I believe I was at a High School Powderpuff football game. Our football team at Chiles High School was going for the great achievement of going 0-9 for the class of 09. So watching a few ladies show their dominance of the game was a far more entertaining way to spend an evening. As a seventeen year old senior, I had just missed the opportunity to vote in the 2008 election by a few months. But it didn’t mean I wasn’t all in with support of my candidate. I remember checking my razor flip-phone avidly. Refreshing Fox News waiting to see who would win Ohio. It all would come down to Ohio.
I clicked my green call button (which in those days also worked as a way to “select” a link) and the website declared the absolutely devastating news. “Barack Obama wins Ohio.” which for anyone following the election meant Barack HUSSEIN Obama would be our 44th president. I believe I yelled an audible “NOOOOO!” (Like a Darth Vader ‘NO!’) and fell to my knees. We had elected a socialist. A secret Muslim. How could America pick him over a war hero?
I drove to school that day with an Obama sign I’d found in the middle of the road. I used my best arts and crafts skills to alter it to say “NObama.” In fact, just so you understand just how deep I was in, these are the pictures I uploaded to my Facebook page in an album kindly titled “Because he pisses me off.”
I was passionately against Barack Obama. I condemned his socialist values even though I couldn’t articulately tell you what a socialist was or why that would be so bad. Only that that Halloween image above seemed to capture the sentiment.
I remember being defeated looking in and watching President Elect Obama give his victory speech that night in Chicago and actually…feeling a bit of hope. I wasn’t naive enough to deny the significance of having our first black president. I remember thinking, perhaps this won’t be so unbearable. Then the housing market crashed. We entered into the greatest recession that took a toll on my family, and when 2012 came around I genuinely believed Mitt Romney was the man for the job. He seemed better equipped to handle our economy crisis and Obama seemed to only be forwarding civil and social issues. “We’ve got too much trouble to worry about THOSE things.” (Notice the privilege I spoke with?) I would get into constant conversations with my roommates about my conservative values. I’d say “how can you believe that and stand with the Bible. ” Or yeah but “Christ.” I defended what I was raised to defend.
But something was changing in me through these discussions and the immersion of other voices in the midst of the traditional voices I grew up with. Rather than debate I started to listen to understand. I began to question my religion, my political party, and my foundations. I began to truly wrestle with questions from my roommates like “As a Christian, do I believe that health should be something we fight to bring all people. Should health be a human right? Is it right that families of poverty cannot afford healthcare? And how would Jesus vote for an issue like this?”
I remember writing an article just before the 2012 election titled The Political Bias Towards Control.
I quite often look back to this article as my tipping point. In it I wrestled with the idea that love means giving up control, and that as a Conservative Christian I often was forcing people to do what I believed was right, something upon studying the Bible I realized not even God did to his people.
The year of that election Trayvon Martin was killed. If I’m being honest that was likely the first time in my life (aside from the belief that the only reason Barack Obama was elected was because he was black) that I entered into a conversation about racial issues. In retrospect I believe I was on the wrong side of the argument. Then Freddie Gray died. Sandy Hook. ISIL began to rise around the world. Islamaphobia grew. Then Ferguson in 2014. Eric Garner. I watched our President navigate these situations. I watched his heart break with ours. As I wrestled with what was actually at the heart of my Christian faith, time and time again I saw Barack Obama living his out. I was inspired by him and how he fought for the least of these in our societies and around the world. Especially the immigrant and the refugee. I watched Obama speak over and over again to the heart of what Christ was telling me. Especially when it came to how we as a nation treat Muslims.
I watched Obama work towards protecting human life by fighting for gun reform and taking measures to treat mental illness. I watched Obama bring rights to those discriminated by our society. By advocating for women leadership and equal pay. By bringing healthcare to millions of people without. By fighting against climate change so that we could fulfill our duties given in Genesis, to be good stewards of God’s creation. And watched him bring the inspiration of our Gospel to a community in Charleston. I watched him sing a broken and true rendition of Amazing Grace.
While I have my criticisms. And they are not so few, I do have this to say:
Barack Obama, I grew under your leadership. Perhaps we didn’t see eye to eye on every issue. But you challenged me to see humanity in a way I believe Christ has been calling me to since my birth. You challenged me to value the dignity and worth of not just all Americans but all people. Especially those who see differently and appear differently than I do. You challenged me out of my confines into a more open awareness. You brought life to one of my strongest values “Love wins.” Or as Paul says in 1 Corinthians: “Love never fails.” Your leadership filled my heart with empathy to the voices I ignored so much of my life. And you encouraged me to be an advocate for those oppressed. All of which are values I see in my Savior and Redeemer, Jesus.
Sir, You completely shifted my heart on issues through your patience and persistence. Allowing me the time to wrestle and to, as you promised back in 2008, “Change.”
And indeed I have changed. In fact I’m often quite surprised by just how much I have changed over these last eight years. You’ve inspired the children I minister to be people of greater love and inclusion. I see it all the time. You’ve inspired young boys to offer up their homes to refugees in need. Your family has been a great example of class and character for the young men and women all over the world.
From critic to fan, I want to share with sincerity the words I used jokingly for many years: