Tuesday, April 29, 2008


The Church of the Uncomfortable

I have to admit that I haven't followed closely the controversy involving Rev. Jeremiah Wright. He seems to have said things that made people mad, and I'm sure that I would disagree with much of it. At the very least, he makes people uncomfortable.

However, underlying the controversy is a problem within our churches. Too often, we look to church as a place that will affirm us, where we will be "comfortable." This goes beyond finding a church that matches our religious beliefs, to the point where people look for a church within a denomination where their political and social beliefs will not be challenged.

Is this the proper role of a Christian church? I wonder. Jesus was constantly making his audiences uncomfortable-- telling the rich man he had to sell all his things, telling the pharisees that they were hypocrites, and challenging physically the moneychangers in the Temple. Peter and Paul faced the same, and like Jesus, they were the target of those who wanted to silence their voices.

Should a preacher leave politics alone? Some see this as the message of Jesus looking at the coin and saying "To Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is His." I think that could be a reasonable reading. It also seems, though, that it could be that Jesus is saying that money is not of God-- that it is a force apart from God. And what a contrarian statement that is in our current political and social worlds! Again, it seems designed to make us... uncomfortable.

What bothers me the most about the Jeremiah Wright business is that incendiary and controversial preachers are nothing new -- Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, Oral Roberts, Francis Schaeffer, etc.

But I do notice a common thread in who the American public are willing to accept as properly controversial -- conservative, white pastors -- but when it is a black preacher, they condemn it.

I don't actually agree with much of anything Wright (or any of the others I listed) have said on the subject. I don't think that America's "national sins" have caused us to lose any divine blessing, nor do I feel that violent overthrow of the US government is warranted, necessary, or advisable. But he should be able to think those things. More importantly, we should all be ready defend his right to say such things, because in turn we are given the right to criticize his views and advance our own.
First, as a Methodist and a lifelong conservative, I can say that I have never had a preacher that agreed with my political views. The overwhelming majority of the church leadership in the Methodist church has always been fairly liberal, and probably always will be. I think it can be a good thing because anything that makes you have to evaluate your beliefs critically is a good thing. However, I'm not a big fan of anyone that tells me what God/Jesus would think about a particular political issue, either conservative or liberal, mostly because its amazing how God always seems to agree with them on each issue.

What I find fascinating about the whole Wright thing is that for years every time Falwell, Robertson, etc have said something stupid, liberals jump all over it to point out the intolerance, homophobia, racism, sexism, etc of all conservative christians. This despite the fact that most of us never went to their churches, heard their sermons, or agreed with anything they said. Now, this minister says heinous things about America, and Obama went to that church, and there seem to be legitimate questions about why he would attend a church where such bizarre/hateful rhetoric was being used, but now such questions are deemed silly and irrelevant, and based on the previous comment even covertly racially based, even though they seem right out of the playbook that the Democratic party has used for the past 30 years. Guess the shoe doesn't feel so good when its on the other foot, huh??

Oh, and I don't think anyone is trying to silence Reverend Wright. I personally hope he manages to find a way to say something on national tv every day until November, and I think most conservatives would agree! I do imagine that Obama might like for him to shut his mouth though....
I actually see the connection between Falwell/Roberson and Wright as pretty strong. I disagree with both from a position between them, but that dialogue is important to have.
One of the greatest descriptions of the church that I ever received while working on my MDiv was that the church is often a place to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
What rrl said. It is pretty amusing to see the shoe on the other foot. So many people criticize the so-called right wing preachers without ever attending a service in their churches, let alone reading what they had to say. Falwell LOVED being controversial and the center of attention, but by many accounts he was a warm and generous person who hated the sin, but not the sinner. Wright seems like he's cut from similar cloth.

So even though, as a McCain supporter, I think this latest episode is kind of amusing and an excellent example of turnabout being fair play, the way the Press has grabbed onto it irritates me too.

I enjoy being challenged by the mostly liberal Priests in the Episcopal Church. I want a religious leader who will make me uncomfortable, make me think.

