I’d like to offer some perspective on the election of Barack Obama. While I happen to have a deep difference of opinion with him regarding the sanctity of human life, traditional marriage, and religious freedoms among other things, I’d like to take a stab at explaining why the election of America’s first black president is important for our nation.
The roots of what I’m about to say can be traced back to my first visit to South Africa back in 1991. At the time of my trip, the practice of apartheid had not yet been fully dismantled. In a word, apartheid was a system of forced segregation and discrimination based upon race. As such, white South Africans dominated while black South Africans were stripped of their citizenship. You might say apartheid was nothing less than institutionalized racism.
During my first trip, the tension I experienced as I walked the streets was thick. People wouldn’t look each other in the eyes. If a black man did look at me, there was an anger simmering in his gaze. Of course, being a visitor to South Africa I understood the dynamic of what was happening. I knew that black people in South Africa were given inferior education, medical care, and opportunities. The system was designed to keep them oppressed. Few had the opportunity to rise above the laboring class. Attempts to resist or change apartheid were met with swift and brutal force. I experienced this tension on two separate trips.
Then, on April 27, 1994, South Africa held their first multi-racial election. Nelson Mandela, who had given years of his life in the fight for racial reconciliation, was elected the first black president of South Africa. Everything changed. I traveled to South Africa probably twenty times after the election and witnessed a much different scene.
For example, the people I encountered during those visits were joyful and freely talking to each other on the sidewalk. The tension that previously filled the air was gone. You might say the fear and anxiety had lifted in the same way that a fog gives way to sunshine. The more I spoke with the local people, the more I realized this change was rooted in one word: Dignity.
One man told me it was the first time he felt fully like a citizen. That is powerful. It’s as if the heart of the South African people had been transformed once the chains of apartheid–which had imprisoned their souls for decades–gave way to freedom. And Nelson Mandela’s rise to the seat of power was the key that unlocked the chains of racism and division.
Here’s the lesson that many in the U.S. might struggle to understand. For black Americans, the election of Barack Obama is an important milestone. He symbolizes a new reality: he’s proof that regardless of the color of your skin, America is truly a country of unlimited possibilities. This is especially heartening news to black Americans, and truly, all Americans.
Again, I’m not suggesting that I concur with the policies or positions of president-elect Obama. But I am mindful of the fact that this election can help our nation move beyond the blight of racism. If true, I believe that is something for which we can all be grateful.
A final thought.
Paul, a follower of Jesus, wrote a letter in which he urged the early church to submit to their leaders (Romans 13:1-7) and to pray for them, saying, “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone – for kings and all those in authority” (2 Timothy 2:1-2a). Whether or not you voted for President-elect Obama, he will be the next president – not of just African Americans – but of all Americans. Join me in praying for him to be guided by the wisdom of God in the days ahead.