We’re seeing articles like this NYT piece about Barack Obama and his church every so often. For previous posts on this subject, go here, here, and here. I’ve also written on his most extensive statement on the relationship between religion and politics here.
Herewith a few newish thoughts about Obama, his church, and his pastor. First, let’s do Obama the courtesy of letting him speak for himself on the relationship between religion and politics. We shouldn’t identify him with his pastor, unless his own words or deeds compel the identification. Conservatives who don’t want Mitt Romney’s Mormonism (and caricatures about it) to be the first and last words about him and who don’t want the justices in the majority in Gonzales v. Carhart to be drawn with mitres on their heads should practice what they preach when it comes to the relationship between Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright.
Second, this doesn’t mean we can’t probe Obama’s biography for clues about his attitude toward religion and his religious views. Our paleo friend Dan Phillips thinks Obama is a more or less straight social gospel type. I think there’s a lot of social gospel worldliness to him, but he occasionally gestures in deeper and more interesting directions, as when he complicates his narrative about poverty by pointing to brokenness and personal responsibility.
Some of this comes from the "self-help" tradition in black churches. You occasionally even see it in Jesse Jackson’s rhetoric (though it’s been a long time since I’ve paid much attention to him and probably an equally long time since he took his own words at all seriously). Such words are worth applauding, but the all-too-statist social and political recommendations that usually accompany them (both from Jackson and from Obama) still need to be answered and criticized, not as theological or religious statements, but as analyses of what works in dealing with poverty and other social pathologies.