Over at The Atlantic, James Fallows asked his readers for their reaction to Obama’s “Grace” speech, in eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney and eight others last week.
One critic chastised Obama for his speech, noting that he never mentioned the word “Jesus”:
I read your article and largely agree with it, but as an evangelical Christian with a keen sense of political performance vs. spiritual authenticity, I think it’s telling that in a 30+ minute eulogy given in a church setting for a slain pastor, the words “Jesus”, “Christ”, or “Jesus Christ” are not used. Even once.
There is much eloquence from scripture and the Christian hymnal which can be adopted for all sorts of purposes. But the glaring omission of what Christians believes is the highest and greatest name in the universe—the name in which Mr. Pinckney believed and preached—keeps me from gushing with the same enthusiasm as you.
To this person, the absence of the word “Jesus” lessened the speech.
In a follow-up article, Fallows picks up the point, with reactions to that person’s criticism. My favorite is this:
As a Christian, I think it’s really hard to claim that Obama’s speech is not deeply Christian. I know a lot of Christians through my mom’s (liberal) church, and some of them talk primarily about Jesus, some of them talk primarily about God. For Obama, especially in a context where his speech is intended to speak directly to this audience but also to everyone, regardless of religion, it makes sense to talk in terms of God—making the speech much more universal than, and just as valid as, talking about Jesus.
A lot of people will immediately tune out if Jesus is mentioned, because suddenly the speech will seem Christian in an exclusive way. Here, Obama delivered a deeply Christian speech that included rather than excluded non-Christians.
The emphasis is mine.
I think that is brilliant, and absolutely true. The “Grace” speech will go down in history as not only a great political speech, but a great sermon. And the absence of “Jesus” is a feature, not a bug.