He Ran Obama’s Faith-Based Initiatives, Now He’s Looking to Build New Bridges

You won’t find Donald Trump in the index of Michael Wear’s new book, Reclaiming Hope: Lessons Learned in the Obama White House About the Future of Faith in America. Yet Wear recently told me he thinks that part of why our country has seen so much social division during the bruising 2016 election was in part because the Left hadn’t spent enough time understanding America’s religious conservatives, many of whom supported Trump.

With polling showing deep divides in American culture, Wear offers a new book with ideas on how to repair these fissures. Reclaiming Hope acknowledges that Obama’s remarks degrading religious people who “cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them” were damaging for outreach to people of faith. Yet Wear said he believes that the next four years offer a time of reconciliation between people of faith on the Right and secular people on the Left.

WEAR SAID HE BELIEVES THAT THE NEXT FOUR YEARS OFFER A TIME OF RECONCILIATION BETWEEN PEOPLE OF FAITH ON THE RIGHT AND SECULAR PEOPLE ON THE LEFT.
“This is a time for reclaiming,” Wear writes in Reclaiming Hope. “We must clear out the wreckage from our politics, our relationships, and our hearts. Standing on reclaimed ground, we will look out toward the horizon and see no end to the possibilities.”

As one of the youngest White House staffers, Wear was appointed by former President Barack Obama in 2008 to the Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships; Wear later directed faith outreach for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign.

Wear told me that he thinks Obama’s finest hour in office was during the eulogy and singing rendition of “Amazing Grace” he offered at the tragic funeral of nine black church members of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, a predominantly African-American church in Charleston, S.C.

“Barack Obama fundamentally expanded our political dialogue to include more room for the consideration of how policies affect others, not just ourselves,” Wear writes. “He is the politician who interjected the phrase ‘I am my brother’s keeper’ into the political lexicon.”

“HE IS THE POLITICIAN WHO INTERJECTED THE PHRASE ‘I AM MY BROTHER’S KEEPER’ INTO THE POLITICAL LEXICON.”
Reclaiming Hope tackles many controversial stories from Obama’s eight years, including the politicization of religious freedom to the Obama administration’s failure to find common ground on abortion and the bitter controversy over who would give the benediction at the 2012 inauguration. Wear also catalogues successes from the administration, including the adoption tax credit and prioritizing fighting human trafficking.

Wear offers a strong defense of religious freedom, an issue of great importance to many Trump voters who felt like their needs had been neglected.

“We should have a deep humility when we interfere with religious freedom, precisely because we are injecting the temporal into the eternal,” Wear writes. “We should remember that religious freedom has allowed for the incubation of the very social progress many of the same people who question religious freedom cherish today … America has benefitted from its commitment to allowing the religious marketplace to operate with minimal interference, and we have come to regret many of the instances where we have turned our backs on it.”

“WE SHOULD HAVE A DEEP HUMILITY WHEN WE INTERFERE WITH RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, PRECISELY BECAUSE WE ARE INJECTING THE TEMPORAL INTO THE ETERNAL”
As a Christian experiencing the joys and difficulties in the halls of power, Wear uses Reclaiming Hope to call for Americans, especially Christians, to see politics as a way of loving one’s neighbor and tangibly living out the principles they espouse.

“In the face of hopelessness, Christians cannot withdraw from their neighbors, under the impression that they are unwanted, and so grant what they think the world wants,” Wear writes. “We do not love our neighbor for affirmation, but because we have been loved first. Now is not the time to withdraw, but to refine our intentions and pursue public faithfulness that truly is good news. Churches should open their doors and seek the answers to the questions their neighbors are asking along with them.”