(The following is a book review for Michael R. Wear’s book, “Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America,” provided by BookLookBloggers in exchange for an honest review.”
The name itself is one of the most polarizing names of all. When some hear “Obama,” progress, change, and hope come to mind. When others hear “Obama,” evil, immoral, and failure come to mind. How did we get here? Who is Barack Obama, truly? Could some of our assumptions about the Obama administration be wrong, and others be right?
Michael Wear shares his story of serving President Obama as one of the youngest White House staffers in American history and directing faith outreach for Obama’s 2012 campaign. In Reclaiming Hope, we find a unique perspective deep within the White House of a man who worked under Obama’s leadership, observed his campaign closer than most, and watched how his Presidency brought about many talking points at the intersection of faith and politics.
Per the book’s subtitle, I went into this book with the intent of finding “lessons learned.” The first lesson that I learned in Reclaiming Hope was that especially in his first campaign and term, Obama not only cared about his own faith, but about the faith of America at large. This may come as a surprise both to the Republican and to the Democrat. And while his speeches certainly do not sound like the Westminster Confession of Faith, Obama saw himself “as a Christian voice in Christian conversations” (19) and spent a great deal of time behind closed doors working to renew public faith in America.
A great example of this is found in Chapter 4, where Wear talks about the President’s faith-based office, originally created by President Bush. Many members of the media and liberal voters found this office to be “a political ploy at best, and unconstitutional at worst” (59). As Obama came into office, many expected the new President to remove this office for good. Obama would appeal to his liberal voters and would also have a concrete chance to put down Bush’s efforts. Instead, Obama not only kept the faith-based office, but increased attention to it, and strengthened it, broadening its scope because he saw its value. In it, he sought to reduce intended pregnancies, reduce the need for abortion, promote responsible fatherhood, and promote interfaith dialogue and cooperation (61). Can this be the anti-Christ, as some have suggested? I don’t believe so.
As I got into Wear’s book, I found that in my heart on many occasions I made too many assumptions about the person and work of Obama. I learned that I should have applauded the good, and taken action against the bad, but more than anything to let God be the ultimate judge of a man’s heart that I just don’t know.
This is not to say everything Obama did was better than we thought, of course. In fact, some of his decisions tarnished bits of his legacy, and Wear doesn’t shy away from these points. He mentions working under “the evolution of Obama,” watching his stance on same-sex marriage shift in a matter of years. As it turns out, it was likely that his stance didn’t shift at all, but that his previous support for traditional marriage was primarily a political move (see Chapter 8). Wear also discusses abortion, the contraception mandate, and the extreme difference of the religious tone between the 2009 and 2013 inaugurals. Finally, Wear wraps up his memoir with some reflections on what we can learn from all of this for defining and discovering real, lasting hope in our politics and in our world, a hope that is only anchored in Christ.
I really enjoyed this book. Having Wear’s measured, up-close perspective was so encouraging. It made me long for more people like him in Washington. Reclaiming Hope was an easy, engaging read, and really made me stop and think a lot of times about how I can improve my own political approach to life. I need to be less accusatory, and more involved. I need to have skin in the game beyond the voting booth. I need to see politics for what it is: not the source of my hope. I need to thank Obama for where he went right, and critique him for where he went wrong. And now, in the dawn of President Trump’s Presidency, I hope I can apply many of these same principles in the years to come.
Michael R. Wear, Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America. Nashville, TN: Nelson Books, 2017. 273 pp. $17.10