Senator Barack Obama (DIll.) urged Synod-goers to draw on their faith as a tool for public service, just as the UCC's heritage has taught us.
"Doing the Lord's work is a thread that's run through our politics since the very beginning," Obama told a crowd of more than 9,000 during his keynote address on June 23. "And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America means faith should have no role in public life. I dispute that."
Obama urged America to dig itself out of its "cynical" approach to problem-solving.
"Whether it's poverty or racism, the uninsured or the unemployed, war or peace, the challenges we face today are not simply technical problems in search of the perfect 10-point plan," Obama said. "They are moral problems rooted in both societal indifference and individual callousness — in the imperfections of man — and in the cruelty of man toward man."
Obama's 40-minute speech was punctuated 28 times by applause, and included just one direct reference to his bid for the Democratic nomination for president.
Earlier in the day, Synod Administrator Edith Guffey drew applause when she reminded those in attendance that Obama's appearance was a church event, not a campaign-related one. She requested attendees refrain from displaying campaign buttons or signs, an appeal heeded when Obama took to the stage.
Still, a message of change flavored Obama's recollection of his finding faith and becoming a member of Chicago's Trinity UCC more than 20 years ago.
"Americans are becoming increasingly disenchanted with material possessions, diversions and busyness in their lives," he said. "They want a sense of purpose and an assurance that they are not just destined to travel down that long road toward nothingness."
Obama credited his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, for delivering a sermon titled "The Audacity of Hope" — also the title of Obama's latest book — for teaching him redemption. "I slowly came to realize that something was missing; that without an anchor for my beliefs, without a commitment to a particular community in faith, at some level, I would always remain apart and alone.
"In time, I came to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world and in my own life."
Regardless of the degree to which piety paired with politics in Obama's speech, his message moved Mary Brownlow from the Vermont Conference. "I've never heard him speak live before, so I'm assuming he was speaking with more religious language than he normally does. But I think he did a really good job in speaking to this particular group of people."
Manda Adams, a student at Brite Divinity School and a member of Cathedral of Hope UCC in Dallas, Texas, said Obama was successful in engaging the UCC audience.
"When I heard him speak of hope, my friend turned to me and said, 'Can you imagine what it would be like to have that kind of government, that kind of commitment to living out our values? I was really moved by that and by his willingness to speak about the tough issues, and speak truth to power."