Why Do Christians Love Obama?

I admit to being ironic in the title of this blog. What is clear to me is that many, probably most of my friends on Facebook are orthodox Christians. Probably they would call themselves conservative evangelicals, whether they were from a Protestant denomination like Baptists or Anglicans. And probably-I have not counted-many if not most of them are also conservative Republicans. For many of them this is not something that they post about a great deal, although you may detect their leanings by which postings they like. However, for a significant subset there is a fixation on the political. Although I know about the religious leanings and sometimes even see them in the pictures they post of themselves, one rarely sees them in their Facebook postings. The postings, whether created personally or shared or linked, are all about politics, and usually about criticism, often vitriolic criticism, of Pres. Obama. I may see three or four postings in a single day, perhaps in a single hour. So why this fixation?

In part, of course, it is due to the media that they consume. There are numerous right-wing websites out there as well as right-wing commentators, and often the intemperance of the language on the sites is only matched by the holes in their logic and the distortion of the facts they cite. In one sense this is nothing new. I grew up in a family that I would guess was Eisenhower Republican. I say guess because we rarely talked about politics, but my parents seem to have conservative values and yet were not extremist. I reacted to this for one reason or another and became an extreme right wing Republican during my high school years. There was plenty of literature out there that argued that the mainstream of the Republican Party was at least pink if not downright crypto communist. Once you got linked into the network one site would point to another. All of this, of course, took place via the postal system. It was because of this that I applied for a military scholarship, hoping to become an infantry officer in Vietnam after University so I could fight the godless communists. Yes, such distortions of the world were available in the 1960s, but they are even more available now as the Internet makes access so much easier. I have the same problem when teaching biblical studies. There was always distorted and inaccurate literature about the Bible available in the world. But in those days of the past students use the libraries, and much of that literature did not make its way into libraries. The urgency of assignments and the slowness of the postal system meant that students headed for the better stuff in the library, assuming they even knew of the existence of the other material. Now, the Internet has reversed the priorities. Sitting in one’s home one can access the good, the bad, and the ugly. It takes energy to go to a library. So I am much more likely to get what I call junk sources in assignments. So one explanation is availability. It is cheap and easy to set up a web presence. One can post things without anyone being able to check them. And one can link to other sites that have the same prejudices. The resulting network of sites makes it look like the data is established. As one person has said, a lie repeated often enough becomes taken as the truth.

I think, however, that this is only a partial explanation. Why the focus? Why the fascination? Why the need to constantly criticize? Some have argued-and I wish I could remember my source-that this is because Pres. Obama represents the other. He is black in the world in which the white majority seems to be losing its control. His father was foreign, which makes him more other. Some of his childhood was spent in foreign countries. And in fact he was born in, often lived in, and still returns to Hawaii. For many Americans Hawaii is foreign-it is treated as if it were not a state. So the otherness of the president could be a factor in the vitriol. This includes the refusal to believe that he is a Christian, despite his clear confession of a conversion experience, and the ready acceptance of the myth that he is Muslim. To the extent that this is true, we have covert racism. Over racism is not acceptable, but it is apparently acceptable to constantly criticize a person for everything they do. It is acceptable, because one does not mention skin color. One uses other epithets that label the person as other. In this case, it is that he is a covert or overt tyrant, that he is against the Constitution, that he is against individual rights. There is probably also something to this, but I wonder if it is the full answer. Followers of Jesus have lived under real tyrants before, but we find them hardly mentioning them. Paul says a little about the Emperor and never names Nero. The closest we come to such a naming is Revelation 17, where John does indicate that Domitian is evil. I had a lot of German friends who lived or even served in the army under Hitler. Even after the war, I did not hear much about his evil. Nor did they talk much about their suffering. They were focused on other things. What they talked about were there plans, their ministries, their love of Jesus, their families of the present. How did these and many other followers of Jesus avoid the fascination with evil that I find in in these many Facebook posts?

