Last August I wrote about President Obama's faith, his assertion that he is a Christian versus those who question his true allegiances. Included was a statement Obama made at the lighting of the national Christmas tree in 2009. Having attended that ceremony, I remember being a bit surprised at the president's theologizing when he said that Christmas, "represents a tradition that we celebrate as a country--a tradition that has come to represent more than any one holiday or religion, but a season of brotherhood and generosity to our fellow citizens."
Though I didn't attend this year's ceremony, I came across the transcript of the speech, one that highlights an overtly Christian sentiment. He said:
More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep. But this was not just any child. Christ’s birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar. He was a manifestation of God’s love for us. And He grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves.
That teaching has come to encircle the globe. It has endured for generations. And today, it lies at the heart of my Christian faith and that of millions of Americans. No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it’s a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season.
So long as the gifts and the parties are happening, it’s important for us to keep in mind the central message of this season, and keep Christ’s words not only in our thoughts, but also in our deeds. In this season of hope, let’s help those who need it most –- the homeless, the hungry, the sick and shut in. In this season of plenty, let’s reach out to those who struggle to find work or provide for their families. In this season of generosity, let’s give thanks and honor to our troops and our veterans, and their families who've sacrificed so much for us. And let’s welcome all those who are happily coming home.
What do you make of this shift from pluralistic to sectarian language? Is it appropriate for a secular head of state to espouse so openly his own faith? Do you think this kind of language is used for political expediency, especially in the current context of a GOP nomination dominated by overtly religious candidates? Is there an appropriate balance the president should strike when talking about Christmas, celebrated by believers and nonbelievers alike?
Michael J. O'Loughlin