Today many around the world are filled with admiration for America, for its ability to renew itself, shed old prejudices and move forward. My grandfather immigrated to America almost 100 years ago, and through the twist and turns of my own life I have had an opportunity to live in America, although born in Europe.
When I enrolled in Zion Bible Institute in 1973 my roommate Steve Rodriquez, an African-American, opened my eyes to racism. This was brand new to me; I came from Sweden, which at that time, especially in the smaller towns and rural areas, was almost completely a homogenous country. We had little or no reason to interact with people of other races. Years of travel around the world and across America have caused me to hear many stories of prejudice and meet many who have been victims of terrible discrimination. Racism is an ugly sin, and regrettably the church has not always been at the forefront in rooting it out.
The election of Barack Obama in no way signals the end of racism, but it shows unique greatness in America. The majority of the population rose above racism to elect the best person, regardless of race or gender. Being raised in Europe I often heard condescending criticism of the United States of America, particularly because of racism. Europeans would often speak in tones that hinted at moral superiority. Yet until now, it has been inconceivable that any European powers would elect a non-white to the highest office. In France, which arguably has as many or more immigrants than any other country, you hardly have anyone from an immigrant background in public office, whether municipal, provincial or federal.
When I see the joys and hear the stories of people visiting today’s inaugural, I rejoice with them. Sadly over the last month the only dissenting voices I have heard are from born-again Christians, which somehow had their mind set that senator McCain was “God’s choice”. I have been criticized for de-emphasizing the importance of politicians in the spiritual development of country. The role of politicians is enormous in military, economical and social issues. However I have never put my hope and spiritual revival on one political party or another. Nor do I find any supporting Scripture that God would be more inclined to bless a country because of one government rather than another. Instead all the blessings of God are available only in and through Jesus Christ, and Him alone, across all cultural, political and party lines. My branch of Christendom, the evangelical charismatic church is often associated with the Christian right. Looking over the past years we have no right to wag our finger in the face of anyone, as though our particular branch of politics was holier or more moral. Abortion is a terrible sin, but this will not be dealt with through a political decision, but through a groundswell of people who experience God’s love for themselves.
Every human leader, whether spiritual or political will disappoint, so will America’s current president. Yet I pray that these next few years will be a time of grace, openness and acceptance, that people will be willing to listen to views and ideas different than their own. When such a dialog occurs I have no doubt that the message of Jesus will shine the brightest. This could be the best of times for the Gospel to flourish across America and the world.