COMMENTARY | The latest Newsweek cover and cover story quickly heated up the news cycle Monday with the image of a visionary Obama with a rainbow-hued halo above his head underlined by the cover story title of the Andrew Sullivan article, "The First Gay President." And as provocative as the article might be, the image of a halo over the head of the president was bound to set off the more sanctimonious in the general population and the religious Right.
The image and Sullivan's cover story were part of Newsweek's coverage of President Obama's announcement last week via ABC News that he supported gay marriage.
Still, why would a halo, a symbol of goodness, next-to-godliness, or even religious reverence be a problem when associated with the president of the United States? Normally it might not be a point of contention, but when the cover art is associated with gay rights and gay marriage and the halo in question sports rainbow colors -- as opposed to the traditional glaring white or gold -- also associated with gay rights and the LGBT community, there are going to be problems.
First and foremost among the problems for the more Christian religious will be the presentation of President Obama as saintly or in some way finding favor with God -- perhaps even with simply being looked upon as "good." Remember, a good portion of conservatives still cling to the belief that Obama is a secret Muslim (although why they cannot see that their god and Allah are the same God of Abraham is still a complex international and religious mystery). Many among the Right already derisively refer to Obama as "The One," a mocking messianic nickname bestowed during his campaign for president for what conservatives considered a flocking to his banner by liberals who unthinkingly thought Obama the leader that would triumph for the progressive agenda. The haloed image can only reinforce the disgust many conservatives feel about what they already think about the president.
And then there are the rainbow hues in the halo. Newsweek editor Tina Brown referred to it as a "gaylo," telling Politico that Obama "earns every stripe." The religious Right, a bastion of anti-homosexual, anti-LGBT, and anti-gay marriage sentiment will see the "gaylo" as a direct attack on their religious beliefs. Since homosexuality is considered a sin among such groups, it cannot be holy or even touching on the divine, something that a rainbow-colored halo would suggest. The image also conveys a possible religious acceptance of such views -- or that God might actually find gayness as acceptable. In the minds of many religious groups, it is not, nor has it ever been, and they back it up with quotations from the book of Leviticus, Corinthians, and Romans in the Christian Bible.
Christian leaders like Tony Perkins have called it a major policy position change on the president's part, even though the president expressly noted that not only was he and his family practicing Christians, he believed the matter should be kept localized and on a state legalization footing. He also noted it was a personal view.
But that will not matter to those who wish to ascribe to the announcement some kind of rationalized proof that Obama truly is waging a war against Christianity, something members of the GOP have been saying for some time, playing on the Obama-as-a-secret-Muslim conspiracy theory fear.
As for the Newsweek cover, images evoke reaction, which was exactly what editor Tina Brown was shooting for. She hit the target. Now it remains to be seen if the overall reaction to Obama's gay marriage stance trends negative or positive within the Christian community. Newsweek's Obama sporting a gaylo may have only served to anger many among his political opposition. Since Christians make up three-quarters of the American population, and by extension they make up a large proportion of each political party, Obama's personal decision to support gay marriage could lead to galvanized opposition on the Right and less support on the Left (primarily among conservative Democrats).
And images linger long after words fade from memory. Obama with a halo -- moreover, a rainbow-hued gaylo -- will be a continuing reminder of his stance on the gay marriage issue. It could well be a deciding factor among those undecided and Independent voters as well. Obama should hope that come November voters are more observant of the practice of the Golden Rule (treat others as you would wish to be treated) than practicing traditional religious dogma.
(photo credit: United States Senate, Wikimedia)