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Five Religious Facts About Former President Barack Obama’s New Book: ‘A Promised Land’

(RNS) – Former President Barack Obama’s new book ‘A Promised Land’ lists just four pages in its index under the ‘faith and’ category.

But the title of the 44th US president’s book evokes biblical imagery – a land promised by God to his people – and Obama includes the role of religious institutions, religious leaders and personal traditions throughout the 750-page book. On the page after his dedication of the tome to his wife and daughters, Obama features the words of an African-American wit: “Fly and never tire / There’s a great camp-meeting in the Promised Land.”

While friends and strangers told him they believed God designed his path to the White House, Obama says he didn’t view his political path as a call from God.

“I suspect God’s plan, whatever it is, operates on a scale too large to accommodate our mortal tribulations; that in a single lifetime, accidents and chance determine more than we care to admit,” he writes, “and that the best we can do is try to align ourselves with what we think is right and to construct meaning out of our confusion, and with grace and nerve to play the hand that is dealt to us at every moment.


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Here are five religious facts about Obama from his highly anticipated book released Tuesday, November 17:

He reformulated his remark “weapons or religion”.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama. Photo by Pari Dukovic

At a 2008 fundraising event in California for wealthy donors, Obama was asked why he thought working-class voters in Pennsylvania opted for Republicans. His response included the words “they cling to guns or religion”, referring to frustration over job losses in their area.

The former president calls that response “my biggest campaign mistake,” one he says could be due to fatigue or impatience.

“Even today, I want to take that sentence and make some simple changes,” Obama wrote. “I would say in my revised version, ‘and they turn to the traditions and way of life that have been constants in their lives, whether it’s their faith, or hunting, or labor, or more traditional notions of family and community.'”

He said “the best politics in the world don’t matter to them” when Republicans tell working-class people that Democrats oppose traditions they may cherish. He later notes that Sarah Palin, running mate for Republican opponent John McCain, included her original words during her speech at the 2008 Republican National Convention.

He respected his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, before he had to part ways.

President Obama dropped his membership of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago after racism-tinged sermons by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, right, nearly derailed his campaign. Photo courtesy of Trinity Christ United Church

Obama writes that, especially from his perspective as a young man, “Reverend Wright’s goodness more than made up for his faults.” Obama had noted while attending and joining Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago that some of the pastor’s sermons were “a little over the top”. But when media coverage showed his pastor talking about an America that believes in black inferiority and white supremacy “more than we believe in God,” Obama chose to withdraw his invitation to Wright to give the speech. invocation as he announced his candidacy.

And after more of Wright’s sermons began looping on broadcast media, Obama distanced himself from the minister with a speech on race that drew record viewership online.

Then, after Wright “unleashed a rant for the ages” during an appearance at the National Press Club, Obama says he was forced to “permanently sever my relationship with someone who had played a small but significant role to make me the man I was”.

Obama recalls a moment later, as he awaited the results of the primary vote, how a few longtime African-American friends went over the ups and downs of the campaign and took turns “playing some of the lines the most excruciating” of Wright’s Press Club appearance: “We all started laughing and couldn’t stop, the kind of deep, heartbreaking, falling-out-of-your-chair laughter that’s a cousin of despair.

Another minister helped him regain his confidence.

While Wright’s use of “boldness of hope” gave Obama a book title and key phrase for his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, another minister influenced him by reinforcing his trust.

The Reverend Otis Moss Jr., whose son succeeded Wright at Trinity UCC, called out Obama at the start of the controversy surrounding Wright. Moss knew that some black Americans had wondered if Obama was ready for the White House.

Obama writes that Moss has described himself and other civil rights veterans as “the Moses generation” who marched, got jailed, “brought us out of Egypt,” but couldn’t go as far as -the.

“You, Barack, are part of the Joshua generation,” Obama told him, Moss told him. “Maybe you can learn from some of our mistakes. But ultimately it will be up to you, with God’s help, to build on what we have done.

Moss’s words about leading Americans “out of the wilderness” were what Obama says he needed to get out of the Wright controversy and move forward in his campaign.

“It’s hard to overstate how those words strengthened me, coming as they did almost a year before our victory in Iowa, what it meant to have someone so intimately connected to the source of my first inspiration saying that what I was trying to do was worth it, that it wasn’t just an exercise in vanity or ambition, but rather part of an unbroken chain of progress.


RELATED: In His Own Words: President Obama on Faith


Obama – who later spoke about successive generations in his speech on race – declared Moss’ public support, along with that of other aides to the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., such as Reverend Joseph Lowery and Reverend CT Vivian. , helped build support for his campaign among black Americans.

He tried to keep his prayer life private.

Obama mentions his “wider skepticism toward organized religion” but says he has often turned to private prayer.

obama inauguration

Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. administers the oath of office to President Barack H. Obama, with his hand on the Lincoln Bible, during the presidential inauguration ceremony in Washington, DC, January 20, 2009 Photo by Noah K Murray/The Star-Ledger

Shortly after being shown the Lincoln Bible on which he would be sworn, Obama paused before entering the inaugural platform.

“For a brief moment, before the trumpets sounded and I was announced, I closed my eyes,” he wrote. “And I invoked the prayer that had carried me here, the one that I would continue to repeat every night that I was president. A prayer of thanks for all that I had received. A prayer for my sins to be forgiven. A prayer for my family and the American people to be protected from harm. A prayer for guidance.

Months before that moment, Obama had paid a visit to Jerusalem’s Western Wall – where pilgrims have long left petitions to God – as he felt the weight of what awaited him if he became president.

“I had written my own prayer on hotel stationery,” he wrote. “I had assumed those words were between me and God,” he said of the personal request he placed in a crack in the wall. “But the next day they appeared in an Israeli newspaper before they got eternal life on the internet.”

He is not superstitious but wore religious symbols among his collection of charms.

Obama writes that he never had a rabbit’s foot or a lucky number as a child.

“During the campaign, however, I found myself making a few concessions to the spirit world,” he says.

During his campaign, he made a habit of carrying around five tiny keepsakes people had given him, from a biker’s “lucky metal poker chip” to a nun’s silver cross.

“My assortment of charms has grown steadily: a miniature Buddha, an Ohio buckeye, a rolled four-leaf clover, a tiny bronze likeness of Hanuman the monkey god, all manner of angels, prayer beads, crystals and stones,” he wrote.

Obama calls them a “tactile reminder” of the people he met and their hopes.

“If my cache of little treasures didn’t guarantee the universe would tip in my favor,” he wrote, “I thought they weren’t doing any harm.”