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The Last Line of Obama’s Speech

When a presidential candidate concludes his 45 minute acceptance speech with the phrase "in the words of scripture . . ." it gets my attention fast, professionally speaking. What specific passage will he reference, and what importance should be attached to it?

Here’s how Obama ended on Thursday night, with a little highlighting added:

"We cannot walk alone," the preacher [Martin Luther King, Jr.] cried. "And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead. We cannot turn back."

America, we cannot turn back…(APPLAUSE)… not with so much work to be done; not with so many children to educate, and so many veterans to care for; not with an economy to fix, and cities to rebuild, and farms to save; not with so many families to protect and so many lives to mend.

America, we cannot turn back. We cannot walk alone.

At this moment, in this election, we must pledge once more to march into the future. Let us keep that promise, that American promise, and in the words of scripture hold firmly, without wavering, to the hope that we confess.

Thank you. God bless you. And God bless the United States of America.

The biblical passage to which Obama referred came from the New Testament book of Hebrews. This is a letter attributed to St. Paul, and written to a community that was under persecution, perhaps new to their faith, and definitely discouraged and tempted to return to their earlier ways.

Obama’s allusion is to Hebrews 10:23, but I think the two verses that follow are equally important for Obama:

Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day approaching.

Hold fast to hope . . . provoke one another to love and good deeds . . . encouraging one another . . . Not a bad choice, in this preacher’s opinion, if you’re going to bring in a passage of scripture.

This isn’t the first time Obama has cited passages like this. At the Saddleback Forum [part one, about halfway through], Obama was asked to name a personal failure in his life, and following that, was asked "What about America?" His reply :

I think America’s greatest moral failure in my lifetime has been that we still don’t abide by that basic precept in Matthew [where Jesus said] that whatever you do for the least of these my brothers, you do for me.

I’m sensing a theme here — a theme that I really, really like.*

But I wish that someone would come up with a better conclusion to a political speech than the apparently now-obligatory, "God bless you, and God bless the United States of America."

I blame Reagan.


* It’s quite a contrast to the theme emerging from the city of St. Paul, as described by Jane and Lindsay and Jane again and Lindsey again. The Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher seems to have the "provoking" part down pat, but could use a little more work on the "to love and good deeds" bit.

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I'm an ordained Lutheran pastor with a passion for language, progressive politics, and the intersection of people's inner sets of ideals and beliefs (aka "faith" to many) and their political actions. I mostly comment around here, but offer a weekly post or two as well. With the role that conservative Christianity plays in the current Republican politics, I believe that progressives ignore the dynamics of religion, religious language, and religiously-inspired actions at our own peril. I am also incensed at what the TheoCons have done to the public impression of Christianity, and don't want their twisted version of it to go unchallenged in the wider world. I'm a midwesterner, now living in the Kansas City area, but also spent ten years living in the SF Bay area. I'm married to a wonderful microbiologist (she's wonderful all the way around, not just at science) and have a great little Kid, for whom I am the primary caretaker these days. I love the discussions around here, especially the combination of humor and seriousness that lets us take on incredibly tough stuff while keeping it all in perspective and treating one another with respect.

And Preview is my friend.