Another reason for this fascination, this negative fascination, may be the cognitive distortions of our age. The political center has tended to fade at least for those on the right of the spectrum. Seasoned leaders in Congress, skilled in the art of negotiation and compromise have retired, often with deep grief, because compromise and negotiation seem out of date. We live in a world of cognitive distortion, where black and white thinking, where herding, where high reactivity are the rule. This is what was predicted by Edwin Friedman in his book Failure of Nerve. You see, I do not want to pretend that I believe that Pres. Obama is above criticism. I personally think his policy of assassinating perceived enemies via drones is immoral. Unfortunately, this is not what the right is criticizing him for. Many of them would be even more violent. I personally do not think that his medical program goes far enough-it should include the immigrant, among other things. It really does not have an effective measure for reducing the fact that Americans pay four times as much for healthcare as Europeans and Canadians, whose healthcare measured in terms of longevity and infant mortality is more effective. Yet I am thankful that more of the poor will receive healthcare under the president’s plan. No, there are things that one can criticize, but as I noted in my example of healthcare, there are things that one can be thankful for. I may not like the use of drones, but I am thankful for the winding down of the presence of American forces in Afghanistan and, earlier, in Iraq. My point is that this is not black white thinking. There are some negatives, which concerned me, and some positives, which I applaud. It is not all or nothing. And that is usually the case, even with admittedly evil people. Take Hitler, for example, the Germans are still enjoying the fruit of his need for an effective transportation network. One suspects that Eisenhower’s development of the US interstate network was modeled on Hitler’s development of the autobahns. And I feel free to say this, without denying that overall his influence was evil. The irony is, that a lot of his rhetorical methods sound similar to those I hear on the right today: black-white thinking, herding, you are either totally for me or are totally against me, if you are not for me you are an enemy of the state, and, of course, scapegoating. In Hitler’s case it was the Jews and Communists, and today it is liberals. Today we do not have a state-controlled press or radio, but we do have media companies that control the output of the media they own. And we do have a national mindset that is as black white, as full of cognitive distortion, as that which Hitler created.

And yet, I wonder if we have as yet plumbed the depths of this phenomena. Is what I have mentioned enough to explain all of the focus by people who should be focused elsewhere? Let me add one more psychological explanation, and that is reaction formation. In reaction formation unacceptable impulses are massed by a movement in the opposite direction. So a person who is unacceptable sexual impulses, may become a prude or celibate, rejecting even appropriate sexuality. If this is part of what is happening, then perhaps the real truth is that these right-wing Christians, meaning right wing politically, really love Obama. But this love, this approval of at least some of what he does, is unacceptable. So it is masked by vitriolic attacks. I would hardly call Obama the extreme left, for he has been attacked by the left wing of his own party. But in a sense what one sees is the right reflecting the left, and because they have some of the impulses of the left they must prove that those impulses aren’t there by becoming more radically right.

So there are probably many explanations. But it is a fascinating phenomena. My struggle is to deal with this without getting sucked in emotionally. I have a strong love of justice and fairness, and so some of these tirades can upset me. I have decided that I not only need to focus on letting things go in meditation, but I need to simply ignore the tirades. In some cases I have unfriended people because the vast majority of their frequent posts were of this type. In other cases I am learning to simply ignore such posts. There is plenty of stuff that comes in email or on Facebook or on Google plus that needs to be ignored, just as there is plenty of stuff that needs a loving and caring response. I know that I need to focus on what leads to godliness and to ignore the other junk. And yet I continue to wonder could it be, could it be that some of these people will there are many negative posts are really crypto lovers of Obama, who cannot admit to themselves their love, and so cover it with hostility?

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About Peter H. Davids

I am Director of Clergy Formation for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, a professor at Houston Graduate School of Theology, and a Catholic priest (and former Episcopal priest for 34 years). I am also a husband, father, and grandfather.
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7 Responses to Why Do Christians Love Obama?

  1. warapunga says:

    thank you for this very, well written article! Looking forward to more

  2. Sad Simeon says:

    I don’t think people are secretly loving Obama and covering it up with vitriol. I think they are genuinely concerned that he is spending your grand children’s inheritance. He is also running a party that instituted partial birth abortions and while murder is wrong, the killing of terrorists with drones pales in comparison to the 50 million children murdered in cold blood before they were even allowed to take a single breath……at your local tax payer funded american doctor’s office. That single fact alone might make certain right wing Christians go a little bit off the deep end with disdain for Mr. President.

  3. I think that Sad Simeon illustrates my point. Whether or not we have reaction formation (which is unconscious, I might add, and so not something that one is aware of), it is interesting that Obama is accused of “running a party” that instituted this or that. First, the author has probably not seen the list of named children killed by drone strikes (only ones whose names and ages could be ascertained were included), who were not “terrorists.” Second, there is the assumption that Obama runs the party and is to blame for what the party did in the past (“instituted”). I am not sure that either is accurate. Why not blame a past leader? Why was the same level of vitriol not aimed at Clinton? He was criticized, for sure, but with this level of vitriol? Does the President actually run the party? Certainly significant portions of the party have been critical of him. Why not attack the Republican Presidents who campaigned on being against abortion but have done little about it? (For the record, Obama has said that he is against abortion, but wishes to end it by attacking the social causes, the reasons (other than medical or psychiatric) why a woman would decide to abort. But I have yet to see anyone give him credit for that, perhaps because those concerned about abortion favor a legal approach.) It is also interesting that he mentions “at your local tax payer funded american doctor’s office” – which has some truth, for sure, in that virtually all of us are subsidized by the government in one way or another, but more detail would be helpful for such a charge. So why does “that single fact” create a Bible-denying vitriol (since displays of anger and such speech are roundly condemned in the New and Old Testament) about this President versus some other President under whom the same things happened? (And that brackets the whole abortion issue – and whether it is worse to kill an unborn and largely unconscious (given that babies in utero sleep most of the time and seem to have a natural anesthetic as EEG’s show) child is worse than killing very conscious Pakistani or Yemeni children – or Iraqi or Afghani or, in the case of Israel, Palestinian) In my mind the comment itself raises the question of the blog post. What is going on systemically or deeper within the self of those having such a strong reaction.

