Well, the election is past, and America has chosen to continue with President Barack Obama for another four years. I wrote about this in a commentary published on the LCG and Tomorrow’s World websites which were graciously published yesterday, and I won’t revisit that territory here. Though do click through and read it if you haven’t: “Can the President Save America?” I believe in the 8th commandment and refuse to quote other articles in their entirety and, thus, steal other website’s traffic from other websites, so I won’t quote the commentary here, but I do encourage you to read it there.
Rather, I’d like to indulge in a little wishful thinking. Well, probably more than wishful — it borders on fantasy. OK, perhaps it crosses that border and sets up a summer home there. But I so wish it would happen. I dreamed once before that I had the chance to speak with President Obama and tell him personally the things that we preach on our program. It’s possible that dream informs this fantasy. What I have below is hastily written and probably not the clearest and most typo/grammar infraction-free writing I’ve ever done. In fact, I’m fairly sure that after it’s done and posted, I will wish I had rephrased much of it. But it will still feel good to get it off my chest! So here goes…
Setting: President Obama’s Second Inauguration, January 21, 2013. The President has just been sworn in and turns to face the applauding crowd and begin his address…
Thank you… Thank you…
My fellow Americans, I cannot help but begin with an expression of humble gratitude that you have chosen me to continue leading our nation through what are surely difficult times–more difficult than virtually any of us even now realize. Though political campaigns do not necessarily bring out the best in us, the days afterwards were–and continue to be–encouraging. As you know, in the first days immediately after the election, I met with Vice President Biden, Senators Reid and McConnell, and Representatives Boehner and Pelosi, as well as with Governor Romney and Representative Ryan. I can assure you that each of them has the nation’s best interested at heart, it’s citizens’ best interested at heart, and our common future as their highest priority. I found them more easy to work with than I had allowed myself to believe they would be, and I hope they found a more humble Head of State than they experienced over the previous four years. The compromise we reached concerning the fiscal cliff the nation approached in those days was not pretty, was not popular, and it is not permanent. But I cannot imagine a more passionate and diligent team could be assembled to get the job done.
As you know, however, and as has been reported by everyone from the mainstream press to the tabloids, I have been out of the public eye for some time after those days. Even during the deliberations over the fiscal deadline we all shared, I was frequently absent, and after the agreement was reached, I was even more so. I have not spoken publicly since that time to today, and this has enraged some, puzzled most, and troubled many. For that, you have my apologies. Even those closest to me have been confused… worried. My wife, Michelle, has been as strong and supportive as ever–as have Sasha and Malia. Though they don’t exactly understand, they still support me. God knows that I cannot thank them enough, and He knows what courage it has taken them to continue to stand by me in silence as the last couple of months have unfolded. Regardless of what transpires next, they will always have my devotion.
I owe you, the people, an explanation for what the newspapers have called my “time AWOL”–but for all the praise that has been heaped upon me as an orator, I have struggled with myself over not only how to speak on the matters that have weighted on my mind and my heart, but, more importantly, what to actually do about them. I must be frank and admit to you that I do not entirely know what I will do about these things. But I do know that the problems we face, we face together as a nation–a nation of divided loyalty and values, yet a nation with a shared destiny, a common fate.
I have learned some things that I did not expect to learn over the last couple of months, and I have come to a certain understanding. It will not please many of those who most devotedly voted to place me in office, nor will it give too great a comfort to many of those who desired my opponent. But truth is not chosen through popular election… and truth is what has confronted me in the harsh weeks I have faced leading up to today.
In the campaign season that just ended, many of us running for office ended our speeches with the words “God bless the United States of America.” My opponent used it at the end of his gracious concession speech. I expressed the same sentiment in my victory speech. At any number of speeches across the country, you would have heard the words “God bless America” come from the mouths of each of us desiring your vote. Some of us don’t believe in a God, and we still say it. Some of us believe in a God, but not one who chooses to intervene in the lives and affairs of men and nations–or who can even be said to “choose” anything at all–and we still say it.
Personally, I do believe there is a God. And it strikes me that if I am to keep uttering that phrase, it should mean something to me.
As I have studied, and prayed, and struggled over the past weeks–suddenly confronting a surprising clarity and understanding that I never expected and, indeed, did not ask for–I have had to ask myself a question, and it’s a question I need to ask all of us assembled here, today: Why should God bless us?
Many who have been my opponents on the other side of the political isle have often taken issue with what they see in me as an opposition to the idea of “American exceptionalism.” They were right in the fact that I did not conceive of the idea in the same way they did. Yet I preached from the bully pulpit my own brand of American exceptionalism. Regardless of where I stood or where they stood, I now have to ask myself: Does either view of that “exceptionalism” truly please the God that I now see has held us up and sustained us — whose hand, if we are honest with ourselves, we cannot help but see shrinking away from us, however slowly? Would He ultimately be more pleased with the vision I have discussed in those times I felt politically safest? Would He ultimately be more pleased with the vision often upheld by my past opponents, those whom I reach out to today as coworkers and friends? Or is the Almighty looking for something altogether different?
