Obama’s Ebenezer Sermon

You can read his sermon at the church in Atlanta here.

It is getting play politically on a number of different fronts–one is the “tough love” talk he gave to the black congregation.

But theologically–again I find it fascinating to watch him run essentially as a religious figure but not in the more crass Mike Huckabee doctrinal dominionist style–he returned again to the theme of Joshua.

Joshua was the lieutenant and successor to Moses.  Read the Books of Exodus, Numbers, and Joshua in the Bible for reference.  The particular story Obama references in the speech is Joshua Chapter 6.  (Free reading of Bible at http://bible.oremus.org)

The brilliance (the “audacity” if you like) is saying that he is Joshua or of the Joshua generation.  That is for the black community–and for America more broadly–the Exodus has already happened (i.e. Civil Rights movement) with its Moses (Martin Luther King Jr.) and Miriam (Rosa Parks) and now it is time for the People to finally move into the Promised Land (i.e. Joshua generation).  They have wandered, like the Jews, for 40 years since the Exodus in the Desert of ghettos, poverty, and pain.  It is time to enter the land of Milk and Honey.

But Obama’s genius, the deep broad view of his vision, as I see it (check the story on the white girl and the older black man in the speech) is that this is for everybody as he sees it.  It’s not exclusively, perhaps even not primarily, for the black community.  In Jewish theology, he is tapping into a strain that saw the Jews (in this case the American blacks) as the bearer of light to the Gentiles (whites say), so that the final awakening includes both groups.  In his political way of framing it he is running for the President of the United States of America  (not blue states, not red states, not black, not white….).

Which is why we quoted King who said what was needed was “unity” (although that might make King a “liberal fascist”, so Obama better be careful with all this “unity” talk).

The Walls of Jericho that Obama says will come tumbling down are the walls of suspicion within America.  Between black and white, black and gay, Jew and black, etc etc.  It is a completely wild promise, just as Joshua told the people the walls would fall simply by them marching around it.

Joshua Chapter 6:

9And the armed men went before the priests who blew the trumpets; the rearguard came after the ark, while the trumpets blew continually. 10To the people Joshua gave this command: ‘You shall not shout or let your voice be heard, nor shall you utter a word, until the day I tell you to shout. Then you shall shout.’ 11

The senator is saying that the time for silence has ended and the time to shout is upon the people.  Shout that they are tired of their partisan poison, tired of their mutual fear, tired of the PC, the proper.  To shout, to leave off the burden of the past and enter the land with abandon and ecstasy.  Shout with joy.

The only way he can win the election is to start a movement.  The race question and the Clinton crying games of late have derailed the Hope Express, as it were.  Hopefully this can re-ignite the sense of a movement, of transiency, of nomadism, and insurgency that is the hallmark of this campaign and all great movements (religious and political).

Published in: on January 20, 2008 at 4:40 pm  Comments (5)  

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5 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I hope that he succeeds in this endeavor, for even if he really only believes in a mere ounce of what he preaches, the idea, concepts and what they are based on will likely transform him…and for the presidency of the United states, such qualities as are suggested in the speech in Atlanta would be rare, powerful, and the conditions for evolution as well as mutation would be all too unavoidable…changes benifiting morality and “good” is something this country needs to return back to its days of symbolism which once represented hopes and dreams…but instead is currently exposed as a crumbling fraudulent empire.

    Because this country is the most powerful, it needs the most change.

    Do you think we or I suppose the world has taken the great “plunge” neccessary as a catalyst of such advancement?

    Thanks for your post,

  2. […] Read: CJ Smith, “Obama’s Ebenezer Sermon“ […]

  3. Very insightful interpretation of Obama’s framing of the campaign and the moment.

    I wonder how Joshua feels about his performance last night in the debate.

  4. Dave,

    Thanks for your perceptive comment. Sorry I was a little late in responding. I don’t know where I am right now with your question. I thought Iowa had the chance to ignite, but now I don’t know.

    I think worries of economic insecurity might be over-riding desire for change, at least within the Democratic constituency. Never underestimate (I say this as an indepedent) the ability of the Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

    I’ve always thought Obama would have a far tougher battle in the Democratic nomination then he would in a general. So far that seems like an accurate.

    Peace. Chris

  5. Daniel,

    No idea. But good question.

    Politically I guess the question is what happens (and doesn’t) if he wins South Carolina.

    The Clinton Machine (and machine it is) always plays this game of lowering expectations and then spinning loses as “comeback almost wins”. They are slimy but extremely effective, particularly with a clueless media.

    Minus a movement, it’s getting harder to see Obama’s path to the nomination.

    But I think Hillary is a ginormous deficit for the Democratic Party come the Fall if she gets the nod. I think the Republicans are salivating buckets for the shot of taking her on.

    They’ve already brought the psychodrama back. God help us if it’s against the Republicans.

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