  4. Sad Simeon says:

    I think to know for sure if vitriol is a good description of my response, you would probably also need to have my tone of voice included. Implied and perceived are different. Irrespectively I concur that the president does not always run the party and that yes, Clinton did instigate partial birth abortion not Obama. I will take exception to the “sleeping so they probably won’t notice” comment though. An abortion is murder directed at a child with no other modis operandi than to eliminate a child’s life (generally as a matter of convenience). Terrorist murder is directed at perpetrators of hate, destruction and evil and for the most part are adults (god forbid that any be children but I am sure some are….they do exist elsewhere for certain). The modis operandi here is to protect citizens like you and others from being subjected to this hate, destruction and evil in the future. I personally don’t advocate either of these forms of murder but I certainly cannot agree that the accidental killing of a young innocent Pakistani child is the same as the intentional taking of a completely helpless life (of any nationality) growing within the protection of a mother’s womb. I don’t hate or love Obama. I do think he is a tactful leader and that there are multi faceted reasons why people choose to follow his voice. He does have however an ideology that cannot be practically applied in a nation full of 100s of millions of different motives, circumstances and attitudes. Granted it does all sound wonderful and utopian to have no poverty, an endless supply of cash from the rich AND a bottomless printing press. That type of approach to running a country also could lead to grave consequences like civil war some day (e.g. Greece is close-ish and Spain is in a very precarious place) and then while it is unfortunate, even more innocent lives could be lost for no good reason. Simeon says so sad. Thanks for your comments on my previous post.

  5. Let me be clear that I did not intend to use the term “vitriol” for Sad Simeon. His comments are far more measured than some! I also do not want to discuss whether or not Obama has an ideology – I am more concerned about the perception and the response to him, especially by those who claim to follow Jesus. I do not think that the killing of children in Pakistan and elsewhere is “accidental” – those who fire often know that the people are in the house or car or whatever and will be killed. The fact that I do not think that the targeted killings make me any safer or fit the just war theory (which I do not subscribe to, but which is the most generous Christian justification of war and thus if its conditions are not fulfilled virtually no Christian justification can be made) is also moot in this discussion. I have deliberately not chosen to discuss abortion itself in this post, for that is a big issue (when in the process of gestation are the unborn persons, is abortion justified if the mother’s life is at stake, etc.) and there are multiple evangelical Christian answers, not to mention Catholic, etc. ones (partially because the only biblical passage that gives any help at all, so far as I can see, is Old Testament and not absolutely clear). Furthermore, this is a problem that has been with us for 1900 years or so, since there was abortion in the Roman Empire, as well as infanticide, so one would need to bring in the historical responses in the Church Fathers. My point was that the level of rhetoric in many posts that I have read is very strong, that this is especially surprising when it comes from those claiming to be Christians, that many of the responses do not represent Jesus command to love our enemy, much less to love our brother (and, yes, Obama like George W. Bush, and a number of other presidents does narrate a “born again” experience). So I was seeking an explanation for this rhetoric. I have heard strongish rhetoric used for other presidents, such as the Vineyard pastor who referred to George W. Bush as a “war criminal,” but he was Canadian (even if his congregation spanned the border) and that was not continually repeated rhetoric. I am talking about the phenomena that some folk seem almost fixated on Obama, use very strong rhetoric (today I saw “communist” and “Marxist” – so over the top to be laughable), often post frequently on social media, and have not done so with other presidents (such as, as Sad Simeon notes, Clinton, who, whether or not he “instigated” partial birth abortions they did happen during his administration).

  6. bowdenblog says:

    Thank you for this well-written post. I have recently become quite frustrated with Facebook, and for many of the reasons you listed in this article. The incessant posting of political comments, of cute little animal pictures, of manipulative appeals to “like” this or that cause, or simply the amount of personal information that is shared, can really be tiring. I’ll definitely be tempted to share your article the next time I come across some of these.

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