so, the ys obama book?

earlier today, we announced, via our email list, a special 4 day deal on a new book release:

barack obama: an american story

and, as expected, there’s been a flood of angry emails accusing us of all sorts of things, questioning if we’ve lost our souls, and wondering about our discernment. most assume (not surprisingly) that the book — written for teenagers, in our “invert” line — is a political book (which it isn’t).

so, let me attempt to unpack this a bit, giving some background as to why it is we published this book.

it all started when our parent company, zondervan, was getting set to release a quick-to-press book on sarah palin. about the time this book was going to the printer, we had a discussion about how engaged teenagers seem to be in the election this time around. and we were commenting on how so much of this seems to be due to the unprecedented nature of this election — that we were either going to end up with the very first female vice president, or the very first african american president. either way, this election was going to be, of course, rather historic, and allow entire segments of the youth population (girls and non-white guys) to consider the notion that opportunities for them are not limited.

(as an aside, one of my fellow middle school small group leaders at church shared a story about how wild the discussion was in his 8th grade guys small group last week. a bunch of the guys were talking smack about obama, and one of the two african american kids in the group was getting visibly annoyed. my friend tried to get him to verbalize what he was thinking and feeling, and he declined, saying he didn’t think he could do it without totally going off on the other guys. during a short break a few minutes later, the leader had a chat with the guy, and he said something like: “for me, it’s not just about whether or not he’ll be a good president. i’ve just always heard that i could be anything i want to be — but i’ve always known that there were limits, because of my skin. obama being elected changes all of that for me. and i have a hard time even knowing how to put that into words.”)

back to the storyline of how our book came to be…

knowing that teenagers were more engaged than ever, and that with palin and obama in this election, it was bringing up issues of gender and race that were buzzing amongst teenagers, we thought it might be helpful to have life-story books on both of them. we discussed that it was a bit weird to have a book on a vp candidate and another on a presidential candidate (rather than a book on mccain to go alonside a book on obama). but we weren’t interested in creating books about political issues, per se. we were talking about these life stories of people (both of whom seriously claim to be people of faith, of course).

so, we set out to create a youth edition of the zondervan palin book, as well as have a book about obama’s life story written very quickly (like, in less than one week). our original plan was to crank these out and release them a few weeks prior to the election. but within a couple weeks, we’d hit too many snags on the palin book to make it a reality (which is funny, because we’d originally thought it was going to be the easier of the two to get done). we’d also heard from buyers at store chains that they thought it was too late for pre-election books, and they didn’t think they would carry them. they only thought they would carry a book about whichever one won the election.

so, with the obama book manuscipt already written and in the edit process, and no palin book on the horizon (and, by this point, the polls were slanting significantly in obama’s direction), we held off on sending anything to the printer (remember, the buyers only wanted something about whoever won). on the 5th, we pulled the trigger on the print run, and the book became real.

so, what was originally intended as 1/2 of a paired set of life stories became a stand-alone product about the newly elected president.

now, many of the dozens of angry emails we got today (so far — i’m sure there will be many more) say things like:
– why is youth specialties getting into politics?
– how could you support a baby-killer? there is no way he is a christian.
– we will no longer have anything to do with you, and will tell all of our youth working friends to avoid you also.

this breaks my heart, in so many ways. but let me start with this: i don’t have to agree with someone to find inspiration from their life story. i read a fascinating book about houdini last year, and loved it. and there was much about him i found myself admirable. there was even more about him i found distasteful. but i’m glad i read the book!

second: i find it so difficult to understand my fellow followers of jesus who question another person’s salvation because they disagree with them on a particular issue (or, on more than one issue). let me offer an illustration of this…
ron luce is the national leader of an organization called “acquire the fire“, and a nationally known author, speaker, and trainer of youth workers. ron and i have publicly talked about the many ways we disagree — some of which are quite strong, to be sure. but i don’t, for a second, question ron’s salvation (or even his heart or motive, for that matter). and, i think, based on our previous interactions, that ron would say the same about me.

the reality is, palin and obama were the two candidates who spoke publicly about their faith on a regular basis (moreso than biden or mccain). it is god’s role to decide on salvation. yes, i am to be discerning in my understanding of truth, but it’s not my place to decide who’s a christian and who isn’t.

in addition, while the bible isn’t exactly prescriptive about our engagement with elected officials (or royalty, for that matter), it does have these things to say:

Colossians 1:16
For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him.

Titus 3:1-3
Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.

