Americans like to say that in this country, anyone can grow up to be president. Until Nov. 4, 2008, that was inarguably true – as long as you were born white and male. Today, a 47-year-old African American who was born when someone like himself would have had trouble voting in many parts of the country, and when interracial marriage was illegal in 22 states, is president of the United States of America.
“…his improbable personal journey is inextricably intertwined with the nation’s long, bloody road to racial equality. Before it was changed by the 14th Amendment, the Constitution defined someone like Obama as three-fifths of a person. It took the Civil War to end the abomination of slavery, and another century for the Civil Rights movement to prevail. Obama’s victory hardly marks the end of America’s most corrosive social affliction; but if racial prejudice and mistrust die in a thousand moments of progress, this is the most important one in a long, long time.” USA Today editorial, Nov. 5, 2008
Now that Obama has been elected by the majority of Americans to be our nation’s leader, it is time to put aside partisan-driven ideologies and differences, at least long enough to celebrate what has happened to us as a country. Even if you disagree with all or most of Obama’s plans and programs, even if somehow you’re still convinced he’s a covert Muslim who nevertheless attended a Christian church as a baptized member for 20 years, all Americans should rejoice that a thick, previously impenetrable glass ceiling has been broken that must have God smiling down on us.
Obama’s victory is a moral victory for our country; one that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. prophesied 40 years ago but which an assassin’s bullet kept him from experiencing. If he were still alive, he would have been 78. I believe he would have emphasized that Obama was elected first and foremost because more Americans voted for him because they deemed him most qualified to lead us, and not simply because he was black. Still, of the 95 percent of African Americans who voted for Barack Obama, there were no doubt some or many who did so primarily because he was their first opportunity to cast a ballot for a black person that actually had a chance to win the presidency.
And who can blame them – especially those who suffered through the evils of bigotry and racism in the darkest of times of America? Certainly not me. And the exit polls indicated that there were numerous whites, especially in the South, who voted against him primarily because he wasn’t white or because he was black. I have no sympathy for those folks. Clearly, we still have a ways to go to embody the principles put in place by the imperfect but prescient founders of this nation.
If you’re a follower of Christ – regardless of your political affiliation – I hope that you can appreciate that America’s choice of an African American, albeit a biracial one, albeit one who worked long and hard to prove that he was not a threat to white Americans, albeit one who had to distance himself from his ‘radical’ pastor, is a sign of God’s justice, and not merely the victory of one party over another. For those of us who claim to look at history through redemptive lenses, Obama’s election was a breakthrough that some thought would never come. For those of us who are committed to pursuing biblical reconciliation, this was a victory for God’s coming kingdom.
Moses led the people of God for 40 years of wandering in the desert. When they finally got to the Promised Land, God kept Moses from going in with his people. However, he died knowing that they had gotten to where God had pointed them. Forty years ago, Dr. King reminded our nation where God had originally pointed us to go, and he too never got to see us take those first steps into the Promised Land.
Gen. Colin Powell became the first African American Secretary of State and Condoleezza Rice followed in his footsteps. Geraldine Ferraro and then Sarah Palin became the first female major party candidates for the office of vice president. Those were just a few of the notable steps we have taken as a nation toward a Promised Land where all people are judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin or their gender.
Their efforts pointed us toward a time in this country when there is truly justice and equal opportunity for all. Electing our first non-white president, though, is a giant step into that storied “land of the free and home of the brave.” I hope you will join me in thanking God that this time has finally come and in recommitting ourselves to praying for and working for God’s justice for all.
Ken Fong is senior pastor of Evergreen Baptist Church of Los Angeles, located in Rosemead, Calif. He is a pioneer in multi-Asian and multiethnic church ministry and author of Pursuing the Pearl: A Comprehensive Resource for Multi-Asian Ministry (Judson Press) and Secure in God’s Embrace. This column is an excerpt from The Audacity of Faith: Christian Leaders Reflect on the Election of Barack Obama, which is available at Judson Press.