restore unity and stability to the Communion that was torn apart on the day that Robinson was consecrated. The Robinson invitation will erode a good deal of the support Obama may have gained from Evangelicals by inviting Rick Warren to speak.
For the second segment in this series of discussions with college students, go here.