Romans 13:1
Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Romans 13:5
Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience.

at youth specialties, we have democrats and republicans and independents on staff. we do not have a political agenda. we have a christ agenda. and we have an agenda to provide resources for youth workers. we know that every resource we create won’t be your cup of tea (shoot, as a youth worker, not everything we create is my cup of tea, that’s for sure!). so we ask you to use your discernment, yet remain open to a new thing that god might want to do in your heart.

for more on this book, here’s a pdf from our publisher about why we did this book, including a bunch of helpful embedded links.

131 thoughts on “so, the ys obama book?”

  1. for me the problem about this book is not the material that the book will contain. it’s the fact that it’s a pretty ‘bandwagon’ move to make. EVERYONE IS writing books or articles about Obama. MOST OF WHICH are Praising him almost to the point of worship. I just think it’s enough. I support youthspecialties and will continue to even if I disagree with stuff (like this). I just feel it was ultra trendy and I thought youth specialties was trying to get away from doing things the ultra trendy way…

  2. One person’s “trendy” is another’s “timely”.

    buy the book or don’t buy it. Seriously, some of you people make it sound like YS is offering a new “testament” that has to go with your Bibles.

    people need to stop turning this into a federal case.

    It’s not about disagreeing or agreeing with YS. They are a clearinghouse of ministry resources for a lot of different people.

    Think about it. YS is largely “safe” for all you hyper sensitive “culture warriors”. So they offer something that what really is a minority report in your camp might find useful and you get stingy.

    Nobody’s forcing you buy it. There’s no conspiracy here. There’s no moral failure here.
    There’s no failure of judgement here.

    It’s just a product you can choose to use or not. Handle it.


  3. I wonder how concerned some of you were that Zondervan was getting all “sycophantic” with their Palin puff piece?

    Somehow I doubt any of you high-minded moralists were.

    See this is the stuff that really hurts your witness. You wrap your cookies in barbed wire and act like it’s everyone else’s problem when we all don’t lay down and accept your version of reality.

    And, no, your “version” isn’t God’s.

  4. “You wrap your cookies in barbed wire.”

    I’m not sure exactly what that means or how to properly use it in the future BUT I LOVE IT.

  5. KJ,

    feel free. what I mean is that people with “good ideas” or “good values” or whatever come across so crappy to people.

    When Christians obscure the message of Jesus with their attitudes, rhetoric, etc. that’s wrapping our cookies in barbed wire.

  6. I wonder how concerned some of you were that Zondervan was getting all “sycophantic” with their Palin puff piece?

    Somehow I doubt any of you high-minded moralists were.

    Way to miss the point entirely and then add in a personal attack to follow up. Talk about hurting your witness.

    When exactly did YS push the book on Palin? When did YS advertise the Palin book as a resource to inspire?

    Here’s the answer: Nowhere. That is what this whole conversation has been about…YS…not Zondervan.


    i try to allow comments to be comments. but this thread has long ago left the realm of civility and love.

    from here on out, i’ll delete comments on this thread that don’t address others with some level of civil discourse and graciousness.

  8. With all civility and due respect,

    that is part of the point. It was in light of the Palin book, and the election in general, that YS made the move/had the conversations.

    If the tables were turned, I would think there would have been a YS book about her instead.

    Second, it’s not a personal attack to name the shellacking of Marko clearly and plainly.

    I dont’ understand why anyone responsible for a perceived departure from the approved evangelical cultural stance has to lay down and take it.

    I don’t understand why naming the “poison” that runs rampant in your community is now “poisonous” itself. Seriously, I don’t understand it. All it does is reinforce the image that you all have an allergy to honesty about yourselves.

    It’s clear that for some on this thread the decision to release the Obama book represented some kind of moral failure on the part of YS. There’s a demand in this thread for “an apology”, there’s rhetoric about “hypnosis”, etc. etc.

    Sounds like high-minded moralism to me.

    I’d be genuinely interested in hearing what you would call it.

  9. Nathan,

    There is a way to “name the poison” without attacking people and calling names.

    If you see nastiness, pettiness and name calling from others, resorting to the same behavior is not righteous indignation, it is just indignation.

  10. hmmm…

    I’m still at a loss as to “name calling”–the rhetoric is highminded and moralistic. Those are accurate adjectives to describe it. Not schoolyard “name calling”. If I said “you people are jerks to Marko”, I think you might have a case.

    I’m at a loss as to “pettiness”–my critiques are on the substance of the issue and go to heart of a real problem within evangelical culture–something that needs to be addressed and fixed. It won’t be unless there’s honesty about it.

    Rigorous disagreement does not equal attack–this is a classic human problem to mistake it as such.

    Naming the ridiculousness of making YS sound morally deficient is not personal.

