American Election: Change for Change Sake?
Rev. Dr. J.N. Manokaran is a civil engineer by profession. God has called Rev. Dr. J.N. Manokaran to be a missional leader serving with his family in Haryana as cross cultural missionaries for eleven years. Since 1997 they have returned to Tamil Nadu to help missionaries and pastors to build their capacities by teaching, training and writing. He has authored these books: “Christ and Cities” and “Christ and Missional Leaders”. He has completed his B.D. from Immanuel Theological Seminary, Georgia as an external student, did his M.Th. at Hindustan Bible Institute, Chennai and earned his Ph.D. from International Institute of Church Management. Rev. Dr. J.N. Manokaran's wife Rosy is a constant encourager in the ministry and counsels many people. His daughter Hosanna is a student missionary in Belarus pursuing her Medical studies to become a missionary doctor and son Thambos is in high school. Presently, Rev. Dr. J.N. Manokaran serves as the Managing Director of Trainers of Pastors International Coalition (TOPIC) – India and provides consultancy services to several organizations, mentor several leaders and contributes to several magazines and journals.View all articles by Dr. J.N. Manokaran
Change as the theme
“Change” was the theme of Obama’s campaigns and it resonated well with the American electorate. As a young family man, with good education, wonderful communication skills, charisma and appeal he was able to reach out to the voters in his country. He tapped the potential of young people, who overwhelmingly voted for him. Afro-Americans who do not enthusiastically vote in elections, flocked the booths to vote for Obama. Yes, they wanted change for good, progress for upward mobility and decades of discrimination and injustice corrected. Hispanics voted for Obama as they also wanted change.
All the statements regarding Obama’s policies he would pursue seem to be very broad strokes, without many details or strategy for effective and successful implementation. Interpreting these policies is very difficult at this point of time. Indeed, people wanted change but did not know what kind of change they needed and what kind of change Obama offered.
If the history of world and especially Western World is analyzed, the historical progress throws two important features that paved way for the victory of Obama.
The Western Culture has progressed slowly but steadily. Most of the noble values seen in the Western Culture have been derived from the Holy Bible. During the height of Colonial Era the hapless citizens of Africa were traded like ‘things’, oppressed, exploited, mistreated, their dignity and identity violated and robbed; and all these were done without remorse or regret or guilt conscience.
It was William Wilberforce born in 1759, a British parliamentarian and prophet of his times who became the voice of the voiceless. Though rich, elite and belonging to ruling class, he was concerned about the hapless victims of a political and economic system that did not have sense of justice or social responsibility but only ‘status quo’ and economic profit as the only goals. It was a lonely voice, but bold voice. It was courageous voice and pertinent voice. In spite of threats, harassment, even physical violence, he refused to be silent. With his conviction that each person is created in the image of God, Lord Jesus Christ died for the redemption of each person; all human beings are equal; He had to be the voice of conscience of the British nation for three decades to bring the slave trade as illegal.
Abraham Lincoln (16th President of US), a noble, wise and righteous President risked a civil war to see the slavery ends in the US. He was another politician and prophet of his time. In fact, he died as martyr for a noble cause in 1865.
Legally there was relief, but in practice there was discrimination and segregation. In US, it was until Theodore Roosevelt (26th President of US) who passed a law to end segregation. Again it was a bold step. Then the Civil Rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr. , Afro-American clergy man, as prominent leader inspired the Afro-Americans to stand up for their rights and white Americans to accept them as equals. His memorable march and his speech, “I have a dream…” (1963) is considered as a Master Piece and one of famous speeches ever delivered.
Inspired by the Scripture, William Wilberforce imbibed the value of equality in the civil society which took so many decades to come into fruition. And one of the best results is Obama being elected as President of US with a majority of White Americans – especially youngsters voting for him. It is historical progress, parallel to religious history. It should not be forgotten that the American religious history is closely associated with national history and social formation including culture.
Another important contribution from the historical perspective for an Afro-American to become the most powerful person on this planet earth is the democracy. Democracy is also a Christian value that is derived from the Scriptures. Moses was advised by his father-in-law Jethro to appoint leaders of ten, fifty, hundred and thousands, so that they fulfill the people needs, aspirations and justice. The representative system is the fundamental of democracy. Though Moses nominated the leaders as chosen by the Spirit of God, in democracy the leaders are appointed as chosen by the people.
Countries with Western culture and influence opted for democratic forms of government. Some other nations later took that models, like India, Sri Lanka, South Korea. USA is one of the modern democracies that provides equal stake for all people in the governance of the nation.
God created human beings with the Free will to choose that is morally sound and shun that is wicked and evil. And these choices have consequences. Also freedom has restrictions. In other words, freedom has boundaries. A fish has freedom, within water and the moment it is out of water on dry land, it begins loosing its life.
In the Western culture, people are loosing their roots from where their values, systems and freedom are derived and like to breach the boundaries to extend freedom. That has resulted in modern sins and its consequences in the society. One of them is sex outside the context of marriage; gay marriage is another that has resulted in AIDS, which has taken global epidemic proportion. Instead of confronting such wrong choices and sin, the modern culture celebrates sin, which is perversion. This tolerance is shown as civil sense and ‘politically correct’ stance. This could lead to unending devolution of social life in Western World.
Responsibility Vs Rights
The President elect emerges from the fruition effect of stream of rights movements and should not forget the fundamentals – Christian values and roots. The selective amnesia of forgetting the historical roots would be fatalistic for him and the Western world. Rights are good and essential for humanity and with that comes responsibility. The responsibility is not just to a select group of people, but to all as ordained by God. The election debates were mostly one or the other; Democrats for Rights and Republicans for Responsibility – which was unfortunate.
Ideology Vs Identity
The politics has changed from ideology driven to identity driven. Republicans harped on ideology while the Democrats harped on identity. The greatness of America is derived from the ideology that is directly derived from the Scripture. Sadly, that has been replaced by identity of individuals as paramount in the political discourse. Republicans derive their identity in relationship to ideology. But Democrats have derived their ideology from the concept of individual identity and Rights, which has fragmented the society.
Beginning not so encouraging
The beginnings of change seem not to be so encouraging. In his acceptance speech, Obama addresses all and uses ‘gay, straight’ in that sequence. For him Right precedes Responsibility. He has forgotten the golden verse: “Righteousness exalts a nation; but sin is reproach to any people.” (Proverbs 14:34)
The appointment of Sonal Shah, of Indian origin, who has right wing extremist ideology which has spread hatred against minorities in India and indulged in unimaginable oppressive violence against them, as advisor is an aberration for what Obama proclaims he stands for.
These two factors are just indicators for changes that are expected. If this initial beginning is any indication, then the Change is for worse, and not better.
It is great to see Gospel inspiration has given values and systems to the Western Civilization. But, the person who is given the mantle of leadership, through the system does not regard the values that shaped his nation and context and even himself. He has kicked the ladder that helped him to climb to the top as he considers ladder as dispensable. Only God can save America and the world; the Global Church should be in prayer vigil and be prophetic voice in these trying times.