Obama the Convert.

Barack Obama’s victory is of historical significance to Afro-Americans. But it could be of historical significance to Indian evangelical Christians as well.

Dear President Elect Barack Obama, 

Congratulations on your well-deserving victory.  As thousands of black preachers always began, we too want to begin our congratulatory note with “All Glory and Honor to God”. 

Your victory is of historic significance. It is of historic significance to Afro-Americans. You know it. The world knows it. Even your opponent John McCain stated this in his speech. We, the Indian Evangelical Christians, are happy for that. 

But we are more than happy for a different reason. Your victory is of historic significance to us in a different way. You may not know it. The world may not take note of it. Your opponent has not stated it. That is the reason, despite no mandate to speak on the behalf of Indian evangelical Christians, I ventured to speak so. For us to see a convert, that too a converted Christian, as the President of the most powerful nation is of no small significance. 

Before I go further, let me tell you that most of us differ with you on many vital issues. For example, we differ with you on the issue of abortion and gay rights. Now, you may think that we are more like the White American Powerful Evangelical Christians because we take this stand. If you take only our position on these issues, that maybe right. But socially and politically that is wrong. So, it maybe better to compare  us with Black African Evangelical Christians. We not only agree with them on these vital issues, we have more similarity with them socially and politically.  Hope you would give us hearing now. 

Now let me repeat- your victory is of great significance to us as you are a convert. We liked your speech "A Politics of Conscience" at Hartford, Connecticut where you explained about your conversion. We liked the entire speech. We would like to highlight three things we loved most in the speech- we loved the context of your conversion, we loved the reasons for your conversion and we loved the title of your speech. 

Context of President Elect Obama’s Conversion:

You said and I quote in length- “It wasn't until after college, when I went to Chicago to work as a community organizer for a group of Christian churches, that I confronted my own spiritual dilemma. In a sense, what brought me to Chicago in the first place was a hunger for some sort of meaning in my life. I wanted to be part of something larger. I'd been inspired by the civil rights movement - by all the clear-eyed, straight-backed, courageous young people who'd boarded buses and traveled down South to march and sit at lunch counters, and lay down their lives in some cases for freedom.

I was too young to be involved in that movement, but I felt I could play a small part in the continuing battle for justice by helping rebuild some of Chicago's poorest neighborhoods.  So it's 1985, and I'm in Chicago, and I'm working with these churches, and with lots of laypeople who are much older than I am. And I found that I recognized in these folks a part of myself. I learned that everyone's got a sacred story when you take the time to listen. And I think they recognized a part of themselves in me too. They saw that I knew the Scriptures and that many of the values I held and that propelled me in my work were values they shared. But I think they also sensed that a part of me remained removed and detached - that I was an observer in their midst. 

And slowly, I came to realize that something was missing as well - that without an anchor for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community of faith, at some level I would always remain apart, and alone.  And it's around this time that some pastors I was working with came up to me and asked if I was a member of a church. "If you're organizing churches," they said, "it might be helpful if you went to church once in a while."

And I thought, "Well, I guess that makes sense."  So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago.”

We see nothing wrong in this context. It is the context of service. In fact, most of us have a similar context for conversion. We may first see their fruits, their actions before we hear their words and convert. But we are told by many Indian State Governments, many Indian politicians and even many who are known as moderates in India that this context is unethical and wrong. They call it allurement. They made laws against it.  But now we can saw, even the most powerful man on earth also converted in a similar context. Will you also please tell them this?

Then we like the content of your conversion:

You said, “And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called "The Audacity of Hope." And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.  It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. It came about as a choice, and not an epiphany. I didn't fall out in church, as folks sometimes do. The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me.”

Yes, President Elect Obama. We can echo your words. We can echo your words verbatim. We can say along with you, “And in time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life.” But Mr. President Elect, we are told here that faith should be based only on “spiritual reasons” in a narrowly defined way. If we were to see faith as you beautifully expressed, “an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life,” then that for many in India is no faith at all. 

Further, if we were to tell that “The questions I had didn't magically disappear. The skeptical bent of my mind didn't suddenly vanish. But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God's spirit beckoning me” we maybe sued.  We are told that we should have the thorough knowledge about our former religion and our current religion before we convert. If we were to hear only the beckoning of God as you heard or felt, our conversion experience is considered as invalid.

It is not just that these experiences are considered as invalid, they are considered as one of the worst criminal offences. Sadhvi’s who make bombs may get more supporters than Christians who have this experience. Many among us have been brutally killed, a few have been raped, numerous houses have been burnt down, and Churches have been demolished. All of these because many of us, the Indian evangelical Christians, share the same experience you had.

In a few months, when you swear in as the President of the world’s oldest and most powerful democracy, can you kindly tell the leaders of the world’s largest democracy that there is nothing undemocratic and criminal in conversion experiences like yours?

Last but not least you titled your speech as A Politics of Conscience. There maybe many reasons why you titled it so including taking care of the orphans and poor. Whatever maybe the reasons, we think it is apt. But if this is politics of conscience, then what should we call politics that deny and criminalize experience like yours and attack orphanages and poor? Can we call that politics without conscience?

Your predecessor, the current President George W Bush, called Islamic terrorists as enemies without face.  For whatsoever reason, our Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told him that all Indians love him. But in our case, we know the face of those who attack us, we know their names too. So you should not call the same name for these Hindu terrorists. Probably you should call them ‘enemies without conscience’. That would be more apt. I do not know how many of the Indians would love you after that. But I can tell you that many like me will agree with you. We anyway love you. 

Once again, whether you chose to speak or not, your victory is of historical significance to us because of your conversion experience.  At least now we can say: “look at President Obama”. 

May Jesus Christ, give you wisdom to rule over the most powerful nation. 

Let me end with the words of your hero and my hero- Martin Luther King: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends--Martin Luther King, Jr”. 

God Bless You and Your Nation.

In Christ

An Indian Evangelical Christian

Jerry Thomas

Sakshi Times