(Crossposted on The Obama Administration)

Drea and I recently had the opportunity to hang out with a friend who just returned from a missions trip to a Dalit colony in India. The Dalits, or “untouchables”, are the lowest-ranking group in India’s caste system and the recipients of brutal and long-standing injustice. Some actually say they are the most oppressed people in all humanity. Because of their status, Dalits are often consigned to live in such colonies where they present no threat of “contaminating” the upper castes. It’s hard to believe that in our modern world, such a backwards social system still exists, but it does. While social equality is officially mandated in the Indian Constitution, the systemic oppression of Dalits persists today, even 50 years after their political emancipation.

My eyes (and Drea’s) were first opened to Dalit oppression and the horrors of caste about four years ago through the amazing Caedmon’s Call album Share the Well. Since then, Drea and I have both developed a heart for India. (It’s actually part of why we started dating, but that’s another story.)

Anyhow, in learning about India’s struggle with oppression and slavery, I’m reminded of our own struggle here in America. While slavery and government-sanctioned oppression of blacks are thankfully off the books thanks to the work of Lincoln, King, and countless others, a stubborn remnant of injustice still plagues our country, just as it plagues India (albeit more subtly). In short, we can see clearly that criminalizing injustice doesn’t necessarily put an end to it.

But praise God for people like Joseph D’souza, the Indian Christian who founded the Dalit Freedom Network; for Bill Hybels, the pastor of a large, well-to-do suburban church whose eyes were opened to the economic and racial injustices in his own backyard, and responded accordingly; for Martin Luther King, Jr., who labored diligently “to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression”; for Derek Webb, whose honest music has educated me, challenged me, and helped me realize that Jesus came not just to die for my sins, but to make things right, including every injustice, both personal and systemic.

Today, we inaugurated our first African-American President, and arguably the first President to, through both racial identity and experience, have significant ties to the developing world. In his inaugural address, President Obama made a pledge:

To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds. And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to suffering outside our borders; nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”

I watched Obama’s speech live, and was impressed as usual with his humility and intelligence. But when he said this, I teared up a little. Not just because it’s a beautiful thought, but because of the opportunity being presented to our country right now. It’s not my intention at all to immortalize Obama (he’s only a man, and an imperfect one at that), but it’s obvious that he wields a degree of influence that few political leaders, if any, have had.

In an article published shortly after the election, Joseph D’souza remarked that “the world’s oppressed will follow the statements and actions of this president more than any other.” What an extraordinary challenge our new President has. I pray that Obama makes good on his promise, that he uses his influence to inaugurate peace and justice into the lives of those who have never experienced it. If he can do this, well, I think that will be pretty great.

Barack Obama accomplished something truly extraordinary today. I think that given my meager life experiences, I can hardly wrap my head around the significance this day must have not only for African-Americans, but for every person in the world who’s suffered injustice. As they look by the millions to Obama to champion their cause, I pray that he accepts the challenge as a vital objective of his administration, and more importantly, as his calling as a follower of Jesus.

My deepest, deepest congratulations to President and Mrs. Obama. Let’s do this thing!