Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in The Obama White Houseabout the Future of Faith in America is the new book from Michael Wear. It was the title of the a lecture he recently gave at the University of Birmingham, where he is a Honorary Research Fellow in the Edward Cadbury Centre for the Public Understanding of Religion.
I must admit I was wondering, after the lecture where Wear was clearly jet lagged, what the book would be like. I found it an easy but thought provoking read and not at all the academic text I was perhaps expecting.
This book can be described as part memoir, part political and social analysis and part reflection on Obama. It might be best described as thoughts from a reflective practitioner.
The relationship between evangelicals, Catholics, staff in the Office of Faith Based and Neighbourhood Partnerships and more secular staff in other parts of the Obama team is examined here from the perspective an insider located in a particular place.
He is an evangelical and by virtue of his Democratic involvement, clearly a more progressive one. He also has a Catholic background coming from an Italian Heritage background. These aspects of identity which he outlines in the book clearly shape his perspective on a range of issues he looks at, particularly those which might be described as moral issues.
As an English reader I found this book useful to highlight where similarities and differences lie between our two cultures and the political and religious landscapes within them. Some like the way in which our welfare system means some of the debates have been dealt with and put to bed for many years (such as on the funding for contraception) are widely known and discussed.
Others like the similarities between the place Obama found himself on with regard to same sex marriage in his initial campaign and where many in the British system are now were enlightening. This latter issue is one where my analysis differs from the conclusions which Wear came from and perhaps also stem from the fact we appear to have different positions on the issue.
For Wear the fact that Obama appears to have had a different personal and professional position on same sex marriage during the first election campaign and part of that candidacy and then appears to reverse it when advocating the legitimacy of same sex marriage is very problematic. It is, he argues, an example of why we might then find ourselves questioning what is said by Obama on other issues. I want to argue that whilst there is some truth in that it is actually emblematic of how many evangelicals (and others) have behaved on this issue. It also illustrates how some of the problems that Bishops in the CofE (following synod’s decision not to take note face).
If we go back to 2008 there were known to be many people, including some cis het national evangelical leaders on both sides of the Atlantic, who were privately of the view that same sex marriage in monogamous, loving relationships was ok, but none had broken ranks. Publicly, they towed the line they were opposed to these and so Obama was simply taking the standard line. He wasn’t lying as such….rather he was separating his private and public view on it.
Coming back to 2017, this tension between the private and the public view does not hold in the way it did. However, in some groups such as the CofE there has been a tacit approval of this being the way to hold consensus on an apparently controversial issue.
Whilst I don’t agree this is ideal it is why I don’t condemn Obama on this in the way Wear appears to. For those who might fall into this category of having “private” and contradicting “professional” views reading Wear’s analysis may be useful in seeing exactly what the problems with this are.
With regard to the subject of Hope, Wear ends with some thoughts regarding where we have come to. Within this section he talks about how in an increasingly secularised world we have put hope into politics which becomes problematic and turns politics itself into a religion. Within this thinking he gives an indication of how we have reached our current polarised situation with regard to politics and how we might move on from this.
Is this a book I would recommend? The answer is yes as a quite interesting book which can be quickly consumed by somebody with a general interest in politics and or religion. For those who might be looking at this in light of his work at Birmingham University and expecting something meaty, probably not. I enjoyed the book and learnt some things from it but it did not give the depth I hoped it would.
*Note this post is going on both my blog sites.