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See Neighbor As Kin or Nothing Will Change

With our country in the grip of economic turmoil and at war in two different places at the same time, Barack Obama took the oath of office Tuesday and began his tenure as America’s 44th president. Now comes the “hundred day watch.”

Ever since Franklin Roosevelt pushed through sweeping reforms and new government programs in the opening months of his presidency, pundits and critics have used the first hundred days of a president’s term as a sort of score card.

Given the complexity of the modern presidency and the enormity of the challenges facing this president, it is probably unrealistic to expect overnight remedies. But fair or not, expectations are running high. President Obama’s approval rating will most certainly suffer if he is not able to produce some tangible results in the first hundred days of his administration.

With that in mind, it is worth taking note what President Obama did on his first day. In his first official act, President Obama issued a proclamation calling for a “National Day of Renewal and Reconciliation.”

“We are in the midst of a season of trial,” the proclamation reads. “Our nation is being tested, and our people know great uncertainty. Yet the story of America is one of renewal in the face of adversity, reconciliation in a time of discord, and we know there is a purpose for everything under heaven.”

There are good reasons for issuing a call for renewal and reconciliation. The constant drum beat of bad news coming from Wall Street and the banking industry has left us numb and anxious. Nearly a decade of bare-knuckle partisan politics has left us divided and angry. Idealism, confidence, courage and patience do not thrive in such an atmosphere.

President Obama seems to believe that in addition to any change in policy or government practice, there must also be a change of attitude among the American people. Anyone who has ever coached a sports team or managed employees knows the importance of morale in the overall health of the group. If we are in fact suffering from a morale problem in America, then a call to renewal is exactly what we need.

Not pie in the sky everything will be all right regardless. But a sense that we are connected to a great idea that has not, as of yet, entirely died. That idea is the dream of a nation that is held together by a common commitment to freedom and justice for everyone.

In recent years we have been goaded into believing that the purpose of politics is to preserve narrow interests. The mantra has been, “Elect me and I will protect people like us.” The results of this narrow-interest politics has been a fracturing of our common life. We are divided by race, religion, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation and on and on.

Take religion as one example. Rather than using the political process to advance a particular faith, our goal should be to make sure that our laws protect all religions equally. If I want freedom to worship and believe as I choose, the best way to do that is to ensure the same freedom for everyone.

This approach will work with every other facet of our lives.

Morale alone will not fix what is broken in our country. But without some sense of common purpose, some level of hope, some willingness to embrace our neighbor as our kin, nothing is going to change anyway.

James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.