A new ad by Sen. John McCain has caused controversy because of its use of religious imagery. The ad features images of Obama and Charlton Heston playing Moses. Flashing across the screen, pictures of Obama’s rapturous greeting in Berlin alternate with the phrase “The One.” The ad is an attempt at satire, poking fun at the quasi-messianic enthusiasm with which Obama was greeted in Europe. But is there more to it?
Writing in an article on Beliefnet.com, Mara Vanderslice, an evangelical Democrat and founder of the political group Matthew25.org, argues that the ad implies that Obama supporters see him as taking the place of the true Messiah, and just so as the Antichrist. “As Christians, we have one Lord and Savior. Jesus Christ. It is blasphemous to suggest otherwise,” Vanderslice wrote.
In case you think Vanderslice is seeing something that is not there, bear in mind that Hal Lindsay, an evangelical writer argued in the WorldNetDaily that “Obama’s world tour provided a foretaste of the reception he [the Antichrist] can expect to receive…it seems the world is now ready to make his acquaintance.” Lindsay was not saying Obama was the Antichrist, but he certainly was blurring the lines. The idea that Obama is somehow a precursor to the Antichrist is not very soothing either.
This blog has argued consistently that religion has a place in the public square, that our politics and our civilization have paid too high of a price for the secularization of the polity and of the culture. But, it is also that case that religion must make itself reasonable, for its own sake, but especially when it enters the public square. Hal Lindsay should be thrown under the bus with John Hagee and Jeremiah Wright. The mantle of religion does not give anyone the right to be a nutjob with impunity.
What is refreshing is that such charges are being answered from within the evangelical community. There was a time when they would have had the airwaves to themselves. Earlier this year, when James Dobson, a leading conservative evangelical, attacked Obama a website went up called www.jamesdobsondoesnotspeakforme.com. The website was the brainchild of Kirbyjon Caldwell, an evangelical preacher who gave the closing prayer at George W. Bush’s first inaugural. The discovery of divergence within the evangelical community will not only help our nation’s politics, it will help the churches regain some humility. Vanderslice’s push back against those who are trying to paint Obama as the Antichrist is more evidence that the evangelical community is gaining in maturity. They are discovering what we Catholics have known for a long time: there are many ways to apply the teachings of Christ and as a Church it is wise to follow the dictum: in essential things unity, in inessential things diversity and in all things charity.
N.B. It is vacation time for this scribe. Barring some huge event, I am taking a week off and will resume daily postings on political matters one week from tomorrow.
Michael Sean Winters