Friday, December 11, 2009

America's Livingroom

Yes, of course the Obama's should have a creche in the East Room. The East Room is American's living room, and just like your living room or mine, what is displayed there says a great deal about the people who live there. In the case of the East Room it says that Americans elect Christian presidents. That is a reliable representation. If we're uncomfortable with that fact, then we had better get busy nominating a Muslim or Jewish Presidential candidate, or an atheist.

The trouble is, that isn't going to happen any time soon. Just the rumor of Islamic leanings brought Obama down in the poles during his election. Before his aisle crossing jig in the Senate, the only thing most Americans knew about Joe Lieberman was his religious affiliation. Grandiose language and litigation to the contrary, American's are Christian, they vote for Christians and they put Christians in the White House. So there is no call to act all shocked and shaken when we wake up in December to find a creche in the East Room. That's America's living room, we put it there.

Don't misunderstand me, I'm grateful. If I brought my mother back from the grave today nineteen years after she passed away, and said, "Mom, there is an African American in the White House, gays can marry in Iowa and white males of Irish Catholic extraction can get into Chicago's best public high schools"... she'd keel over dead again. I am grateful indeed for all these blessings. But I worked for them, I prayed for them and most importantly, I voted for them. If you don't want a creche in the East Room, then don't vote for a candidate who owns one.

Look, I don't think we need to have a Christian president, I have no preference one way or another about his faith, his race, or his gender. I like brains, brains and liberal social policy. If my party - or any party- nominates a candidate who spouts my agenda with reasonable credibility, appears to be surrounded by brilliant people and appears to understand them when they talk, then I will absolutely go out and vote for her.

For now, I've got a great man in a good place and a promising future rising with the sunrise... over a creche. Big deal.

A Star in the East Room?

Over the course of the last few months writing this blog, I have written about the separation of church and state more than any other topic. The separation of powers is the defining characteristic of American Democracy, it indisputably makes our government strong, fair and resilient. And it is a gigantic pain the tush. Here’s a classic example. “Should the Obama’s have a crèche in the East Room this holiday season?” The White House is exactly that little piece of real estate where church and state collide: it is a federally funded, nationally registered publically held piece of property. It is also someone’s home.

When we ask if the President should put a nativity scene in one of its rooms, our concern is, “Will it make America look Christian?” No, it will make the Obama’s look Christian; it will make America look like what it is: a country governed by the people, and for the people. We didn’t write our laws to oppress people, we wrote them to safely set them free – to worship, to speak, and to print their opinions, for starters.

It would be un-American, not to mention profoundly unkind, to tell the people who live in publically funded residences that they can’t put up a religious representation that accurately reflects their beliefs. The East Room has been used for diplomatic purposes, for weddings and for funerals. It is a place that reflects the realities of American and in fact human life: struggle, joy and sorrow.

Our Constitution guarantees us a right to practice religion freely within limits. With its notorious reindeer ruling, our Supreme Court has maintained that tasteful and fair representations of religious belief may be present on public grounds (Lynch v. Donnelly, 1983). We fought a vicious war to defend a Jewish family’s right to place a menorah in their window. Christian scripture tells us to stand up and be counted as Christians. What does the presence of a crèche scene in the East Room say about America? That we’re not afraid to be ourselves and to let our brethren be themselves as well. I’m comfortable with that message.