KOK Edit: Your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM)
KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) KOK Edit: your favorite copyeditor since 1984(SM) Katharine O'Moore Klopf

Monday, June 02, 2008

Obama and His Church Life

If religion and involvement with a religious institution are not a part of your life, you might not understand what it is that people get out of religion, what they get out of searching for God.

And given the well-publicized extremes of some far-right folks who call themselves Christians, you might also have seen the much-hyped tussles among other presidential candidates and their minions, Barack Obama, and the media over Obama's now former church as too much of a muchness; you might have thought Obama should just walk away from his religion completely.

I am a writer and editor and a decent speaker, but I cannot always explain my spirituality well to others. I certainly have had difficulty explaining life in U.S. churches to atheist, agnostic, and antireligion friends and colleagues, so I don't often try. Part of that has to do with my having left the local Presbyterian church within the last 2 years; I'm still working out how I feel about my own spiritual life. That's made it difficult for me to help put the brouhaha over Obama's church life into perspective for those folks.

But a blogging friend of mine, a minister from Obama's own Christian denomination, the United Church of Christ, who uses the pseudonym Songbird has explained it all quite well in an open letter to Obama:
... Let me respond first as a pastor. It would be my hope that NO member of any church I serve would EVER be held responsible for my words from the pulpit. In the Congregational tradition, whatever the colorway might be, freedom of the pulpit is an essential. Pastors are sometimes called to be prophets, and they may say, and I hope WILL say, things that people in the pews or outside the church walls might find perturbing, if not shocking, particularly when the people being shocked are essentially comfortable themselves. Pastors step up into their pulpits, televised or not, to break open the word of God. Anyone who thinks that ought to be restrained to sweet stories about what we learned in kindergarten or advice for how to keep your husband happy or instructions on gaining financial success is not in touch with the history of preaching and in particular with the history of prophetic preaching. ...

People who don't belong to churches may not understand this. They may have an expectation that everything is clear cut, that no relationships are compromised, that your pastor is a service-provider, and you will up and go if you are no longer satisfied. ...

You're in a campaign that is only beginning. When the 2008 version of the Swift Boaters come along, we are all going to have to watch those video clips again, and I'm afraid you will have to state your case again, too. You always seem to find a way to do it that sounds reasonable, even when I know you must be irritated, and I admire that in you. Keep taking the high road. We need to walk the high road. ...

I hope that you'll take the time to read Songbird's post in full.


Imperatrix said...

I'm one of those non-churchy types, but I'll say that, really, what his pastor said was no big deal to me. I think much of what he said was right. A bit over the top, but, yeah, I could see it (even the KKK comment, if I'm remembering correctly).

That guest preacher though -- the white Catholic priest who was dissing Hillary Clinton? I would have walked out on him during that nasty speech.

I never thought the issue was Obama leaving his *religion*, was it? (I'm not so good with the mainstream press, as you know) I thought it was about him leaving that congregation.

And was Obama even in the pews during the mean Catholic sermon?

Katharine O'Moore-Klopf said...

Yes, Imperatrix, I also agreed with much of what the Rev. Jeremiah Wright (Obama's former pastor) said. And Father Michael Pfleger made a personal attack on Hillary Clinton when he should've been speaking in generalities.

But there are lots of folks (not the media) with whom I've corresponded who wanted Obama to not only disassociate himself from his church but to drop religion entirely. These are the people whom I hope can see, from Songbird's letter, why Obama stuck with his church as long as he did.

Template created by Makeworthy Media