Barack Obama has been backpedaling this week because of his relationship with the pastor of his church in Chicago. If you haven't heard yet, the mainstream medium picked up on Jeremiah Wright's more controversial sermon statements, including the US deserving 9/11 and proclaiming, "God Damn America." His campaign handled the controversy head-on with a media blitz, in some way diffusing the situation. Obama claimed that he heard of most of these statements for the first time this week. He then asked Pastor Wright to resign from one of his advisory committees.
I'm not sure of the legs this story, whether or not it will last beyond the Democratic Convention, but it does raise some interesting thoughts in my mind:
- The "Obama is Muslim" rumor should go the way of the albatross with this controversy. But I'm not sure if that's necessarily better for him. I doubt you would ever hear the rhetoric of Pastor Wright from an American Muslim [not including, of course, Farrakhan's Nation of Islam]. Therefore, Obama attackers have much more ammunition to work with the rogue Christian angle now and won't emphasize his middle name as much as before.
- Obama better not be lying when he claims never to have heard [in person] any of Wright's outrageous statements. I guarantee every major media outlet is researching his family's church attendance and cross-referencing with these sermons. I'm not convinced this was the best defense Obama could've come up with in this instance. But it's now his Alamo and he better be prepared for the consequences that would come if he indeed was in church when Pastor Wright went off. As is, he's fine, but if they prove he was there, it would cost him the Presidency.
- Despite good old Gerraldine Ferraro's "he's lucky he's black" statement earlier in the week, the Wright incident demonstrates how much more difficult it is for a black man/woman to ascend to America's highest electable position. Just belonging to a black church can be problematic for the candidate. The black pulpit in America is a very unique rallying point that, in most instances, goes beyond the gospel message to social/political issues facing the community. For almost one hundred years, it was the only voice the African American community had and, therefore, wasn't limited to Biblical exhortation. As all American churches have become more media savvy, recording services in audio and video form, the voice of the black pulpit is now accessible to those beyond its community. Many in white America, who have no exposure to the nuances of the rhetoric that originates from the black pulpit, find it frightening. I predict that when any future black presidential candidates emerge, the media will immediately reference iTunes to listen to the person's pastor.
- This incident does make me wonder to what extent the thoughts of a pastor are supposed to represent his congregants. Those critical of Obama for attending Pastor Wright's church, because of Wright's opinions, should first ask themselves if they're 100% behind the statements made by their own pastors. As a preacher, I'm not sure I want my church to think exactly like I do about every social/political anyway. When I preach, I try to clearly delineate between Scriptural mandate and my opinions, i.e., not everything I say from the pulpit is the Word of God. At Echo, our most important doctrinal issues are articulated in writing [all of which, by the way, are based on the Scriptures]. Anything I say authoritatively from the pulpit should fit within those parameters. And if they don't, it's just my opinion. And people are free to disagree with my opinions. Just ask my wife [har, har].
- Summing the last two points up, people of faith should really use this incident as an opportunity to examine what your church/pastor really believes. You might be surprised.*
There's much more I could say about the black church in America, but it wasn't necessarily the point of this post. I would assume that the same brand of controversial statements made by Pastor Wright have been made in pulpits all over the United States, by both black and white pastors. I wonder if this will lead to some sort of political inquisition where politicians are critiqued for their religious connections. For instance, John McCain has allied himself with Rod Parsley and John Hagee, evangelical leaders who have some interesting theological positions as well.
Because the church in America is so fractured, ranging from conservative evangelical to liberal mainline congregations [even Scientology is considered a church!], these kinds of stories will become more and more prevalent in the years to come.
*Personal note: I should add that I am not THE pastor, but ONE OF THE pastors at Echo. We believe the Biblical model is for a plurality of elders that lead the local church. Therefore, if I say something authoritative from the pulpit, then WE say it. And if I personally say something wrong, I'm in submission to the other leaders to keep me in line.