Ancient Israel knew something similar–a sense of “Israelite exceptionalism.” Perhaps they, too, began to think it was because of ideas or laws or ways of life that they, themselves, had designed–that they, too, had created their own greatness, or that they, too, were a special people in and of themselves… Forgetting that their exceptionalism was not based upon their being an inherently better nation than all the others, but in the relationship they had with the Almighty in what He was willing to do with them and through them.
Some have wondered about the Bible I chose for my oath of office today… While I did not feel worthy to use the Bible of Washington’s inauguration or of Lincoln’s, that wasn’t the only reason I chose this one. I asked that this Bible be used for the simple fact that it is my own. I’ve read it, before. I’ve prayed over it. But I believe with all my heart that it is only within the last couple of months have I truly begun to understand it. And what I have come to understand and been taught fills me with regret–and, honestly, with fear for our nation, for our union, and for our families–and it challenges me every time I now utter those words, “God bless America.”
And none of the political answers we have heard over countless previous presidencies and senatorial terms are enough to resolve those fears — to answer the questions posed by what this book claims.
On one hand, I do have some cause for real hope. What I see in this book are the best aspirations of both of our political parties. Speaking for my fellow Democrats and our allies and to the best of our declared hopes and ambitions, I see a God described in this book as One who cares passionately and zealously for the poor, for the weak, and for those who have no voice. I see a God who is willing to ensure all who have contribute for the good of those who do not. I see a God who has greater priorities than the bottom line, and a God who is willing to regulate even the smallest aspects of society where necessary so as to guarantee it is just, and good, and a place where all are blessed. Speaking for Republicans and those sympathetic to their stated causes, I see a God who honors the principles of private ownership and private responsibility. I see a God who believes that if a man who can work chooses not to do so, then that man does not eat. I see a God who created the foundations of society in the family and who wisely drafted its design and purpose. And I see a God who claims to know the child from the moment of conception, even before he or she is born.
On the other hand, while I see those values shining brightly from the pages of this amazing book, what I do not find there is any real evidence that we have pursued the realization of those values in a manner that will ever bring success. I see that I have been a part of an industry that has made merchandise out of women’s wombs, and has sacrificed innocent children for the sake of adults’ convenience. I see those elected to be shepherds who worship at the altar of “market forces,” as if those forces alone are sufficient to produce a just and caring society. I see…
I’m sorry… It was my intention to say more–and there is more to be said–but I need this address to be larger and more hopeful than such a list would allow it to be. Suffice it to say that for a nation whose leaders routinely say, “God bless America,” it is clear that we are doing nothing to truly earn the blessing we request of Him.
I am as guilty as anyone. Our statisticians tell us that between 50 and 70 million across the globe will be watching this speech–an audience my unexpected silence over these past weeks has magnified to some extent. Many of you watching could pull out your smartphones and Google a video of me in my 2008 campaign where I mocked the idea of running a country by the principles of the Bible. For instance, at that time I pointed out the seemingly impossibility of being a nation who turns the other cheek and which disposes of the Department of Defense. I had in mind at the time not a desire to mock the Bible, though I see now that is what I did. I had a desire to the hypocrisy of those who opposed me, claiming to stand for godly, biblical government, as if I did not. I won’t disparage them here on the stage any further than perhaps I already have–if I have been so blind and ignorant, how can I hold their own blindness against them.
But I see an answer now that I did not see then. It is still true: I do not know how one can rule a nation in the modern world while hewing closely to the the laws and principles of this beautiful and wondrous book. I do not know the fullness of the path that takes us from here to there. But what I have learned, if I have learned anything, is that if I will take those steps I know I can, there is a God who can make the next steps clearer. That one does not refuse to take the first few steps because his lamp does not illuminate the entire path… that rather he takes those steps he can see, and that the lamp will not illuminate his next steps until he does so.
This book has shown me that although I am not your lawmaker or your judge, as our Constitution defines my role, as the President I am your leader in a unique and humbling way, and I will be held responsible to God for the choices I make as your President. I questioned in recent weeks whether I should even take the Oath of Office–whether my new understanding prevented me from being able to fulfill that oath or whether I should step aside as a different man than the one you elected. I may still discover that I should step aside, or I may be asked by you, the people, to leave. Time will tell. But I believe at this time that if I am here in this place and in this position, then I must within my limited power do what I can to help us along a path to become a nation God can bless. I cannot make the laws. I cannot judge. But within the authority I do have, I will use this book to guide my decisions and actions. And I will use the pulpit this office gives me to point all of us in the direction we should go. It is not a direction that most any of us have headed before, and I am no exception. But it is the direction that all of us should go. It is toward the pillar of fire and smoke that will lead us to a truly wonderful land — a land we have lost sight of, if we ever saw it truly at all.
