When perusing the internets this afternoon, I stopped at the Politico. Their “Arena” feature in the sidebar featured the question “Is Obama right on Michael Vick?” The expanded topic was two paragraphs long, but the essence of what the President said was really in the second paragraph:
Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, who first reported the conversation, said Lurie told him: “The president wanted to talk about two things, but the first was Michael … he said, ‘So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. He was … passionate about it. He said it’s never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail. And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.”
Was it right for Obama to voice his opinion on Michael Vick’s career?
In and of itself, I don’t have a problem with this topic or assertion. I’ve had clients who have served their time and kept to the straight and narrow after they have gotten out, despite the difficulties that exist for ex-cons getting honest work. I’ve even helped a few get their voting and firearms rights restored, without concern that they were going to do bad things with either of them. That is NOT to say that like the President, I believe that Vick was the right person to make this statement with, not because I feel his crimes were unbelievably heinous, or because of any dislike for the man. It’s because I think that a talented athlete like Vick, who is still in shape and probably still in his prime was going to find work, in his field, with some team in the NFL.
This is of course to say nothing of what it says for the President’s priorities. In a time when the unemployment rate is as high as it has been in decades, and it was crucial for the White House to strike a deal that extended unemployment benefits for thousands of Americans again, why was it crucial to use Michael Vick to highlight the difficulty that ex-cons have in finding work? In a time when government has already given the impression to millions of Americans who have worked hard, obeyed the law, and lived within their means that they have to pay the freight for millions who did not, this has to hit a sour note, once again leaving the jobless in this category with the impression that their government has yet again shoved them to the back of the line. But more importantly, I think it demonstrates the fundamental misunderstanding that the President has with regard to the office he currently occupies, namely that he had to attach himself in some way to the actions of others in order to highlight something that he believes is a correct result. I can’t help but to think that if he was truly serious, it would have not been too difficult for him to have his staff select some ordinary ex-cons…not star NFL quarterbacks who could resume careers as star NFL quarterbacks, but guys who also made mistakes, and did their time, but perhaps had skills that were average, and who truly faced disadvantages in seeking jobs after serving their time. The Presidency is one hell of a bully pulpit. A choice like this could highlight the idea of second chances, and also give shouts out not to NFL franchise owners, but to owners of small businesses who might really be taking a chance in hiring an ex-con as a welder, a mechanic, a CAD tech, a plumber, etc. That would go much farther in assuring the average person that the concern was genuine, and not a headline, or an opportunity rub shoulders with wealthy and famous people. And then if he still felt it was necessary, he could always solicit the participation of Vick and his boss in a photo-op with the average ex-cons and business owners, thus sharing the spotlight with those who might not otherwise have the opportunities of his intended examples.
On of the responses to the question in the sidebar at the Politico was interesting. It was from Brian Katulis, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, who said “President Obama, a Christian, not surprisingly believes in redemption.”
This set me back on my heels a bit. I’m not going to dwell on the “Obama as a Christian” thing. The best I could do is speculate, and frankly, it isn’t a brand of navel gazing that I’m eager to rush into at this time. What bothered me more was the use of “Christian” and “redemption” in the comment. I’m troubled because it is a statement that begs for clarification. I admit, I went back to what the President allegedly said, and the apparent emphasis he used, and I went and re-read Mr. Katulis’ statement. While I think it would be safe to interpret Mr. Katulis as meaning that he felt Vick had been redeemed, but I was unclear on who he seemed to think had done the redeeming. I’m not sure I would have pontificated on the President’s belief, based on what was reported of the conversation.
While there are a number of examples that have little to do with the concept of Christian redemption, some of which fully contemplate the idea that a person can “redeem themself” in the eyes of others, and in the sense that we often see the concept employed with regard to those who have been involved in scandals, one could certainly believe that if Vick really has seen the errors of his ways as opposed to simply stopping because he got caught, then it certainly is possible that Vick could redeem himself in the eyes of critics, even if the Humane Society will never ask him to be a spokesperson for them. However, if we are talking about a Christian belief in redemption, this cannot be what we are talking about, because Christian redemption is not something that an individual can attain by themself. It actually requires a redeemer.
Redemption is mentioned in a few places. Ruth was redeemed by Boaz, who bought back the land of his kinsmen, Ruth’s dead husband, and in so doing took her as his own wife, sparing her from social stigma and poverty that was the reality for young widows in her day. It is likely also where we get the modern-day meaning of redeeming real property in foreclosure, but if we are going to speak of Christian redemption, then we should understand that it is a different concept again, as foreshadowed in Job 19. Job was a man with faith that would make even the most devout believer seem lacking in trust in comparison. God allowed Job’s faith to be tested. His fortune was taken from him. His children killed in the blink of an eye. His body afflicted, and his wife even turned against him, exhorting him to abandon his integrity, and curse God. And then, as if he wasn’t having a bad enough time, his friends showed up and then began to tell him how all this misfortune was his own doing. But Job continued to cling (not bitterly) to his faith, and kept his focus on the eternal.
25 For I know that my Redeemer lives,
And He shall stand at last on the earth;
26 And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,
That in my flesh I shall see God,
27 Whom I shall see for myself,
And my eyes shall behold, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
This was one of several instances of the foreshadowing of Christ in the Old Testament, as he is The Redeemer.
While Luke mentioned the redeemer, it is actually in Galatians chapter 3 where the concept of Christ’s redemption is explained:
10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”[a] 11 But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.”[b] 12 Yet the law is not of faith, but “the man who does them shall live by them.”[c]
13 Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”[d]),that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Having demonstrated that Christian redemption comes from the sacrifice that he freely gave to free us from a standard that we could never hope to meet on our own…a gift of grace that is beyond price, but given with nothing more than admission of sin, belief in Christ, and admitting him as a savior. And this is why I struggle with Mr. Katulis’ statement.
Did he mean that Jeffrey Lurie had redeemed Vick?
Well, he could mean that Lurie bought Vick’s talent back into a place where it could be used and appreciated? Perhaps, but that would be a reliance on someone other than Christ, and would thus have nothing to do with the Christian concept of redemption. It also wouldn’t be for Mr. Lurie to forgive Vick’s sins, although he could perhaps mitigate the consequences while Vick is in his employ.
Did he mean that Vick had redeemed himself by paying his debt to society, and rejoining it?
Maybe, but if he had, then he was referring to redemption through oneself…a secular concept, not a Christian one. The statement leaves me with the impression that unless there is more unstated to complete the thought, he is wrong.