The Common Good

Pastor-in-Chief

In this week's town hall meetings, President Obama demonstrated an important aspect of his office: Pastor-in-Chief.

Americans do not elect a president on the basis of theology or denomination, but we do elect presidents on the basis of how well they comfort us in times of crisis and fear. In Elkhart, Indiana, and Fort Myers, Florida, President Obama listened to people's concerns and answered questions with a kind of intellectual and emotional honesty that is too often rare in public life. As President Obama heard homeless Henrietta Hughes plead for assistance, I thought of the many times I have held someone's hand at the church door after preaching and how people pour out their hearts to leaders who listen. As the president engaged the crowd, he maintained the demeanor of pastoral politics-holding the nation's metaphorical hand and offering comfort, reassurance, and help.

Although Americans separated church and state long before other western countries considered the possibility, we kept the longing that somehow our president would serve in the role of a communal comforter, a leader who would make meaning out of trials and suffering, and steady the rudder of hope. A "pastor" to the nation.

Of course, not every president has had to engage pastoral politics and not everyone has been good at it. And in peaceful times, the nation has no need of a pastor-in-chief. But this is not one of those times.

Abraham Lincoln, whose bicentennial we celebrate this week, was-among other things-a good pastor-in-chief. We do well to remember his words in 1865, at the time of the nation's worst political crisis:

With malice toward none; with charity for all; with firmness in the right, as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in; to bind up the nation's wounds; to care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow, and his orphan

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