I don't know about you, but I usually listen pretty closely to what my pastor says, and almost always try to live my life the way my pastor recommends.
There are some areas in the Bible that are not absolutely clear cut, and my pastor is human, too, so I don't follow him like I would follow Jesus if he were in the pulpit speaking to me, but he usually gets it right. If my pastor were preaching things that were clearly contrary to the Bible and contrary to what I observed in the world around me, I'd either speak to him about that or go find another church.
So it is that I have to wonder what Barack Obama is taking away from church services at his church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
According to an ABC News article, here's the kind of theology the Reverend Jeremiah Wright preaches:
"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," he said in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."
In addition to damning America, he told his congregation on the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001 that the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism.
"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.
"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.
Need I point out that crimes must be punished, for the sake of justice if not to protect the community? Need I point out that while America does not live up to its ideals perfectly, it is the most free and affluent nation in the world? Need I point out that the Japanese refused to surrender, and that the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki undoubtedly saved far more lives than an invasion of Japan would have cost--even more Japanese lives? Need I point out that it is Palestinian terrorists who are blowing up innocent civilians, while the Israeli Defense Force is trying to stop these bloodthirsty militants practicing deadly subterfuge in civilian clothes?
So is Barack Obama taking anything away from his church that's having an impact in his life? One of his fellow church members thinks so. From the ABC News article:
"He has impacted the life of Barack Obama so much so that he wants to portray that feeling he got from Rev. Wright onto the country because we all need something positive," said another member of the congregation.
The article also says
Obama has praised at least one aspect of Rev. Wright's approach, referring to his "social gospel" and his focus on Africa, "and I agree with him on that."
Sen. Obama declined to comment on Rev. Wright's denunciations of the United States, but a campaign religious adviser, Shaun Casey, appearing on "Good Morning America" Thursday, said Obama "had repudiated" those comments.
If he's truly repudiated all those America-hating sentiments, I'd like to see that denunciation. Though I would leave a church that voiced these sentiments, a clear denunciation would do much to redeem Obama (at least in this regard) in my mind.
But is Obama's church a place where worship of God and following His commands (even if they interpret that in terms of the "social gospel") are paramount? Or is it an institution fixated on race and grudge-bearing?
Before the hate mail starts, I'd like to point out that I believe that skin color is irrelevant, both to God and to anything that matters. We are all children of God, regardless of skin color. My skin is white, and my best man at my wedding was a black man, and my children's closest playmates are black children. So I don't think any rational person could accuse me of being a racist.
Having gotten that out of the way, consider the "About Us" page of the church's website says
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
What about the "Christian" experience? What about a "Christian" worship service? What about addressing the "Christian" community, or the community at large?
The page lists point #4 of a 10-point vision as "A congregation with a non-negotiable COMMITMENT TO AFRICA." How about a "non-negotiable commitment to Christ?" Or at least a non-negotiable commitment to the country in which they reside--one that offers tremendously more prosperity and freedom than they will find anywhere in Africa?
Can you imagine a church that said something like this on it's "About Us" page:
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly White and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the White religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are a European people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage ... It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a White worship service and ministries which address the White Community.
The church is also committed to what it calls "The Black Value System" as found on their website. It, too, is a document that, if you substitute "white" for "black" would sound racist.
From a sermon posted on the church's website, Rev. Wright talks about a Marvin Gaye song:
I use his words today on the third Sunday of a New Year to keep before you the painful truth of who we are and where it is we are in this racist United States of America! What’s goin’ on?
We have lost over 3,000 boys and girls in an illegal and unjust war, and the media is on a feeding frenzy about Barack Obama’s church. Where is the outrage about the 3,000 dead dead Iraqi civilians who are dead for no reason other than greed and ego?What’s goin’ on? American military personnel and the 600,000 dead Iraqi civilians who are dead for no reason other than greed and ego? What’s goin’ on?
Amanda Carpenter's column today points out a video available on YouTube of a Rev. Wright sermon which seems more concerned about race that about Christ:
We saw recently how little Barack Obama's wife Michelle thinks of America:
What we've learned over this year is that hope is making a comeback. It is making a comeback, and let me tell you something, for the first time in my adult lifetime, I'm really proud of my country, and not just because Barack has done well, but because I think people are hungry for change.
When Obama's wife has such disregard for our country, when Obama's pastor and church hold such disdain (dare I say hatred?) for America, I have to wonder how Barack Obama really feels about America. Should someone who loathes America lead America?
And if he shares even half the disgust for America held by his wife, pastor and church, can America risk having a man like this in the White House?