Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Obama, Wright, Trinity and Me

If you read back over my blog posts, you will find me defending Jeremiah Wright when the short clips from a few of his sermons first started making waves on cable news. I really felt that given his track record of working for the poor in Chicago and the way his comments were taken out of context he had not been given a fair shake.

Then I saw his performance at the National Press Club, and everything changed. I know some time has passed since those events, but I've barely had time to blog since then, and I've also been struggling as to what to say about him. What do you say about a man who had a moment in the national spotlight to actually educate people outside of his community and to advance the dialogue on race in America but instead uses that moment for grandstanding and setting back the national conversation on such an important topic?

The best statement I've read--that actually understands the religious dynamics at work and does not summarily dismiss Wright's many accomplishments was an editorial in The Christian Century. It's well worth a read.

In other related news, I am excited for our country that it finally has a presidential candidate from one of the two major parties that is African-American--I think Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post expresses well the historical significance of the event. I must say, however, that there was a line in Obama's speech Tuesday night that disturbed me. He described America as "the last, best hope on earth." The context was in terms of spreading freedom and democracy, but nonetheless the language is something I would expect from the regular peddlers of patriotic idolatry on the far right. I would hope that it was just hyperbole from a speech writer, because I know Obama is a Christian, and as any Christian should know--only God is the "last, best hope on earth". Here's hoping that he will be more careful and more reverent in the future.

Finally, there's the issue of Obama resigning his church membership due to the continuing flow of controversial statements out of Trinity U.C.C. in Chicago. Some will dismiss it as political opportunism--David Brooks approvingly called it "political ruthlessness"--I call it just plain sad. I choose to believe--and maybe I am naive about this--that the Obamas genuinelyloved their church as most Christians do and that the community of faith where Barack came to know Jesus Christ had special meaning for him. I also choose to believe that he is sincere when he says that it is not only out of concern for his campaign but also concern for Trinity that he resigns. After all, Trinity should not have to bear the burden of wondering what comment made within its walls will set off another chain reaction of media overkill.

Yet, I am disturbed that this is where we are in America today--that a person running for national office must seek out a church that stays quiet and non-confrontational in order to run for office. I am concerned that more churches are not causing controversy in their efforts to fight for the poor and oppressed. I am bothered that the national media cannot draw a distinction between what a minister says and what a church member believes.
Beth Newman, ethics professor at the seminary I attended, was critical of Obama for leaving Trinity, but I don't believe I have enough information to make that judgment. Instead, I just remain bothered by the whole thing.

Grace and Peace,


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