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Below is the last section of Barack Obama’s list of unfinished business, the matters over which he holds out hope that he can make a difference in his second term in office.

The Long Journey Toward Justice

This section is what will likely be referred to in future references as, “the journey” or perhaps “the unfinished journey.” Journey away from injustice toward “alabaster cities” which gleam and where no tears dim the view is an essential theme within the U.S. national ethos. Instead of individual pioneers journeying away from collective tyranny, for Obama, the nation journeys together away from injustice toward “equal rights”.[1]

It is now our generation’s task to carry on what those pioneers began, for our journey is not complete until our wives, our mothers and daughters can earn a living equal to their efforts.

Can anyone say, “Equal pay for equal work?” Can we believe this is not now guaranteed to every woman and man in the U.S.A.? It is not and it should be. Which is why in his recent State of the Union Address, President Obama called for passage of a law which would make it illegal to pay men and women with the same qualifications and experience different wages for doing the same job. Duh!

Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law, for if we are truly created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal, as well.

To legalize and to solemnize is not the same. If Christians had long-ago fought to reserve the word, “marriage” for what begins in certain worship services when a man and a woman enter into solemn covenant before God, then I would say, what the state legalizes should be called a civil union and not a marriage. At which point each and every denomination and/or congregation would need to decide whether they would marry, that is solemnize the unions of persons of the same sex because only their clergy could do that. Given that the word, “marriage,” cannot be so re-captured and reserved for what Christians, Jews and Muslims solemnize, there is no question that persons of the same sex should have the same legal, civil right to civil unions and thus to “marriage” as we regrettably define the word. Same-sex love is obviously committed love at least as often as it turns out to be so among those heterosexuals which we preachers marry and then so often counsel just before they divorce. The President is right: civil rights are rights and justice is justice.

Our journey is not complete until no citizen is forced to wait for hours to exercise the right to vote.

I heard someone say about this the other day that they hoped the President would not spend too much time and trouble fighting this battle since the newest strategy in the long war of the minority to suppress the votes of the majority is Gerrymandering,[2] not long voter lines. Truly there are presently some “Blue” states controlled by “Red” governors and legislatures which have recently considered assigning Presidential Electoral votes based on their already gerrymandered congressional districts.[3]

The threat of state governments that can and have suppressed the votes of their citizens must be met head on however it presents itself. Since the debacle in Florida in 2000, election results have become less reliable and often less fair. The 102 year old black woman at the State of the Union Address who had waited for six hours in line to vote in Florida last November is symbolic of our antiquated and often unjust voting procedures. The world largely learned representative government from us. What must they think of us now?

Our journey is not complete until we find a better way to welcome the striving, hopeful immigrants who still see America as a land of opportunity, until bright young students and engineers are enlisted in our workforce rather than expelled from our country.

The immigrants do keep coming, although fewer come illegally now than before the Great Recession. (That the U.S. is now the least upwardly mobile of the 40 top industrial nations makes this a bit of a joke. Sometimes myths live on long after their realities have died.) However, if we are going to practice justice those who do come here must have a way to earn fair wages and citizenship alongside their immigrant brothers and sisters who have been here for decades or even centuries. I am not Native American. Are you?

Our journey is not complete until all our children, from the streets of Detroit to the hills of Appalachia to the quiet lanes of Newtown, know that they are cared for and cherished and always safe from harm.

If the President and Vice President are going to get any gun-safety legislation passed, they had best hurry. The A.D.D.-infected people of the U.S. have grievously short attention spans – “Oh, look! Isn’t that Beyoncé or Kelly Clarkson or a murderous former LA cop?” Laying the rhetoric of the State of the Union over the gun safety proposal of this speech, if there is to be justice then those thousand-plus in the U.S. who have died from gun violence just since the Newtown massacre “deserve a vote!”

Conclusion

My fellow Americans, the oath I have sworn before you today, like the one recited by others who serve in this Capitol, was an oath to God and country, not party or faction… They are… words [which] represent our greatest hope. You and I, as citizens, have the power to set this country’s course. [We] have the obligation to shape the debates of our time, not only with the votes we cast, but the voices we lift in defense of our most ancient values and enduring ideas.

Whether Barack Obama is able to accomplish anything in his second term, he did something weighty and important in his Second Inaugural Address. He established a framework based on the original U.S. “liberty” document for how it must be for citizens of the U.S.A., who together must deepen and expand the community for whom life, liberty and an opportunity to achieve happiness exists as a matter of stated value.

We collect ourselves. We coalesce. We marshal ourselves for the task of broadening and leveling the floor on which we all dance as people. For many citizens and other residents of the U.S. today, that level floor is laughably rough and tilted. Which is why the President has declared that his journey and mine and the collective journeys of so many of us will not be over until that poor child born in inner city Detroit or rural Appalachia or Selma has as much a chance at life, liberty and happiness as her sisters and brothers born in Newtown, Connecticut, Eden Prairie, Minnesota and Winnetka, Illinois.

Prayer

Lord God, you know this nation is far from perfect. You know its secrets, its hypocrisies, its failures to meet even its own limited vision of what it means to practice justice. Yet, Lord, whether we deserve to be or not, we have sometimes been an example to our world of what a nation looks like that gets things right.

Help us as a nation, Lord, to confess our sins, to receive your new start again. Help us to expand our vision, to meet our challenges with open-handedness and open hearts. And Lord, do help this President to find the best way possible to be the most powerful person on earth who uses that power to love justice, to practice compassion and to walk before you in true humility. Empower him, I pray, to make a difference in his moment, in this nation and this world. In the name of his king and mine, even the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

Want to Chat?

In this entire discussion I have attempted to meet the U.S. President where his U.S. civil religious vision and his Christian understanding seem to meet. Anyone who would like to straighten me out on this is welcome to have a go at it!

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Endnotes

1 Back to Post For Christians the concept of “individual,” so basic to the modern notion of “rights,” should be problematic. Nowhere do “individuals” ever exist except as members of communities. Actual people are always individual members of marriages, churches, friendships, nations, businesses, etc, with both rights and responsibilities to and within those communities. Yet, the use of “individual rights” in U.S. law is a fundamental component upon which all else is built without reference to the communities themselves. This is fraught with problems since communities which have such individual members also exist normatively before God. Confusion abounds! Most recently, we have seen U.S. corporations assert they are “persons” in order to secure for businesses some of the individual rights of persons but without responsibility or the realization that they are not at all persons! Nuts!

2 Back to Post Elbridge Gerry was the Governor of Massachusetts who signed into law a map of newly drawn State Senate districts in 1812 which strongly favored his party. One of the districts was so long and tenuous that it was described as looking like a salamander. A pundit at the time was said to have replied, “No, that would be a Gerry-mander!” Republicans and Democrats have used Gerrymandering to tilt elections in their favor ever since, depending on who has controlled state houses and legislatures. Needed: non-partisan apportionment commissions in every state!

3 Back to Post At the present time six states which handily elected Barack Obama president have Republicans in power. Because of this we have a U.S. House of Representatives in this new Congress for which over one million more Democratic votes were cast than Republican votes but Republicans have a 33-vote majority anyway because of gerrymandered districts, many in those six states. In those states some have considered extending their gerrymandered Federal House Districts to a proportional distribution of the Electoral College from this time forward. It has been noted that if those six states had so assigned their electors in last November’s election, Mitt Romney would now be President. If such an arrangement became law in those few states we would thereafter see Republican Presidents elected over Democrats who would each time have won the popular vote, election after election. Proportional representation would be fair only if it applied everywhere and its electoral base was evenly apportioned. Needed: non-partisan apportionment commissions in every state!