Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Barack Obama, Faith in the Public Square, and Catholicism

Yes, I know. Hefty title. But I'm going to toss in my own two cents regarding Obama's latest troubles that surround his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Rev. Wright is a very controversial figure. On one hand, he is a highly talented speaker who knows how to capture the attention of his audience. On the other hand, he is also the author of some extremely divisive rhetoric that has landed one of his congregants (who happens to be running for President) into hot water.

The latest development shows Sen. Obama is trying to distance himself from Rev. Wright. I have to ask what took him so long. Although I have heard the argument that "people shouldn't be judged by who they associate with," I humbly submit that this should not apply to one of the most personal parts of our life - namely our faith.

People choose a church for a variety of reasons. Maybe they grew up in that particular denomination. Maybe their church gave them a free soft drink and invited them to visit. Or maybe it's the closest church to them. Whatever the reason, people end up visiting a church to see if they fit in and if the church fits in with their values. If it's not a good fit, most people leave and search for something else.

I see a problem with Sen. Obama's choice of attending Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, although it isn't the problem others may see. First, Sen. Obama, for whatever reasons, found something with this church that aligned with his values. There was something about this church that resonated with him. If not and he still decided to stay, then the reasons seem more opportunistic. In other words, what does a membership to Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ prove? Some would say an agreement with Black Liberation Theology. Other's would say it underscores a commitment to racial identity. Whatever the reasons, Sen. Obama and his family belonged to this church for years.

The main problem I see is Sen. Obama's inability to admit his faith in the public square. Pope Benedict XVI nailed this issue with his recent visit to the United States. As believers, we should not be relegated to a social Siberia when it comes to allowing our faith to have a voice. I should not be required to disengage myself from my faith because my faith does, in fact, permeate my entire life. I'm not forcing anyone to convert to my faith, but neither do I think it's fair to force me to be silent. Everyone has a faith in something, whether it's God or the Yankees. But a person of true conviction will take a stand no matter what.

Sen. Obama, in my eyes, has not taken a stand for what he truly believes in. I am left with two conclusions: Either Sen. Obama didn't agree with Rev. Wright's rants or he did agree with them. If it's the former, then he was simply using the church for credibility among African-American voters. If it was the latter, then he has been bullied into not sharing his faith in the public square.

My opinion is that it's actually a mix. Sen. Obama and his wife may have agreed with some of Rev. Wright's messages and not others. But they are caught between a rock and a hard place. Sen. Obama cannot now confess that he actually agrees with Wright. It would not be in his favor. But not supporting his pastor also can damage his relationship with Wright and look like he's a wimp when it comes to defending your faith.

Finally, I look at this whole mess and think how much simpler it would be if Sen. Obama was Catholic. This is yet another reason why I am falling in love with my Catholicism. If I attended a parish that had a priest who was waaaay out there, and say I was running for political office; I could say simply, "Well, then. Father Peter Progressive does have some interesting views but first and foremost, I am a Catholic who upholds the church's teachings on the sanctity of life, social justice, and living the gospel daily in my life." Or some such. You get the point.

Which brings me to a question I'd love to ask of Rev. Wright. If he's so intrigued with Black Liberation Theology and the thought that "white theology had no relevance as Christ's message because it was "not related to the liberation of the poor." (per James A Cone, whose book, A Black Theology of Liberation, is available at Trinity's bookstore), then where the heck has he been these past 2,000 years? The Catholic church, more than any other church I know of, has made ministry to the poor (and yes, liberation), one of the main ministries of the church. I suppose he's never heard of St. Elizabeth of Hungary or Mother Teresa, just to name two out of hundreds of saints who devoted their lives to the poor.

We are called to be accountable for our beliefs. Sen. Obama just got caught in the crossfire. I can't help but wonder what he really believes in, and if he'll ever be unashamed to say it.


Angela M. said...

A thoughtful and balanced post!

David said...


Jeremiah Wright for UCC President

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I’m guessing that about half the people viewing that headline just had a stroke and fell over. For the rest of you still reading, stick with me here.

John Thomas’ tenure as the President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ will end next year when a new President will be elected at General Synod. The search committee is already beginning the process and they’ve already asked for names of potential candidates (just email I’d like to be the first to kick off the “Wright for UCC President” campaign and I hope you will join me by emailing with a strong recommendation that Wright be considered.

Why should Wright be the next United Church of Christ President?

1) Wright epitomizes the leadership of the UCC and the transition to President will be a smooth one. His “God Damn America” sermon wasn’t all that different from John Thomas’ claim that the Axis of Evil “runs the length and breadth of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

2) Wright already has the full support of the United Church of Christ executive council. This is a big step to getting elected as President.

3) The United Church of Christ would save at least $2-3 million in advertising costs - Wright is a walking, talking publicity machine! He literally pays his own salary for 10 years on the first day.

4) John Thomas has already destroyed our interfaith relationship with the Jewish community, Wright can only be seen as an improvement.

5) Sales of United Church of Christ merchandise and DVD’s of Wright’s speeches would explode based on what the news media would purchase and profits could fund new church starts all over the country

That’s enough reasons for now, I’m sure people will chime in with more ideas.

Forward this to as many friends as you can and be sure to suggest Wright for President of the United Church of Christ by emailing today!