Monday, March 17, 2008

The Preacher and the Politician

This week, Barack Obama has come under fire because of belief by association. Sermons by his long-time pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, have come to light that include vitriolic statements that attack the American status quo. There are two issues to consider, the beliefs and the association.

If we allow the mainstream media's appetite for controversy to set the agenda for political discussion we will continue to find the suggestion that each candidate is responsible for all the beliefs of each person making an endorsement. It is not fair to assume, or for that matter even to accuse, that since Dr. Wright has apparently praised Louis Farrakhan that Obama somehow supports Farrakhan. Likewise, Rev. John Hagee's endorsement of John McCain does not lead to the conclusion that McCain shares Haggee's disdain for Catholicism. One could argue that Obama's connection to Wright is markedly different since as his pastor, Wright has influenced Obama's faith formation for a couple of decades. Certainly there is an important relationship here that Obama has stated numerous times. But to suggest that one is showing poor judgment by remaining a member of a church where the pastor makes a few controversial statements is to sorely misunderstand this church and its denominational tradition.

For many years now Christianity in America has been portrayed as a religion of doctrinal and ideological alignment. But the experience of most churches, at least those in the Mainline Protestant tradition, and certainly within the United Church of Christ (the denomination of Obama's church), is one of a wide range of theological views where rarely does a week go by that something said from the pulpit does not meet with the disapproval of one or more members. The UCC embraces this diversity of expression as a way of seeking to know more of “our still speaking God.” Even the dialogue between those who think differently is an opportunity, as it can teach us better how to live with these tensions without forsaking community. Unfortunately, this appears to be a concept not interesting enough to the mainstream media to cover. Likewise, the media pressure around this has unfairly forced Obama to choose between an old friend and mentor and his political future.

As for the beliefs themselves, it cannot be denied that Dr. Wright has spoken some difficult truths in a manner that offends. While we may not accept that from our politicians, we should not be surprised to hear it from preachers. The ancient Hebrew prophets were a surly bunch who spoke truth to power in socially unacceptable ways. This is the model for some preachers today. No one but Dr. Wright needs to defend his views, and some of them certainly demand clarification at least. Still, preaching to a predominately Black congregation about the ugliness of the still too-present racism in America today, while uncomfortable for Whites to hear, is yet appropriate. It is patently unfair for the oppressor to insist that those who are oppressed cease all antagonistic speech directed at them. We can hope that this issue does not get reduced to an incident about individuals, but instead opens up a wider discussion of ways of undoing racism in America.


Hollands Opus said...

I profoundly regret that you have taken this stance, Ian. I find it most disturbing, and regret that there is absolutely nothing that you and I can discuss on this topic. It really diminishes my hope that the body of Christ can truly be united. To equate this man with the prophets (who are prophets by divine fiat and attested to the same by the Lord Jesus Christ himself, who I am certain would never endorse the inhumane and brutal exploitation of other people by Dr. Wright) puts us at irreconcilable odds, and at risk of personally offending, I shall say more. My anger is quite ripe, and I think my moral indignation most justified.

I remain sadly dispossessed of what I hoped would be a genuinely helpful discussion. For if it can truly be said that Dr. Wright is not entirely out of line (in content and manner) than I am not only wrong about race relations, but entirely lack the audacity to hope that the same will ever move forward in this country.

Peace. May the joy of the resurrection of Jesus supersede the necessary lack of joy I feel about a lack of common ground on this subject.

Good blessings to you and your family.

sojoman said...

I am actually depressed that there are a large group of African Americans who feel this way about America. And I am also repentent in the fact that I have lived a life driven by stereotypes and my own microcosm.

With that said though, there's no question that America is not the KKK version Dr. Wright spoke of. Nor did we plant HIV in Africa, nor are we purposely doing things to hurt or injur black people. I do think this one should be examined the same way right-wing preachers are called out for suggesting candidates or preaching on issues sepcific to a republican platform. It's all fair. Mitt Romney for pegged for his mormonism, and it helped do him in. Huckabee was looked at as some preacher turned used car salesman. There were people who wouldn't vote for him because he had such firm convictions. And on an on it goes.

Even though I understand the rhetoric and what it was supposed to do, the conspiracy mongering and the invectives don't at all reflect the "Audacity of Hope" and may make it into a sham. Anger is a rough thing to skate over. Barack has waged a great campaign thus far based on the good and the positive. This flies in the face of that philosophy, and will end up costing him a good chunk of support. BTW, have a Guinness for me today! Cheers. Dave.