I Am Barack Obama

By Soong-Chan Rah 11-05-2008

Whenever John McCain and Sarah Palin would ask: "Who is Barack Obama?" I would cringe. The implication to me was pretty clear. Obama is an outsider. Obama is not your typical American. Obama is not like "us." He's an Arab. A Muslim. A Terrorist.

I cringed because I am Barack Obama. Or at least my life mirrors his in many ways.

I too am a child of immigrants. My father also immigrated to the U.S. from a nation that begins with K and has five letters. I too have a funny sounding name. I too grew up in a single parent home. I became a Christian in a church that would be considered outside the boundaries of a typical white evangelical church. Obama and I graduated from the same undergraduate college. We hold graduate degrees from the same institution. We have both worked in community organizing. We're both married to strong, independent women. We are both fathers of two elementary-aged kids. We both live in Chicago.

I am Barack Obama.

So when Obama was portrayed as someone not worthy of trust by the typical American, I took personal offense. I was stunned that my fellow Christians would question the faith of an individual whose testimony of conversion is about as evangelical as you could get. I was deeply wounded at how easily Obama was portrayed as an outsider. It was as if my own country and my fellow believers in Christ were challenging my identity as an American and as a Christian. Even now as I glance through blogs of my fellow Christians, I am stunned at the language and rhetoric that is being used against our president-elect.

But our nation is changing. Young people in droves voted for Obama. Young people understand that we are not only looking at a multiethnic future, but a multiethnic present. Whether I agree with all of his policies or not, a President Obama says that the United States is moving towards a multiethnic reality. Joe the Plumber is not the face of America. The face of America is Barack, Niyasha, Carlos, Ileana, Anis, Makana, Erik, Katiana, Angela, and even Soong-Chan.

Now this atypical American, this non-white evangelical Christian can look to a political leader who embodies the ethnic and cultural diversity of our great nation. Now I can connect more fully with the phrase, "... in order to form a more perfect union." Now I believe that there is a seat at the table for those with funny sounding names and of a different ethnic origin.

I am Barack Obama, and Barack Obama is America.

Soong-Chan RahRev. Dr. Soong-Chan Rah is Milton B. Engebretson Assistant Professor of Church Growth and Evangelism at North Park Theological Seminary and a member of the Sojourners board. He blogs at www.xanga.com/scrah.

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