Sunday, June 1, 2008

He had to do it

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) 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.


Professor Tracey said...

Okay Tami, I hear you, but how far does this kind of decision-making go? And how much should we support it? If he's doing this to be just the deomcractic nominee, what will he do to be president? And once he is president?

A Voice From the Battlefield said...

I think your last two lines sum it up very well Tami.

SheCodes said...

Hi Tami,

I agree with you and wrote something similar in my post today. I thought that the media judgments against Jeremiah Wright were unfair and still think so.

I understood when Jeremiah Wright tried to clear his name, and I still understand.

But for TUCC to continue adding fuel to the fire speaks volumes to me. It is not as if the inflammatory stuff is necessary.

@Professor Tracey, unfortunately I think that Barack will continue to 'toe the line' to angry white folk concerning angry black folk well after he wins the Presidency.

Tami said...

I hear you, Tracey.

Black folks face this damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't conundrum. To Shecodes' point, you don't get to be a black president without towing the line--being not TOO black for the majority, but black enough for your people. It's an awfully narrow line.

Obama is going to have to find a way to advance an civil rights agenda, while maintaining that delicate balance. I expect that Obama will do good things for black people in his presidency, but I'm not naive enough to think there's going to be this overnight, amazing advance in the black community. The folks who think that are going to be hella disappointed.

heartsandflowers said...

You know MLK was just as much a politician as a minister, but of course as much as he was hated the media did not cross lines into exposing a lot of personal relationships, i.e his gay advisor or his extra-marital activities. In today's climate he would have vilified, mortified and had his adversaries looping his foibles 24/7. I agree it was a difficult decision but one that had to be made. I wonder do Black people expect more from Obama than they would have if Clinton had gotten the nomination? If she hadn't exposed her racism and allowed the climate to permit others show itself [which I think was a good thing] would those of us who are so concerned about Obama have held her to the same standards? What about all the Black people who still support Clinton who are elected officials who have stood by, done nothing or actively encouraged the negative behavior and the racist attacks? I don't see any previous behavior re: legislation that he's implemented so far that has harmed Black people, but I can look to much of the Clinton and Bush administration that has.

rikyrah said...

I was very sad when I read it, but I understand why it happened.

I thought it was very unfair what happened to Rev. Wright. Though he didn't help himself with the NPC 'Performance'.

I have supported Father Pfleger over the years, but don't get why he'd do it too, knowing that it would become a Youtube's greatest hits. And, I'm mad at him for risking ANYTHING that would take him away from St. Sabina. Cardinal George is just looking for an excuse.

It was just a sad situation all around.

I just don't know why folks were fanning the flames...that didn't seem necessary at all to me. Everytime you thought the TUCC embers had just about burned out, here comes another fire. A fire that didn't need to happen.

NOLA radfem said...

I wish he hadn't had to do it. I blame white America - period. But I get it. He wasn't being left a lot of choices.

But my first thought was that this is 100% good for the members of this church. Maybe now they can go back to being themselves and being left to do so. I would hate spies in MY church taping us for the more radical things we might say....

Tami, I was thinking of you earlier. Prompted by some of your work, I took my angriest anti-Hillary piece yet and moved it over from another blog to the one you know (at nolarafem). I know many feminist bloggers are pro-Hillary, many bloggers I respect and care about and would really like to be on good terms with. I've had some negative feedback, and I just wanted to thank you for helping me "come out of the closet," as it were, as a white feminist who is just increasingly appalled by the Clinton campaign and who has long been drawn to Obama. So thanks, Tami. Your blog has influenced mine.

AJ Plaid said...

At first I was saddened when I heard the news as well because I thought, "How is he going to leave the church *now*? Doesn't he need a church home? Where is he going to find spiritual succor in this political storm?"

Of course listening to Juan Williams waxing cynical about Sen. Obama's decision on NPR really didn't help the matter. (JW's analysis? "He did it for the politics, y'all!)

My moms had to put it in perspective: "He's not leaving The Church--he's not leaving Christianity--he's just leaving this particular church."

Now, becoming informed about it (thanks, Tami!), I have mixed feelings about what Sen. Obama did. I completely understand the need to leave a church/sect when one's staying as a member is to the detriment to the church family. (No, I don't want the media trying to take undercover video and photos at my Buddhist meetings because they heard that Tina Turner or Herbie Hancock was at one of them, either.) I also feel that Sen. Obama shouldn't have been compelled to sacrifice his spiritual home to the altar of politics.


Yeah, he had to go. TUCC members didn't ask for the brouhaha.

Brother OMi said...

I can't blame Wright and Pfleger for their views. Heck, I agree with them. What bothers me is that there are people sneaking into the church with video cameras yelling "fire" every time someone says something. What bothers me is that there are members of that church of that church who are being hounded by the media. There are elders being harassed in their homes.

I think the mainstream media should be held accountable for that stuff.

Ironically, folks only talk about Rev. Hagee and forget about the other guy that McCain supports and has not denounced yet.

Like someone mentioned above, the same thing was done about King. He was even called a communist because of Bayard Rustin (who was also a homosexual).


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