Pew Research, not a conservative organization, has published a glance back at the Obama legacy in a report they title: "How America Changed During Barack Obama's Presidency."
Pew says, "Barack Obama campaigned for the U.S. presidency on a platform of change. As he prepares to leave office, the country he led for eight years is undeniably different. Profound social, demographic and technological changes have swept across the United States during Obama’s tenure, as have important shifts in government policy and public opinion."
And during the past 8 years, religious practice, particularly Christian practice, has according to Pew, dramatically declined.
People who have abandoned the Christian faith cannot rightly blame Barack Obama---or anyone else for their departure from the faith. Christianity teaches personal responsibility, particularly in the matter of our personal faith.
Remember the old saying---"The devil made me do it"---biblical teaching assures us that the devil actually can't "make" a person do anything---however he can certainly deceive a person into making a lot of very bad choices.
The Pew report notes that in keeping with his campaign slogan of "Hope and Change," Obama's legacy will certainly include "change."
During the past 8 years, Apple released its first iPhone, social media became the communication norm in US society, race relations under our first black president went from a perception of +44 in April 2009 to a -4 in May 2016. It has not improved in the months from May to January 2017.
Today racial strife has spilled into the streets, with police and citizens being killed, while Black Lives Matter is allowed to illegally shut down city streets and public events without any legal consequence.
They have said they will try to disrupt the Inauguration this Friday.
The middle class has been hollowed out and income inequality has reached its highest point since 1928.
The cultural division in America touches every aspect of our lives.
Pew points out the growing division in what we believe about The Second Amendment---gun ownership.
Gun control has long been a partisan issue, with Democrats considerably more likely than Republicans to say it is more important to control gun ownership than protect gun rights. But what was a 27-percentage-point gap between supporters of Obama and John McCain on this question in 2008 surged to a historic 70-point gap between Clinton and Trump supporters in 2016.
Our nation is perhaps more divided today than at any time in history, except for the Civil War era.
The division on so many issues lays bare the fact that America is deeply divided on what we believe morally---our worldview---our religious beliefs, or the lack of them.
Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use---and Pew has found that a majority of Americans now support legalization of the drug.
Of great concern, to at least many of us---myself included, is the dramatic decline in religious practice and personal religious identification during the past 8 years.
I repeat, Obama can not be blamed for people's personal spiritual choices---any more than he can be credited for the advent of the Internet or iPhone.
However, it can certainly be noted that under the influence of this president and his secular progressive beliefs, there has been a corresponding spiritual decline.
This president has not been a friend to religious liberty---at least not to the religious liberty of Christians.
Pew notes, “When it comes to the nation’s religious identity, the biggest trend during Obama’s presidency is the rise of those who claim no religion at all.”
When Barack Obama took office, those who identified as atheists or agnostics along with those who said their religion was “nothing in particular” totaled only 16 percent of the U.S. adult population. On leaving office 8 years later, the non-religious in America now make up nearly a quarter (25%) of the population.
One caveat, however. Pew, unlike Barna Research, includes all who say they have no church affiliation ("nones") as non-Christian, while in fact some who claim no church affiliation practice a personal relationship with God.
Pew found, "On the contrary, the percentage of Americans who say they believe in God, consider religion to be very important in their lives, pray daily and attend religious services at least monthly have all dropped during the Obama years."
America’s largest religious demographic, those who self-identify as Christians, plunged from 78 percent of the U.S. adult population to 71 percent 8 years later, and the majority of these losses have taken place among adults who identify with mainline Protestantism and Catholicism.
Pew also found that Evangelical Protestantism along with historically black Christian denominations have remained comparably stable.
During his 8 years as president, Obama nettled religious conservatives over and over with moves that seemed calculated to undermine religious liberty.
According to Tim Schultz, president of the 1st Amendment Partnership, the Obama administration often viewed religion as an enemy standing in the way of their policy objectives.
“They view religious freedom as a kind of inconvenient speed bump on the way to those objectives in some way,” Schultz said.
Last spring, the Obama administration angered many conservatives with a “Dear Colleague” letter from the Department of Justice and Department of Education mandating that public schools had to allow students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity rather than their biological sex.
The most egregious example of the Obama administration’s hostility to religion was what has been called “Obama’s War Against Little Sisters of the Poor.” The Obama administration claimed it had the power to compel church groups to provide abortion-related products and services, and tried to bully the Little Sisters—an order of Catholic nuns—into offering these services against their beliefs.
But the administration’s antipathy toward religious freedom became more explicit still in a 2016 report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (USCCR) attacking religious liberty as a guise for discrimination.
In the rollout of the report, Obama-appointed chairman Martin R. Castro stated that religious liberty was simply a justification for bigotry, prejudice, and discrimination.
Castro claimed that the phrases “religious liberty” and “religious freedom” were “code words for discrimination, intolerance, racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia or any form of intolerance.”
The Chairman further declared that “today, as in past, religion is being used as both a weapon and a shield by those seeking to deny others equality.”
“We now see ‘religious liberty’ arguments sneaking their way back into our political and constitutional discourse,” Castro said, “in an effort to undermine the rights of some Americans.”
The USCCR’s report “Peaceful Coexistence: Reconciling Nondiscrimination Principles with Civil Liberties” proposed to examine the various legal and constitutional issues that arise when anti-discrimination laws and religious liberty come into conflict.
In its “Findings and Recommendations,” the report sided firmly with anti-discrimination laws over religious liberty, declaring that civil rights protections ensuring nondiscrimination are of “preeminent importance” in American jurisprudence, whereas religious exemptions “significantly infringe upon these civil rights.”
The Commission also stated that religious exemptions from nondiscrimination laws and policies must be “defined narrowly.”
In its majority statement, the Commissioners warned that threats to civil liberties, “cloaked as ‘religious freedom’ protection bills, are emerging in dozens of states and localities across the nation.”
Bottom line: Friday, Barack Obama will leave office. While many mourn, many others rejoice.
While this new administration---particularly many of the deeply committed Christians whom Trump has chosen to serve with him, will not view religious freedom as a "speed bump" impeding "progress," but rather a freedom given by God himself---a freedom that according to our Founders, our government is tasked with defending.
It is now up to Christians and the Christian church what we do with the new opportunities that lie across the threshold of Friday, January 20, 2017.
Be Informed. Be Vigilant. Be Discerning. Be Blessed. Be Prayerful.