So long as Barack Obama is president, the United States will have a theologian-in-chief. At Oslo, Notre Dame, and Tuscon; at the national prayer breakfast in Washington, the president has shown that not only faith (fides quae, a relationship) but theology (fides qua, specific content) matters to him and informs his politics. Obama’s recent Passover/Easter message is in keeping with his choice to make the interrelationship of his faith and politics explicit.
It is now incumbent on politicians, entertainers, athletes, and, God forbid, academics, to articulate their faith or lack thereof. The use of explicit theological (and anti-theological) language is less and less unusual in the public square. What hath confrontational secularism wrought? Precisely this. It's called the law of unintended consequences.
The current President, far from stepping back from the trend, rides the shark of public God-speak like a pro. He does so, not only because it is politically expedient to do so, but because it suits him.
There is no cleavage in Obama between his public choices and his private faith. Long before his inauguration, Obama made his faith public in several ways (for example, in his The Audacity of Hope). Obama’s recent Passover/Easter message is proof that he will continue to articulate the relationship between religious faith and public virtues.
The amount of detail in the Passover/Easter message, in which Obama makes specific mention of “a second Seder,” “the story of the Exodus,” “the all-important gift of grace through the resurrection of His son,” is, as far as I know, unparalleled in the annals of presidential speeches.
The speeches of Barack Obama prove that civil religion is alive and well in the United States of America. His latest Passover/Easter message is in keeping with that trend.
You may or may not agree with Obama’s politics. You may or may not agree with the way he chooses to "hide it under a bushel no." Regardless, Barack Obama is developing his presidential persona at the intersection of faith and politics in ways that are bound to affect presidential politics for decades to come.
Here is the text of the president's message:
For millions of Americans, this weekend is a time to celebrate redemption at God’s hand. Tonight, Jews will gather for a second Seder, where they will retell the story of the Exodus. And tomorrow, my family will join Christians around the world as we thank God for the all-important gift of grace through the resurrection of His son, and experience the wonder of Easter morning.
These holidays have their roots in miracles that took place thousands of years ago. They connect us to our past and give us strength as we face the future. And they remind us of the common thread of humanity that connects us all.
For me, and for countless other Christians, Easter weekend is a time to reflect and rejoice. Yesterday, many of us took a few quiet moments to try and fathom the tremendous sacrifice Jesus made for all of us. Tomorrow, we will celebrate the resurrection of a savior who died so that we might live.
And throughout these sacred days, we recommit ourselves to following His example. We rededicate our time on Earth to selflessness, and to loving our neighbors. We remind ourselves that no matter who we are, or how much we achieve, we each stand humbled before an almighty God.
Christ’s triumph over death holds special meaning for Christians. But all of us, no matter how or whether we believe, can identify with elements of His story. The triumph of hope over despair. Of faith over doubt. The notion that there is something out there that is bigger than ourselves.
These beliefs help unite Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. They shape our values and guide our work. They put our lives in perspective.
So to all Christians celebrating the Resurrection with us, Michelle and I want to wish you a blessed and Happy Easter. And to all Americans, I hope you have a weekend filled with joy and reflection, focused on the things that matter most. God bless you, and may God bless the United States of America.
Here is the text of separate, Passover-only message:
I'd like to wish a happy holiday to all those celebrating Passover.
The story of the Exodus is thousands of years old, but it remains as relevant as ever. Throughout our history, there are those who have targeted the Jewish people for harm - a fact we were so painfully reminded of just a few weeks ago in Toulouse. Just as throughout history, there have been those who have sought to oppress others because of their faith, ethnicity or color of their skin.
But tomorrow night, Jews around the world will renew their faith that liberty will ultimately prevail over tyranny. They will give thanks for the blessings of freedom, while remembering those who are still not free. And they will ask one of our life's most difficult questions: Once we have passed from bondage to liberty, how do we make the most of all that God has given us?
This question may never be resolved, but throughout the years, the search for answers has deepened the Jewish people's commitment to repairing the world, and inspired American Jews to help make our union more perfect. And the story of that first Exodus has also inspired those who are not Jewish with common hopes, and a common sense of obligation.
So this is a very special tradition - and it's one I'm proud to be taking part of tomorrow night, at the fourth annual White House Seder. Led by Jewish members of my staff, we'll retell the story of the Exodus, listen to our youngest guest ask the four questions, and of course, look forward to a good bowl of matzo ball soup.
Michelle and I are proud to celebrate with friends here at home and around the world, including those in the State of Israel.
So on behalf of the entire Obama family, Chag Sameach