Overshadowed by the results of the Democrat's Rules and Bylaws committee was a story broken by CNN contributor Roland Martin: Barack Obama has resigned from being a member of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC). (Read more...) As a former member of TUCC and one who has defended the church and former pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright (here, here and here)...as someone who has heard many an enjoyable sermon by Father Michael Pfleger, has admired his work and agrees that Hillary Clinton feels entitled to the Democratic nomination, mostly because she is a Clinton, but also because of race...I believe Barack Obama made the right decision in leaving his church.
Three things I think I know about how this country views religion:
- America is not comfortable with radical leftist preachers. Few question the relationships rightwing conservatives like Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell have with Republican politicians. John McCain sought the support of Rev. John Hagee. It doesn't matter than Robertson, Falwell and Hagee regularly spew hateful rhetoric. But activists like Wright and Pfleger, who combine a desire for social justice with scripture? They matter very much, more so because they preside over predominantly black churches.
- For a country that is founded on freedom of and freedom from religion, it is important to us not only that our candidates be avowed Christians, but that they be the right kind, preferably Anglo mainline protestant. The hoodoo that people of color practice is generally maligned, even when it largely follows Christian doctrine. The black church, because of African Americans' unique history in this country, has always combined social activism with scripture. That blend helped to end slavery and Jim Crow. Most mainstream Americans have not experienced this sort of worship.
- If you have a name like Barack Hussein Obama and one out of 10 people think you are a Muslim, your religion will be particularly dissected. It is curious that most people don't even know who Hillary Clinton's pastor is.
I know these things and I know that Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger know them, too. That is why I don't understand why they have continued to discuss the 2008 presidential election in an inflammatory way. Neither man exists to help Barack Obama become president of the United States. But if you believe, as they claim to, that Barack Obama is the best hope for this country, I cannot understand why you would undermine him by giving his enemies fodder. There are so many bigger problems than Hillary Clinton's out-of-control privilege and rampaging ego facing the world.
I am not arguing that Wright and Pfleger are wrong, but that they have not been very skillful about how they express themselves--not very politic. But then, it is the job of a politician to weigh his words, not a pastor.
If TUCC is unwilling to tone down its rhetoric in the face of the spies and cameras that no doubt are in the pews every Sunday these days--and that is the church's right--then for the sake of his candidacy, Obama must go. It is a political choice by a realistic person. If Obama wants to lead us in improving this country, as he says and as I believe, then this sacrifice is one price. And I hate like hell that this is so, but every marginalized person reading this knows that the rules are not the same for everyone.
Speaking of the spies and cameras, Obama's decision to leave the church is best for TUCC. Trinity has a long history of social activism and out-spokenness on issues of justice. This shouldn't stop because one of their parishioners is running for president. It is the church's activism that drew me to it in the mid-90s. But that activism, and the need to speak truth to power, sometimes put the church at odds with the government (like when TUCC was part of a coalition battling South African apartheid). I don't want the leaders at TUCC to have to bite their tongues, but it ain't so easy to speak out against the government's occasional wrongs when the president is sitting in front of the pulpit.
So, yes, I think Obama's resignation from Trinity United Church of Christ is what is best for all parties involved. But I hate what that says about us.