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On William Johnsson’s Obama Editorial

With all due respect to William Johnsson, I found his recent editorial entitled “What the election of Obama means to Adventists” embarrassing.
Though nobly emphasizing the importance of this event for African-Americans, this editorial managed to successfully marginalize a group of Americans and it propagated the unacceptable concept of “us” versus “them.” While his words aim to highlight the importance of hope and unity, this editorial misses a greater point. I believe it is impossible for us to have intellectual unity with different types of people if we subscribe to the notion of “I can not fully understand them.”
Johnsson began by correctly asserting, regarding Obama winning the election, “Many people have a vague sense of something big happening before their eyes, that they are living through a kairos, a moment when the wheel of history has turned sharply.” He makes a critical point by noting that many people were pleased, along with the rest of this world, about this “something big happening before their eyes.” I agree with him that not all were pleased that Obama won, because many Americans voted otherwise. But pleased because, Yes, our country has its first biracial president-elect. Like Johnsson touches on, Obama’s youth, political beliefs and powerful message of hope are not the kairos we are experiencing together; they are all great things, but not firsts for our American history. What all Americans are experiencing together, including the ones who voted for someone other than Obama, is that American history will never be the same now that we will have our first biracial president. Was it inevitable? Most likely. Was it surprising? Maybe not. That does not need to make it any less thrilling to us all.
But then the article states only one group of Americans are able to “stand a little taller,” and “their eyes shine brighter.” He writes African-Americans are experiencing this kairos phenomenon to a higher degree than the Americans who are not of the African race. This is a dangerous concept because it marginalizes African-Americans by creating division within America’s varied racial groups. Are we one America or not? Is there one American history being written or are there two? Let us unite and share this phenomenal moment together, standing taller, eyes shinning brighter, as one body.
Then he writes, “Those of us who do not share that history of horse-whips, lynchings, segregated water fountains, slights, insults and denial of the right to vote can never enter fully the experience of black Americans … No, we cannot enter, but we can watch from outside, and rejoice in their rejoicing, whether we voted Democrat or Republican.” I believe we must remember that Obama’s mother is white and his father is directly from Kenya. By Johnsson’s definition, not even Obama can rejoice to the full extent of the 12.8% of people who identity themselves as African-Americans in the USA. Johnsson’s premise is noticeably unsuitable for Obama’s racial heritage. What I think is even more critical is to understand that “horse-whips” and “lynchings” infected the souls of African-Americans no less than other Americans. Inhumanity to humans poisons all sides equally; the perpetrators, the bystanders, and the victims.
Some may argue that we can not truly understand a person who had a different set of experiences or background. I can appreciate this idea to an extent, but believe it is an incomplete concept. If you follow the thought on it’s logical path, you separate every human from each other: Nobody, not even identical twins, shares all of the same experiences in their life. God created us with blessed individuality, but gave us hearts to connect to each other. It is true, we can not literally step inside another person’s brain with it’s unique thoughts and emotions. But this is precisely why I think we should say to each other, “Even though we have different backgrounds and perspectives, you can understand me if you listen to my story.” We can value the God-given action of connecting. By doing this we can honor each other as equals who possess the ability to use our imaginations and connect. Without denying our differences, we can come together as one.
This is why I disagree with Johnsson’s idea that different American racial groups necessarily experience the impact of Obama’s election to a varied degree. I believe this concept misses what hope for humanity should look like and what Obama’s message was really about. In the 1st century AD, Paul wrote to new believers in modern day Turkey, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28; NASB). Although slavery was an issue of class, not race at that time, it was still an inhumane arrangement for all sides of the institution: owners of slaves, slaves themselves, and those aware but not participating.
Paul was not saying we must ignore the differences between each other, but that we need to advance by realizing we can be one in Christ Jesus. Paul’s message was to unite believers and we can use it to help us understand what America should strive for today. We can transpose Paul’s mantra to unite all types of Adventists today: There is neither conservative nor liberal, there is neither mixed race nor unmixed race, there is neither upper class nor lower class, there is neither intersexed nor solitary gendered; for we are all one in Christ Jesus.

A 2005 graduate of Andrews University, Heather M. May taught ESL in South Korea for the SDA church from 2005-2006. She worked at Southwestern Adventist University from 2006-2008 and is headed to Graduate school.

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