When CNN announced that Barack Obama had the electoral votes needed to win, the euphoria in the room I was in was deafening. I had never experienced anything quite like it. Many of us stood still in shock while others jumped and danced followed by people weeping.
I was so confident that Obama was going to win the election I skipped a McCain-Palin party last night to attend an election night gathering co-hosted by two St. Louis R&B and hip-hop radio stations. Although I disagree with Obama's views on abortion and his economic philosophy, among other things, I wanted to witness the reaction and celebration with an all-black crowd. I was not prepared for what happened: Euphoria and weeping about a man representing an idea.
When I walked into The Loft on Olive Street in downtown St. Louis there were several hundred people singing in unison the 1979 R&B hit "Ain't No Stoppin' Us Now," by McFadden & Whitehead:
There've been so many things that have held us down
But now it looks like things are finally comin' around, yeah
I know we've got a long long way to go, yeah
And where we'll end up
I don't know
But we won't let nothing hold us back
We gonna get ourselves together
We gonna polish up our act, yeah
And if you've ever been held down before
I know that you refuse to be held down any more, yeah yeah
Don't you let nothing, nothing
Nothing stand in your way
And all we gonna do
I want you to listen, listen (That's right)
To every word I say
Every word I say about it
Ain't no stoppin' us now
We're on the move
Leading up to Obama's victory speech, the DJ would insert the question, "Are you guys ready for the first black president?" The room would then erupt in cheers and whistling. Then it hit me: For the folks in this room this election was not about policy but an idea. I've been told my whole life that a black man could never become the nation's president. I will never forget hearing those words escape the mouth of Peter Jennings a few years ago on the "ABC Nightly News," as he reported the findings of a study on race.
I stood in front of the television stunned and discouraged.
Last night, however, the idea that someone other than a white man, a mixed-race man, in fact, could become president became a reality. The realization of this idea created a contagion of cheers and weeping. I wish my grandparents, who lived under the tyranny of Jim Crow laws in the South and through the turmoil of the civil-rights movement, could have lived to see what happened last night. They would be very happy.
John McCain had no idea how powerful his words were when he said, "This is an historic election, and I recognize the special significance it has for African Americans and for the special pride that must be theirs tonight." On hearing this, the room erupted again in celebration. Who would have ever imagined the first lady of the United States would be a black woman?
For many in the room I realized that "change" was not so much about political change but cultural change. There was a determination to vote a man into office that represented a possibility-namely, that a black man could be president.
The Republican Party will soon die if does not find a way to reflect America's shifting racial demographics. For the past six years, there has not been a single black Republican governor, senator, or representative in Congress. Running a party for a shrinking demographic is unsustainable.
A black pastor friend in North Carolina called and asked, "Anthony, can you believe it?" We were sobered by the fact that evangelicalism essentially has no Asians, Latinos, or blacks that share the influence and respect of men like John Piper, Tim Keller, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, James Dobson, Chuck Colson, and so on (unless the topic is related to race). Oddly, conservative evangelical's favorite black go-to guy is a Roman Catholic named Alan Keyes. Is that the best evangelicals can come up with?
Even though some conservative evangelicals, in talking about me, have said "Bradley's an ignorant baboon," there is hope for change in an idea in evangelicalism, too. Concerning this election, my theology frees me from anxiety about America in a world sustained by God, but it raises a new interesting set of questions about the church in America and whom we consider our leaders.