Following President Obama’s farewell address Jan. 11 in Chicago, Southern Baptists who have met with him personally reflected on his “liberal” social policies, apparent commitment to family, and status as America’s first black president.
Screen capture from CNN.com
In his farewell address to the nation, President Barack Obama said conversations with Americans of all ideological perspectives “made me a better president and … a better man.”
Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) Executive Committee President Frank S. Page said he “watched the presidential speech with great interest” and has appreciated Obama’s example as a husband and father despite deep disagreements with the president on some issues.
A member of Obama’s Council on Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2009-10, Page told Baptist Press in written comments, “I have interacted with him personally and find him to be greatly engaging and gregarious.”
“I’ve also deeply disagreed with him on a number of social and moral issues and believe that our country is deeply divided because of his intractable adherence to an extremely liberal agenda. I have no doubt that President Barack Obama will be vilified by some historians and glorified by others,” Page said.
Other Southern Baptists to meet with Obama during his presidency include Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) President Russell Moore, former ERLC President Richard Land and Montana Southern Baptist Convention executive director Barrett Duke.
Former SBC President Fred Luter received a congratulatory phone call from Obama two days after being elected the convention’s first African American president.
Obama’s speech, delivered on the eve of Donald Trump’s first press conference as president-elect, outlined four “challenges to our democracy” and touched on social issues that have divided him at times from social conservatives.
The four challenges Obama noted were lack of economic opportunity for some Americans, racial division, disagreement on basic facts surrounding certain issues and taking democracy for granted.
The nearly hour-long speech referenced lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights on four occasions, at one point classifying “LGBT rights” among “big global fights” from which “we cannot withdraw.”
Racial justice and reconciliation was a major theme of the speech.
“Race relations are better than they were 10, or 20, or 30 years ago,” Obama said. But “we’re still not where we need to be, and all of us have more work to do.”
Antidiscrimination laws must be upheld, Obama said, and “hearts must change.” Later, he referenced the 2015 murder of nine black worshipers at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C., by a self-described white supremacist.
Obama thanked his family and White House colleagues for their support and said conversations with Americans of all ideological perspectives “made me a better president and … a better man.”
Land, who retired in 2013 after 25 years as head of the ERLC and its predecessor organization the Christian Life Commission, told Baptist Press (BP) he met with Obama twice.
“In a country where there is increasing family dislocation,” Land said, it has been “important that [Obama] has given every indication of being a devoted husband and father.” He added that electing an African American president “says something really important and really good about our country.”
However, Land said he is “disappointed” Obama “has not used the occasion of being the first African American president to bring about greater racial reconciliation.”
Regarding foreign policy, Land said he disagrees with Obama’s response to situations in Iran, Iraq and Syria among other global hotspots.
Domestically, the president’s Affordable Care Act, pro-abortion policies, “radically liberal” Supreme Court nominees and “championing” of the pro-gay agenda drew criticism from Land.
Duke, a former ERLC vice president for public policy and research who met with Obama at least twice, told BP he is “glad” for “the opportunity to meet and work with our nation’s first African American president.”
“While we knew we disagreed on many substantive matters, President Obama was very gracious and respectful toward me,” Duke said in written comments. “He is a man of deep, personal convictions, and he stood by his convictions. However, I found him to be very thoughtful and open to counsel on matters of common interest.”
Since Obama’s inauguration in 2009, the SBC has referenced him in at least seven convention resolutions. The evaluations expressed by Southern Baptists following his farewell address mirror the perspective of a 2009 resolution “on President Barack Hussein Obama.”
In 2009, messengers stated they “share[d] our nation’s pride in our continuing progress toward racial reconciliation signaled by the election of Barack Hussein Obama as the 44th President of the United States of America.”
The 2009 resolution also “deplore[d] the President’s decision to expand federal funding for destructive human embryo research” and “decr[ied]” his “decision to increase funding for pro-abortion groups and to reduce funding for abstinence education.”
Messengers additionally pledged to “earnestly pray” for Obama, who leaves office Jan. 20.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)