“Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests, scripture tells us, ‘Do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, inwardly, we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all, so we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven not built by human hands.’”
(Text of President Obama’s Speech at Newtown, Connecticut memorial service, December 16, 2012, quoting 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:1 (NIV ).
I have been an outspoken critic of the apparent disconnect between President Obama’s professed Christian belief and his actions as President. The President has given his support to same-sex marriage, which clearly violates Scripture’s prohibitions against homosexuality and disregards the Divinely established institution of heterosexual marriage. Arguably he is the most pro-choice President in modern history, showing no regard for the sacredness of the lives of the unborn or the Sixth Commandment’s, “You shall not murder.” Moreover, he rarely participates in a public worship service unless it is related to a national event.
However, last night, during his speech in Newtown, Connecticut, the President did something different: He maintained his Presidential responsibility to comfort the country in a time of national tragedy while also expressing a Christian vision of hope. Three things stood out.
First, President Obama opened his speech quoting Paul’s hope of the “eternal weight of glory” eclipsing the suffering of this life. This is different than quoting The Golden Rule while hollowing out the rest of the teachings of Christ. By referencing the 2 Corinthians passage, the President offered an apostolic view of suffering and hope as the means by which he is making sense of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary. To suggest that the deaths of more than a score of 6 – 7 year olds at the hands of a deranged gunman poses “a momentary and light affliction” for their parents, that community, or the nation, is a view that is uniquely Christian. To anyone else, such belief should seem ludicrous at best and completely insensitive at worst.
Second, the President litters much of his speech with references to Christian concepts of depravity and redemption. Consider this paragraph:
“As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other. You’ve cared for one another. And you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered, and with time and God’s grace, that love will see you through.”
Inserting “God’s grace” proclaims to the Newtown citizens that human effort alone is not sufficient to provide the strength necessary to return to a sense of normalcy in the future. The President returns to this idea later in the speech:
“We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain, that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that, no matter how good our intentions, we’ll all stumble sometimes in some way.
We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.”
The allusions to Romans 3:23 and James 3:2 also are unmistakable as we “fall short” and “all stumble” while trying to discern “God’s heavenly plans.” Later in the speech, in this sovereign plan, the President says God also “calls [the slain children] home.” Rather than grasping for the ubiquitous “rest in a better place” rhetoric, President Obama pulls his understanding of death from Christian themes.
Third, the President directly quoted Jesus as a historical figure. What he did not say is important: He did not say, “The Bible says that Jesus said,” possibly suggesting Jesus is a literary figure of the Christian textual tradition. Instead, he said “‘Let the little children come to me,’ Jesus said, ‘and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven,’” drawing upon Matthew 19:14. For our Comforter in Chief, the slaughtered children landed in the arms of Christ.
In spite of making one mention of “all the world’s religions,” the President left no option of eternal hope or life after death through any other religious schemes or houses of worship. He risked offending every Muslim, Jew, and atheist. Yet he provided powerful words of comfort for the entire listening audience – and he did so by looking to heaven through Christ.
I recognize that the rest of the speech is typical, full of the common condolences the American people have come to expect and respect in the wake of national tragedies. I also know that these remarks might not reflect a full working of the Gospel in the heart and mind of President Obama. Yet itis a good start, and a welcomed sign of Christian-like convictions. I only pray and hope that this will be a sign of the influence of Christ in all that the President will do the next four years.
May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ bring the great comfort of heaven to the families and community of Newtown, Connecticut who lost their loves ones during last’s week’s tragic and senseless act of violence.