  11. nathan,

    the problem that I have with this book being published by a Christian publisher like YS is this…

    I have already stated clearly in other posts, my belief and proof that I don’t believe Mr. Obama’s fruits match his claim of faith in Jesus. It has nothing to do with him as a person, and it has nothing to do with any other person. The potential problem that I see, is people seeing Mr. Obama as a Christian and then beginning to align themselves with his doctrine on abortion and gay rights, thus gradually drifting further, and further away from the moral standard God has setup. This has already been happening for a long time. As leaders we have to be mindful of this, and it getting worse.

    I take offense that you and others repeatedly comment that people judging Mr. Obama for his fruits would keep people out of the church. Truth is truth, and it shouldn’t be avoided or softened, if you, me or anyone else senses something uneasy on this subject or any other. We all know that Jesus isn’t recruiting for basketball team, he wants sincere followers that want to be disciples.

    I would think that this would be a good place for Christian brothers and sisters to come together and discuss our opinions of this book without it coming across that we are trying to condemn the world. Jesus has standards for his followers and we have to be able to speak about them… else I believe that we fail as followers.

  12. Dan,

    I’ve yet to say anything about people judging Obama’s state before God–nor will I.

    That’s not me in this thread and I don’t have a dog in that hunt.

    My issue is the shellacking of Marko and YS.

  13. I apologize for the false accusation, and hereby redirect that comment for others to ponder on, that did make those comments.

    I do not condemn Marko for the book. I do think that YS made a poor decision in my opinion, because of my previously stated concern, which I think holds validity.

  14. Thanks to Zondervan, YS, and Marko’s team for creating this valuable resource!

    I just ordered a few copies, and I cannot wait to share them with my student leadership team!

  15. Do any of you Youth Leaders SUPPORT abortion??
    Do any of you Youth Leaders SUPPORT homosexuality?
    In the Bible it clearly states these as SIN, so
    Reguardsless of how we feel how can we to any
    degree promote SINFUL behavior. Think about what the CALL stands for!! The Holy Covenant of
    Marriage! This Is NOT Just about Obama. This is
    about Serving our LORD and HONORING Him and HIs
    Word. Teens are confused enough JUST trying to figure out how to LIVE for JESUS and where they fit in to HIs plan. They don’t need anything more than for us to teach them Christ and Him curcified.
    Running for President of the United States of
    America is NOT about the 1st African American Pres
    or 1st women Pres. It is, however, about standing behind a person (with our vote) who relys fully on God’s HOLY WORD. Who seeks to honor the LORD and up hold the TRUTHS of the BIBLE.
    This is about JESUS and the LOST, we will be responsible for how we LEAD His little children!!
    We will be held at an EXTREMELY High standard before GOD for what we are Teaching…
    God Bless you ALL

  16. Congrats on the book and the courage to do it. President-elect Obama will be our nation’s 44th president, and his election is an historic moment in the life of our nation. I commend you and YS for publishing this book and hope it creates space for conversation about Pres-Elect Obama and the entire issue of Christians engaged in the political process.

  17. Look into my eyes!!! You are feelimg very sleepy Zzzzz!

    Hypnosis, give me a break. Please tell me you weren’t serious.

  18. And we wonder why people judge Christians and Christianity. Look what we do to each other? What kind of a model is this?

    This list of comments hurts me. I’m sure it hurts God.

    Love one another as you would love yourself.

    If some of this is Love – I don’t want your love.

    Lord, I pray taht your peace makes it’s way known in this fellowship of those who believe you in you. Guide us to follow the way you desire us to be. Show us your neverending love and grace, and empower us to share that love with others who do not know of your love or who have felt hurt, abandoned and unlove by someone who claims to love them.

    Help us God to use what has been discussed here to lead our youth towards a closer relationship with you.

    In Christ’s name – Amen.

  19. hello all 120 commentors (as 5:58 pm on 11/13)

    ariele gentiles & I wrote the ys that is the impetus for all of your comments, or at least the occasion to post a comment.

    given all the comments here, ariele and I are working to launch a website that tries to serve as a resource to this conversation

    here’s the catch – we need your help. if you are willing to post on the site we create or moderate comments or even help share resources that students or YMs would find helpful – just email me

    [email protected]

  20. Brilliant Marko

    As a youth pastor working and ministering in my home country of Northern Ireland I find it horrifying that people would shy away from embracing any commentary on politics, no matter if it rubs them up the wrong way. Young people are more informed than ever before and their opinion is shaping the present and the future. Im glad that you guys have got Obama, God has always worked through the underdog so as a curious outsider I am intrigued to see how he develops your country. To all Americans, suck it up – at least your two sides are talking to each other unlike the loopers we have over here in Northern Ireland’s government. Pray for us, be thankful for what you have. Pete

