Having grown up in both the Pentecostal and Methodist faiths, Sunday worship was a staple of my weekly routine. Thus, when I relocated to Washington during the 80’s finding a church home was very important to me. For almost 10 years I canvassed the nation’s capitol seeking a church that would nourish my spirit and challenge my aspirations. As I tried out local churches, I began to notice a consistent theme: the sermons were highly political charged. Understandably, this being the nation’s capital, there is perhaps a heightened political awareness among the general populace. However I believed, perhaps naively, that Churches in a town mired in politics should generally steer clear of the muck and focus more closely on the personal and spiritual aspects of faith. Ministers are right to advocate for social justice as a moral imperative, but they lower the esteem of their office and do a disservice to their worshippers when the pulpit becomes host to political rallies and policy forums.
In 1995 my spirit found what it was seeking when I first visited First Baptist Church in DC, where the Rev. Frank Tucker presides. I will never forget meeting with the Pastor prior to joining and expressing my feelings about what I was looking for in a church. I made it clear that my interest was in the word of God, and not in having politics dominate the pulpit on Sunday. He shared my concerns, and promised that this wasn’t the case at his church. I have now attended First Baptist for over 10 years and never been disappointed with the spirit-centered teachings. Through the years I’ve taken Whites, Muslims, Jews, and people of all walks of life to worship with me and they all have left feeling as if they were welcome members of the congregation.
But there are many churches across this nation, both black and white, whose pastors have taken a more radical political stance. After all, the black Church especially became home to the civil rights movement, as prominent preachers such as Martin Luther King and Ralph Abernathy began to teach a radical message of social change. The church was also one of the few places in the south where civil rights activists could gather to organize and strategize. They were places where ministers could help their congregation deal with their anger, frustration, and America’s ungodliness towards their brethren.
However, the protest politics of the civil rights era have to evolve to today’s reality of progress and opportunity. As what were once outsiders to the political process assume their rightful place as leaders in today’s society, they must be conscious of projecting an inclusive message. While freedom of speech, assembly, and the freedom of religion guarantee all Americans the choice of where to attend worship, a political candidate such as Barack Obama needs to be heedful that, should he assume leadership, he will be the leader of all of America and not just black America. He will represent the rich and the poor, the powerful and the disenfranchised alike. Thus, associating with a radical protest theology which some could construe as anti-American only serves to distance him from those he most needs to win over to his side.
Absent clear evidence to the contrary, one must assume that at least on some level Senator Barack Obama and his wife, having attended Rev. Wright’s church for the past 20 years, have embraced his teachings and vision of America. I know that my minister has always had a profound impact on my outlook about life. Thus, I find it difficult to believe Senator Obama when he tells us that he was unaware of his Pastor’s stance on issues of terrorism, racism and politics. Like many intellectual blacks, the Obamas and their ilk are highly aware of what they perceive as the continuous crippling effect of racism and slavery in America on their careers. The irony is that many of their children have embraced this country, finding success and prosperity, while their parents continue to allow their wounds to be nurtured in this hopeless mindset preached from the pulpit. Michelle Obama’s expression of how for the first time she was proud of America was indicative of the influence of her Pastor and this attitude among black elites in general.
Senator Obama should admit to the fact that since campaigning he’s seen a different America. He must show that he rejects and repudiates this school of negative thinking about the possibility for change in America. Furthermore he should stand above divisiveness and fractured politics and repudiate a theology which overly emphasizes the worst in our country, while ignoring the phenomenal progress we have made together. This past week was not an exemplary moment for the man who prided himself on integrity and honesty throughout this campaign. The fact is the Senator has no plausible excuse for why he remained a member of Rev. Jeremiah’s church while seeking a role on the national stage. He and his family should have left the congregation for the embrace of a church that teaches the bible rather than the alienation and divisiveness.
It makes no sense for someone in search of America’s promise and potential to worship in a place where a doctrine of hatred and anti-Semitism is the central theme and members stand and applaud the pastor like a rock star. I was taught that church was a place of escape and rest, but I didn’t want to worship with someone who is supposed to be a religious leader feeding me poisonous propaganda. My reason for going to church has always been for a spiritual recharge, not more of the same. I deal with politics 24/6, and one day a week I get a chance to take a break from all that. I believe this to be healthy, and think it is sad that I had to try so hard for so long to find a church that was able to provide the rest or Sabbath, mentioned in the Bible. The day must come when churches (Black or otherwise) that preach hate speech return to the sanctity of the Word. No one should ever be forced to search for such a lengthy duration or give up and settle in a church that is unacceptable and potentially pay the price that Senator Obama is paying for imbedded cynicism.