Some Progressive Christians See Optimism In President Obama's Second Term

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Heartened by his inaugural calls for gay marriage and for bold action on climate change, leaders of the Christian left are confident that President Obama will now claim the progressive legacy they believe he craves.

While acknowledging disappointment over specifics in president's first term -- worry over the use of drones as a foreign policy tool is a repeated refrain -- progressive Christians say they believe the president's solid re-election in November has emboldened him, and freed him to pursue concrete progressive goals they say always have been in his heart.

Still, those goals and the legacy they could produce won't come easy, says Gary Dorrien, an ethicist at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, one of the nation's most prominent liberal Protestant seminaries.

"He's got to'plant a flag' on something," said Dorrien, whose 2012 book, "The Obama Question: A Progressive Perspective," offered a nuanced view of a figure whom Dorrien describes as full of "protean irony and complexity."

While Dorrien thinks Obama "punted on third down" on a number of issues during his first term, including major long-range economic reforms and a "public option" health care measure, he believes that Obama is now set to embrace a more progressive agenda.

Immigration reform and expanded public investment in infrastructure, clean energy and the environment could be among the benchmarks of a successful second Obama term, he said.

Left behind for good, Dorrien believes, is any possibility of breaking the power of the nation's large banks or introducing the health care "public option" -- two things Dorrien thinks Obama could have accomplished early in his first term had he not "settled for less than what he could have gotten."

The Rev. Peter Heltzel, who teaches across the street from Union at New York Theological Seminary, shares Dorrien's mix of admiration and caution about the 44th president.

"I am proud of President Obama and look forward to working for justice with him the next four years," Heltzel said, one day after penning an op-ed in USA Today in which he bemoaned the "dramatic expansion of the notion of war" during Obama's first term.

"Through global counter-terrorism activities and excessive reliance on drones and covert operations, we have normalized the use of violence and desensitized ourselves to the killing," Heltzel wrote.

Heltzel praised Obama's renewed push for gun control as an example of "building blocks for becoming the nation of peace that (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) dreamed about."

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SOURCE: Religion News Service
Chris Herlinger
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