I have no illusions. I know that the stand I must now take may make this term shorter than President Harrison’s. This may be the last speech I will ever be allowed to give as an elected official. Many of my cabinet members will choose to resign–some of them may be drafting their letters as I speak, if they haven’t fainted dead away already. I don’t mean to mock them. They are good men and women, every one. It is no fault of theirs that their president has become a different man than the man they knew, and there will be no shame in resigning. For their replacements, I will be open to any person of any party who is willing to help me take this country in this direction–the only direction that will save it.
And when I say “save it,” I am not being melodramatic.
Our nation is on the brink of collapse. The editorial pages of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal bicker over what trouble our nation is in — one editor’s national strength is another editor’s national weakness. Their opinions–and mine–are immaterial. But the God who founded this nation makes it clear that He is the source of our strength and our turning from Him is the source of our weakness. All of us who believed that certain magical “isms” would make America all we hoped it could be–capitalism, socialism, humanism, communism– have done nothing but weaken the nation with each passing administration and term of office. This incredible book supports some of our “isms” in part, but none of them whole. And while we debate amongst ourselves and hold up the humanly-devised code or creed or way of life we individually champion, this same book declares that we have done nothing to forestall our date with destiny. We cannot expect our debt problem to disappear with fiscal policy that does not recognize our Creator in the heart of it, as we are told that it is He who gives us the power to obtain wealth. We cannot expect our poor and destitute to be cared for in the manners of our devising without recognizing the God who claims them as His own. We cannot expect our military to continue to succeed and expect the size of our might to protect and deliver us without recognizing with more than lip service and faithless prayers the God who truly protects and delivers, and who can save or destroy the many at the hands of the few. We cannot continue to hope that our crops will return and our skies will be merciful when we have ignored the One who crafted the soil and the seed, the sun and the sky.
For the nation who forgets these things, this book has some fearsome things to say about the days ahead — things that, since I have come to see them and believe them, have driven me to my knees in tears several times a day in the hope that those days may still be averted.
You know — I was elected in 2008 by many people who hailed me as a savior of sorts. The last four years have stripped them of that illusion. I am no savior. But this nation does have a Savior. And with all the powers that this position vests in me, I will do all I can to turn this nation to that Savior. To His ways, to His laws, to His judgments, and to His mercies. I will seek to do so within the laws and the Constitution I have sworn to uphold, and I am sure that there will be many questions for the Supreme Court in the days ahead. Many of those I have counted, and hope to still count, as friends and who stand beside me today are probably already drawing up the lawsuits in their minds. But that will not change my resolve.
So, I am asking all of you to join me next week on January 28 in a day of prayer and fasting for our nation. I ask you to pray for me, as your president, as I step onto a path that, I do admit, is at once terrifying and inspiring to me–a path that finally recognizes the true potential for our nation to experience the most horrific of fates, yet which also recognizes the only true solution. It is not a path that has not been planned or even imagined by either of our political parties, but I know in the deepest parts of who and what I am that it is the only path we can travel and continue to exist as a people. And I ask you to pray for our once great nation. I have no doubt that my words today will cause upheaval. I see that even now as I look into your faces and find there a mixture of wonder, doubt, hope, sadness, anger, confusion, fury, and, in a very few cases, exhilaration. And for each of those responses, I understand what you are going through. They are the very same emotions I have passed through myself in the hard weeks leading up to today. I can only hope against the odds that those emotions will carry you to the same place mine did.
I leave you today with a quote from this book I’ve mentioned so frequently today, taken from the book of 2 Chronicles and chapter 7, after Solomon had dedicated the temple to his God and to ours. That same God told Solomon as He tells us today: “If My people who are called by My name will humble themselves, and pray and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” My fellow Americans, we need our land healed. We need our sins forgiven. And we need to be heard by the One in heaven. Consequently, we must humble ourselves. And we must pray. And we must seek His face.
In any way in which I have failed to do this before, either in word or in example, I ask your forgiveness. I do not intend to fail you any further. And to my fellow politicians on both sides of the political aisle–indeed, all across this nation’s diverse political spectrum–you have my apologies, too. I know that the President who has spoken today is not the President any of you expected, nor, for most likely all of you, is he the President you want. But, for whatever reason, it is the President which God has decided to give you.
In 2008, I promised “hope and change.” I tell you truly: I did not know what those words truly meant before now. I did not know the real hope that is held out for us. I did not see the change that all of us truly need. But I am beginning to get a glimpse of it now. And I am committed to do all I can to make that change happen… So help me, God.
May God be with us in the difficult days ahead, may He mercifully lead us to repentance, and may God bless the United States of America.