The Obama test and our choices

01 Jun

I had a thought provoking chat with my niece a couple of days ago. The discussion touched on Barack Obama’s recent endorsement of gay marriages. It did not end at that though. We took it further to assess ourselves as individuals, religious people and even more so called christians.

Switching roles: If I were Obama.

Pertinent questions were asked as the two of us dissected the issue. Would we have taken a different approach and given another position? Are we better than Obama and stand in the right place to castigate him for his public statement? If either of us were American, would we still vote for him?

The spontaneous discussion and ensuing questions jotted my mind into action. Simply because the Obama position had inevitably polarised opinion on the issue. On one hand, yet again there is no running away from a topical cultural, moral and social dilemma. On the other, it challenges everyone not to be in a rush to simply cane homosexuality but rather to turn the microscope on our lives too.

The world’s #1 citizen

Let me start with Obama. Unlike me or any other ordinary citizen, the US president yields immeasurable influence. Following his public endorsement, we have noted reports that the black community in the US may tone down on their view of homosexuality/gay marriages and perhaps be more receptive. Whether this will happen and is an accurate representation cannot be determined here. What can be concluded and not contested is that Obama is an influential opinion leader. What he says transcends borders, cultures, races and beliefs.

I therefore feel that when it comes to delicate issues of such a nature, tact is of essence. Homosexuality (now also christened as alternative lifestyles) is unnatural across cultures. That is why it has struggled to gain legal or society’s acceptance. Obama should have taken this into consideration before his endorsement.

Different cultures, different rules?

There is also the little matter of cultural uniqueness. America has been known to be one of the most permissive of nations on the earth. It has been a leader albeit negatively on some scores. For this reason, the LGTB movement has garnered strength over the years. So perhaps, the way an African leader and an American one would view homosexuality stands in sharp contrast. Of course with the exception of Joyce Banda (going by recent media reports) and South Africa. That would be one way to understand where Obama is coming from.

Power, pride and money

Then there is the pursuit of power and all its trappings. America is in an election year. There is a lot at stake and Obama stands in the centre of all this activity. He is the answer to some people’s hopes and a stumbling block to others. Either way, each side has an agenda and where dynamics take this route, inevitably money has a part to play. To remain in power and keep the influence, financing has a critical role.

Sadly, all financiers have investor minds one way or the other. Their returns are the ultimate prize. Either they want more money, influence, poverty alleviation or whatever the cause. Money chases money, power and influence. That is the precarious position Obama finds himself in. The White House, security detail, global leadership status and influence are perhaps more important than his personal beliefs and principles. Could that have been the motivation behind the public pronouncement? To earn re-election? Raise campaign funds?

Shifting principles and beliefs?

Beyond the power, pride and influence of money, the question of principles arises. What do we believe in and how strong are those beliefs? Further, one may ask are the beliefs adapted to suit a changing environment or should it be the other way round?

Obama is a professed christian, I would like to believe. If that be the case, it becomes necessary to determine the authority of a christian. The underlying and never changing authority will and must be Jesus Christ and the Bible. The position of authority as outlined in the Bible then must govern one’s choices in all situations. Was the endorsement in line with the Bible’s position?

Society continues to evolve and with this transformation, we have seen a rise in immorality, materialism, corruption and secularism in its many forms. There will always be two sides for as long as the world and we its inhabitants remain imperfect. But the unchanging fact will remain that truth does not change. Truth and its accompanying principles must remain as they are and a fast changing world must adapt to that truth.

From where I sit, Obama’s principles adapted to a changing world and its demands. The price paid for one more term in the White House, on the global stage and to keep the influence. It may just be that in such prominent roles, one does not own themselves and one is no longer in full control of who they are or what they do.

The pertinent question always remains that does wrong change to become right? Was what passed for wrong evolve into right? Has homosexuality taken a turn for good from being abominable?

Seeing beyond Obama

It does not end there though and this is not just about Obama. It is about you and I. Do we adapt our principles every day to suit our changing environment? To be accepted or popular? To avert punishment or harsh consequences? Is it the challenge of being so christian or principled when in church on Sundays or when attending “christian” meetings surrounded by “holy” company but a different picture when we are back in our world?

That is what matters the most beyond what Obama said. We may call ourselves christians, religious or good people or whatever we deem. But like Obama, how many times do we succumb to a popular view for a shot at fame, influence or acceptance? Would we have been any different had we been in his place?

It is easy to castigate him. It is even easier to overlook our own shortcomings. But then we must take time to assess ourselves, root out compromise and strive to be loyal to our beliefs and principles. It is widely held that it is easy to “preach” about something wrong when you are on the other side. But once in that very situation, you change your perception.

That is very true. But then again, is that the way it should be? We must hold onto all-weather principles and history offers such examples that inspire hope. The Abraham Lincoln legacy is one that lives because he stood up against slavery, a popular thing in his time. We have our own forefathers in Africa that lost their lives challenging colonialism because they believed in freedom. Those were not the popular options of their time but principle triumphed over popular sentiment.

Take a look at yourself

What about us? What happens to our principles or beliefs when we gossip? When we feed our excessive insatiable appetites and habits? When we opt for a deal to win business opportunities than drop one more ball of sweat? When we embrace corruption for our gain at the expense of the people? When we fall in the arms of another man or woman in preference to our own? When we are dishonest at work or home to save our skins? Or even when we turn up at church to show face and play the role than genuinely be christian?

Obama is human and this latest episode proves just that. I do hope he has had time to rethink what he said and the lives he may have influenced. But even more importantly, his position left me to challenge myself and where I stand on so many things in my day to day life.

The challenge is to live out my principles and beliefs everyday even when my immediate environment makes it easier to abandon them. That is the cardinal side to President Obama’s chosen stance.

Is any of us able to stand on a pedestal and condemn him? I think not. And the truth of the matter is that this is not condemnation to make ourselves look good. Instead it should be a conscience call that does not beautify wrong by using a different name for it or letting society dictate what the ruling principle(s) must be.

All of us stand shyly condemned when we stand in the mirror and honestly question ourselves. When we stare our real self in the eye and see the many times we compromise or set aside our principles and beliefs for the sake of expediency, influence, pride or whatever reason.

Can any of us say we pass the Obama test when faced with such decisions, whether complex or simple, in our daily lives?

Each one of us knows best.

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Posted by on June 1, 2012 in Reflections


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