What's next? Will Obama have to explain why he continued to attend a college and then a law school filled with socialist, if not dangerously out of touch with reality, professors?
On the right-wing/left-wing split, it probably is more complicated. I like that my current church challenges my materialism-- I need that instinct to be challenged. I learn from ministers I disagree with, but part of that may be my Baptist framework where I don't see their view as authoritative.

I enjoy being challenged from both the left and the right.

My home church challenges me more from the left than the right, but I do seek out other settings. For example, I will be speaking on October 13 at Regent University Law School, which is part of the University founded by Pat Robertson. I may not agree with all the things that people there say and do, but I will no doubt find some things they say and do which will challenge me in a good way. I have great respect for their Dean and mission.
While I can't really speak on what the Christian church should do when it comes to challenging people in their faiths, I do feel that when it comes to expressing opinions or ideologies that are overtly political, churches are tax-free entities, and part of that privilege comes with the restriction on the type of speech you can put forth. If Rev. Wright (or any other church leaders) are giving speeches that are significantly political, the question shouldn't be about why Obama or anyone else would listen to them, but rather why a nontaxable organization is allowed to publicly espouse those views.
I'm not sure it is a requirement of tax-free status that the organization not express political views. For example, Universities are tax-exempt, but profs express opinions on political issues all the time-- for example, professors I know of who opine on redistricting, which is inherently political.
No . . . I don't think our churches should let us be comfortable.

And I just read an article about the Jeremiah Wright/Obama issue. I know both are inevitably in the public sphere now (and Wright seems to have purposefully put himself there), but I think it's too bad that we the public have to be privy to a person's disagreement with his pastor. It's like a domestic dispute made public . . . like watching Obama quarreling with his wife or his childhood friend, writ large, in public. Isn't there pastor-congregant privilege, just like attorney-client privilege (or almost like it?)
The IRS lists the restrictions for both groups, churches and universities (501c3 organizations) as ". . .does not participate in, or intervene in (including the publishing or distributing of statements), any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any candidate for public office."

While both groups are subject to the same restrictions, I feel that churches generally have much less stringent monitoring of this kind of activity than universities, due to the different nature of their constituencies.

I think the point here is that Obama is either a radical left-wing Christian or a secret Muslim, or a moderate. Or possibly Jewish. Or a Scientologist.
The Reverend's motivations for continuing to speak out bother me. I agree with swissgirl in that if they have a feud why not try to keep it private? Rev Wright seems to feel as if he was dismissed by Obama, and now he is getting back at him. How Christian is this?

But then, the guy is allowed to have opinions, and allowed to express them.

I watched the Bill Moyers interview with Rev Wright on PBS last week, and he seemed like a really intelligent man. He did say that when he took over this church in Chicago it was sort of keeping to itself, and not really addressing what was going on in the world. He changed that and started making his sermons more about real life issues his parishioners who were on the tough South side of Chicago, faced. So maybe this is where he is coming from?

Some of the things he explained in the Bill Moyers thing... Ex When he said that "9/11 was our fault" this is all people heard, but he explained that in his opinion the US has gone out and done a lot of terrible things to a lot of nations, and now as he put it "The chickens have come home to roost." He was talking about a bible passage where the "war" from our enemies was no longer about getting our armies but getting our citizens... something about blood of babies.. and that is what the terrorists did on 9/11.

so SOME of the things he has said have been misinterpreted.

He is entitled to have his opinions, he can go ahead and think that AIDS was created by the government, and that Louis Farrakhan is a great guy and all of this.. and I will always disagree with him. What reallly bothers me is that he is so blatantly trying to damage the Obama campaign, when he was supposedly so close to him and he was his friend. Obama dumped him, and now he is getting revenge or maybe he has a huge ego...

There was a black reverend from Boston on the Today Show this AM and Meredith Viera interviewed him about Rev. Wright. He spoke elegantly about the issue, and then at the end she asked him "Why do you think he is doing this now?"

I had to laugh when the guy just looked for an answer for a minute and then just said "You know, the guy, he is Trippin!"
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