“We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend.”- Senator Hillary Clinton, in response to a reporter’s question about Barack Obama, his church, and its fiery former pastor, The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. (from AP article Clinton Would Have Left Obama’s Pastor)
These words sent a chill down my spine.
“We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend.”
It wasn’t enough for Senator Clinton to critique Pastor Wright. It wasn’t enough for Senator Clinton to critique Pastor Wright’s role as an unpaid adviser to Senator Obama’s presidential campaign. No. These words are much more than that. These words go to the core of religious and political identity, and suggest that religious identity should answer to political identity.
Take the time to read the entire post if you can, but here’s where it ends:
“Yes, we have a choice whether to listen to preachers shout ‘God damn America,’ or who sing ‘God bless America.’ And Senator Clinton and I would make different choices, it seems to me. Give me the preacher who calls the nation on its sins any day over the preacher who confuses God and country. Give me the preacher who stands in the tradition of Old Testament prophets calling political leaders to task rather than the one who fails to be moved by the suffering this great nation often leaves in its wake. Give me the preacher who considers Religious Faith before National Patriotism, Creed before Pledge, God before Country.”
These words from Senator Clinton have troubled me ever since I read them. They troubled me for the reasons that Chris (Lutheran Zephyr) mentions. On another level, beyond politics, it suggests that your participation in a church, or decision to “hightail it outta there” can be based on whatever fiat or preference you might have, even if it is rooted in self-absorption (i.e. “sin”). There is also the importance of the true community that a congregation is called to be. God’s kingdom is built as we are in relationship with other people…real people…as they are. Even if they don’t jive with what I want, what I think, what I expect. Bonhoeffer, in Life Together (pg. 27) puts it this way:
Just as surely as God desires to lead us to a knowledge of genuine Christian fellowship, so surely must we be overwhelmed by a great disillusionment with others, with Christians in general, and, if we are fortunate, with ourselves. … Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight, begins to grasp in faith the promise that is given to it.
Bohoeffer’s insight would suggest that Senator Obama has taken the more faithful approach by voicing his disagreement with his pastor while maintaining his embrace of that community, including the one with whom he differs. Senator Clinton’s suggestion to find a different pastor and church misses the gift of what a congregation is: real people, sinners and saints each one of them, in relationship. That doesn’t sound politically rewarding. It sounds messy, actually. But that’s how God seems to want to build this kingdom “on earth as in heaven”.
I’ve been contemplating this as I’ve been reading Death by Suburb: How to Keep the Suburbs from Killing Your Soul by David L. Goetz.