  21. I too, stand with YS on having the courage to publish this book. In the spirit of full disclosure, part of it is because one of the authors is my dear friend, and the other is my eldest daughter. But that being said, as I’ve read the full spectrum of responses on the blog, I have another reason that has to do with my own experience with the history and ministry of Youth Specialties down through the years. I spent 35 years in local church youth ministry and three years ago became the co-pastor of a church plant, but still oversee our volunteer youth minister. Most of those years was as a staff member at conservative Southern Baptist churches. My first NYWC was in 1976 and it blew my mind…in a good way, because I had this narrow, naive mistaken view that the only people doing “real” youth ministry were the people in my denomination. I met cool volunteer and professional (there were way more of the former than the latter in those days) who came from denominations and para-church groups that I had no knowlege of. Some came from countries outside of the US and some were dressed in Salvation Army uniforms, but I came to love and appresite and cherish the passion that all of these folks had for the two things that I loved as well…kids and Jesus. Then when the general sessions rolled around I was introduced to speakers from across the theological, ideological and political spectrum, like Tony Campolo, Jim Wallis, and Jerry Falwell, all on the same stage. It not only prepared me for a career of ministry of encountering youth as a part of their culture, but allowed me to be a part of a diverse community of ministers giving their lives in service to God and young people. So in my small world, I am grateful for Marko, and a long tradition at YS of inspiring, stretching, and encouraging those of us ministering to young men and women all across the world over the last 4 decades.


  22. i think we need to realize that we can have moral, biblical convictions, but we dont lord it over people. look at california. is the church being persecuted for their stance against gay marriage, or the way we lord those convictions over them (matt 20)?
    we judge a man for 2 sins while ignoring the many others out there as well. war, shading dealings with 3rd world countries that oppress people in those countries, broken justice system, broken system that can keep people in poverty in our own nation. these are all sins that our president has a say in, yet they dont seem to hold as much weight.
    scripture has about 2000 references to the poor. scripture is full of matters of justice and how we treat them, the oppressed, the alien.
    but since james dobson didnt bring those up, i guess they dont count as much.
    if we truly cared about the sanctity of marriage the way we say we do, wouldnt we pass laws banning divorce and remarriage? we have a huge plank in our eye. we may want to deal with that first.
    blessed is the nation that follows after god, but not because it is on a coin or in our laws, but because it is written on the hearts of people.

  23. Amen and Amen, Bro: you have at least partially restored my faith in the ability of my fellow Christians to use the brains our Father gave us and to exhibit the heart our Lord did!

  24. thanks for the good work. i’m reviewing another book by another publisher on obama. i look forward to reading this one. i would encourage you to continue on with the book on palin. she’s an interesting and new face the national political stage. my 16 yr old daughter says she’d be interested in learning more. i also think it would be well received.

  25. To Joe T.-
    I agree with your comment that we overlook the bigger picture of political sins. And excellent point that there’s more work to be done within the church to guard marriage. But in your first comment up top, I strongly disagree with the comparison of war casualties to abortions. Regardless of how the commander in chief deploys troups, those men and women have committed their lives to the country with the risk of death. As tragic as that is, it doesn’t make them as ‘innocent’ as pre-born babies.

  26. As for the Obama book, my pastor recently made an interesting suggestion: he believes the ‘George W. Bush bashing’ of the past four to eight years is backlash (or FRUIT, if you will) of the way we Christians demonized Bill Clinton (like boycotting when he was invited to speak at the Willow Creek leadership conference).
    The call to honor and uphold the leadership God set in place was made by Paul during the reign of the ROMANS, and made in the OT during the reign of the BABYLONIANS… these governments did far worse to believers and citizens than any lying politician has to-date. Keep things in perspective… Pray for our president this time around, even (and especially) if you didn’t vote for him.

  27. I seem to keep coming back to this.

    Jonathan – What about the children on the other side? The innocent children? What about the innocent mothers and fathers who have lost children to the war?

    I have worked with immigrant children who have lost their families to war. It is heartbreaking. And I find it heartbreaking that they don’t count.

  28. I would never say they don’t count! Only clarifying the difference between someone who’s counted the cost and committed to serve versus babies who are having the cost counted for them (and being counted worthless, or too high a cost for their parents). War casualties are terrible, too.

    As much as I want to like Obama, what bothers me most about this election and the liberal left is that on several issues they’re fighting so hard for zero moral accountability, because it’s ‘freedom’ in their eyes. If Christians could spiritually grow up and communicate FREEDOM IN CHRIST to our communities and nation, we wouldn’t seem as stuck on ourselves and our morals.

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