I did not hear President Obama deliver his inaugural address but I have since read the transcript and wiped away tears as I did so. How it is possible for people to hear those words or read those words and not have the Spirit within them confirm the truth of those words I do not understand. Yet, my FB tells me that some were not moved in the same way I was. Some of my fellow countrymen and fellow Christians were moved instead to anger and judgment, to polarizing rhetoric and fear mongering, and I am grieved. I am grieved that some who have read the same Constitution I have read, or who claim to know the same God I know could hear our President’s address and moments later assert that Obama does not believe the Bible, that he is a tyrant, that he will take away our liberty, that he plans to build a Leviathan, and that he’s rewriting the constitution.
The differences between the two political parties is not that one wants less government and more freedom and the other does not. The difference is in where they want governmental influence and where they do not. The difference is in what each believes the purpose of government to be and what parts of the Constitution they want to emphasize. Like any document, our understanding of the Constitution is derived less from what the writers intended (since they are obviously no longer around to clarify their intent) and more from our own needs and desires.
When I hear the President say, “For we have always understood that when times change, so must we, that fidelity to our founding principles requires new responses to new challenges, that preserving our individual freedoms ultimately requires collective action.” I do not hear a call to socialism. As he outlined the ways in which we have always worked together I did not think he rewrote history nor discounted the great efforts of men like Henry Ford, or Andrew Carnegie. Instead, he acknowledged the fact that without the steel worker and the assemblymen Ford’s cars would never have been made and his empire would never have been built. If unveiling these facts some how diminished Ford’s image the fault is not with Ford nor with the one who reveals the truth.
When I read these words spoken by our President, “Through it all, we have never relinquished our skepticism of central authority, nor have we succumbed to the fiction that all societies ills can be cured through government alone. Our celebration of initiative and enterprise, our insistence on hard work and personal responsibility, these are constants in our character.” I do not conclude he is lying any more than when I hear him say, “We believe that America’s prosperity must rest upon the broad shoulders of a rising middle class.” do I think the subtext is: So tax the hell out of them.
Clearly President Obama is trying to guide the country in a new direction. Clearly when he says:
We the people declare today that the most evident of truth that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it guided our forebears through Seneca Falls and Selma and Stonewall; just as it guided all those men and women, sung and unsung, who left footprints along this great mall, to hear a preacher say that we cannot walk alone; to hear King proclaim that our individual freedom is inextricably bound to the freedom of every soul on Earth…for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well. Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity.
President Obama has cast a vision for freedom that reaches beyond his presidency. The Constitution he swore to defend holds those with power–whether branches of government or individuals–accountable for their use of that power. And, as the world’s most powerful nation, Obama sees the United States as having a greater responsibility. We must be caretakers of the planet, not just users. We must be peacemakers, not just law enforcers. We must be innovators and entrepreneurs and investors not just because that is the path to great wealth but because by being innovators and entrepreneurs and investors we contribute to the greater good, encourage others to do the same, and walk in harmony with our God.
Could the individual men who drafted our constitution have seen a day when their words would be used to defend same sex marriage? Probably not, but not because the principle which endorses it is not found in their words, rather because like us, they were flawed men, with their own self interests and deeply rooted prejudices. When the Constitution was ratified it did not contain the Bill of Rights because these men could not agree. The Bill of Rights, including the Second Amendment, came three years later. And, even though some in the Second Continental Congress thought the Constitution should abolish slavery outright the 13th Amendment which achieved that goal wasn’t ratified for another 74 years. It was 55 more years before women were granted the right to vote. And, additional changes to the Constitution have been made since 1920 because since then we have found it necessary to re-affirm what it means to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We have needed to establish again that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness be afforded to all our citizens. In short, to borrow the words of our President, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.”