Some may find the above paragraph an incredible contradiction. The Atlantic‘s Emma Green put it bluntly: “There aren’t many people like Michael Wear in today’s Democratic Party.” Yet this tension between Wear’s Christian faith and his Democrat leanings is what drives his story and makes his book Reclaiming Hope a must-read for anyone interested in how religion influences American politics.
Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in The Obama White House About The Future of Faith in America isn’t your typical Beltway tell-all. Instead, it’s a balanced look at the tensions, ambiguities, contradictions, and high emotions that accompany ethical and religious issues.
Christians in particular will find Wear’s book enlightening. And don’t just take my word for it. Wear’s book has earned the endorsement of several heavy hitters in the evangelical world, including:
- Timothy Keller, Senior Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and author of numerous bestselling books including The Reason for God
- Andy Stanley, Senior Pastor of North Point Ministries
- Louie Giglio, Pastor of Passion City Church and founder of Passion Conferences
- Russell Moore, President of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention
When it comes to President Barack Obama’s religious faith and his relations with the Christian community, Michael Wear had a front-row seat. He served in President Obama’s Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships from 2009 until 2012, when he was appointed director of faith outreach for Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign.
Conservatives shouldn’t let Wear’s Democrat leanings dissuade them from reading this book. National Review‘s Jim Geraghty writes, “Conservatives will have a hard time finding a more like-minded guide to the decision-making inside the Obama White House than Michael Wear.”
Indeed, Wear pulls back the curtain on some of the behind-the-scenes strife that took place within the Obama administration and sheds light on the personal and public side of Barack Obama’s faith. And it reveals how the Democratic Party has become increasingly hostile toward men and women of traditional Christian beliefs.
The office to which Wear was initially assigned was created by President George W. Bush and was originally named the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. President Obama reorganized and renamed the office, christening it the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP). Joshua DuBois was named as its first director under Obama. Wear, an intern for Obama’s successful 2008 presidential campaign, was brought on board to help.
Wear explains the White House faith-based office and its affiliated centers in several federal departments were to act “as advocates for, and resources to, faith-based and secular nonprofits” including and perhaps particularly in terms of government grants.
The faith-based office is not without its critics. Many believe it’s an unconstitutional violation of the “separation of church and state.” Many saw Bush’s faith-based office as nothing more than a political ploy to woo religious voters, an impression fed by a blistering critique from David Kuo, a former Bush administration staffer, in his book Tempting Faith. When Obama became President, many of his supporters hoped he would scrap the faith-based office. He didn’t. The OFBNP remained a part of his administration for the duration of his presidency.
Though it is (as of this writing) uncertain whether President Donald Trump plans to continue the faith-based office (and its affiliate centers) in his administration, Wear is among the office’s defenders. In Reclaiming Hope, Wear explains why the office is important. He writes, “The faith-based office exists because of a clear-eyed recognition of the power and centrality of faith in the spiritual and practical lives of many Americans and their communities.”
Wear doesn’t support the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (OFBNP) because people of faith need the government. On the contrary, Wear believes it’s the government that needs them. Religious nonprofits and houses of worship are at the forefront in serving the needs of the people, especially those most vulnerable. Government needs to partner with such efforts if it wants to truly help those in need.
Wear believes people of faith should be involved in politics and actively engaged in the public square. He likewise believes that those in power should respect the input of people of faith and that no one should be excluded from policy conversations on account of his or her religious beliefs.
Twenty years ago, such contentions weren’t that controversial. Thirty years ago, they wouldn’t have even been noteworthy. Today, things are quite different. Today, men and women who regard Jesus as God and the Bible as divinely inspired are not nearly as welcome in Mr. Wear’s party, the Democratic Party, as they once were. As an example, Wear contrasts President Obama’s pluralistic 2009 inauguration which featured an invocation from Rick Warren with Obama’s 2013 inaugural which ultimately rejected Louie Giglio. Despite Giglio’s respected stature within the evangelical Christian community and his commendable efforts to fight human trafficking, he was driven out of Obama’s 2012 inauguration because, fifteen years previously, he had taken a traditionally biblical position on marriage (and thus against homosexuality) in one of his sermons. “In 2009, our diversity demanded we accept that there will be voices we disagree with in public spaces,” explains Wear. “In 2013, diversity required us to expel dissent.” It’s a civil, but scathing, critique of the increasingly intolerant political left.
The central premise of Reclaiming Hope is one that should appeal to all people of faith, regardless of their political beliefs. Wear argues that we can’t put our hopes in government. “Politics is causing great spiritual harm and a big reason for that is people are going to politics to have their inner needs met,” writes Wear. Unfortunately, as he explains, politics “does a poor job of meeting inner needs.” Politicians and government bureaucracies aren’t equipped for that. Wear declares, “As someone who has experienced firsthand the great successes and bitter disappointments that politics brings, I can say without equivocation that politics is not where you want to place your hope.” Our hope, says Wear, must be “grounded in the resurrection [of Jesus Christ] and the kingdom of God.”
We need more people like Michael Wear. And we need more books like Reclaiming Hope.
For more on Michael Wear and his book Reclaiming Hope, visit his official website.