Of Obama and Pastors and Grace
As we’ve already covered, Barack Obama has condemned the controversial words of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But what now – particularly what now for those of us who aren’t Obama supporters?
My feeling is those who want to use this as a political bludgeon will continue to do so, regardless of what Obama or anyone else says. There is a profound difference between matters of the spirit and matters of the state, but we’ve so often and so purposefully intertwined the two that few can even grasp the difference between a pastor and a political advisor (and that goes for some pastors themselves).
Theology is not my forte, but I know this much: there is no easy reconciliation between the eternal spirit and the transient body. And there is nothing more temporary or less divine than politics. Pastors often wrestle with how our faith should influence our choices as citizens. There is nothing wrong with that. But when they start adulterating theology to achieve political ends, they move themselves and their congregations away from the divine and into the corrupting world of the physical. For some pastors, the move away from the divine is momentary, a sermon here, an off-hand remark there. For others, it defines their entire religious career.
Christians often talk of grace. The concept is both simple and theologically complex. But I think an apt definition for grace is the complete absence of politics, not just of governmental politics but of all the worldly power struggles that so define our lives. Grace is seeing another human not for how they may benefit us or harm us but for their eternal selves, for their equal and equally divine presence in the Body of Christ. From grace comes love as well as compassion, mercy and forgiveness. But there is often very little grace when we twist ourselves up in the political.
Rev. Wright exhibited gracelessness when he said we should sing “god damn America” and when he blamed 9/11 on America’s perceived imperialistic sins. But we should not further that act of gracelessness by continuing to tar Obama with the pastor’s words. The Senator has unequivocally condemned them and has gone so far as to say, spiritually, he believes in universal compassion and he believes that’s what his church teaches.
Religion is attacked often in this country, and people are even attacked for suggesting religion is attacked. But those who attack religion often get it wrong. It’s not religion that’s to blame for intolerance and sins of pride. It’s the politicization of religion that’s to blame. Politics corrupts. But I would like, for once, not to play politics with a man’s faith. Let’s judge Obama for his policies, for his plans for this nation, for his leadership experience or lack thereof. Let’s take his condemnation of his former pastor’s words at face value and move on. If we who lean to the right can’t do that for a religious liberal how do we ever expect those on the left to do it for us and our religion?