Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Obama’s church and its pastor

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.

Discussions - 10 Comments

If a politician attends a radical church with a radical pastor -- radical in any direction -- that is absolutely fair political game, and it absolutely tells us something about his own views. While it does not mean that he believes everything said from the pulpit, it means that he generally likes both the message and the way in which it is presented. And in Obama's case, that's disturbing. Let's not bend over backwards to give him the benefit of every possible doubt. The country's fate is at stake in '08, and we can't treat it like a garden party.

Exactly. Particularly Protestantism, which has a history of the pastor trimming his message for his flock. Protestants remove pastors and preachers who they disagree with, or go find another. It's the Catholics who have incompetent preachers foisted on them. Obama went to this guy for years, long before he ever had a chance for the Democrat nomination. That speaks volumes about his religious views, thus about him.

I'm rather surprised that JK didn't think his choice of a church very indicative of the type of person he is.

I begin from two premises. First, most of us have relatively complicated "reasons" (I recognize the difficulty of using this word) for attending the churches we attend. Some of those reasons might do us credit, others not. Our reasons for staying in a church are also complicated. Second, most of us don't agree with absolutely everything our pastors say, yet we don't jump up in the middle of the sermon and object. We might not even let anyone know we object.

I realize that this is politics, but I'm trying to be charitable here. There are plenty of reasons not to vote for Obama without holding him responsible for everything his pastor has said and done.

Finally, consider this. Obama the twentysomething community organizer was probably a pretty radical dude. A lot of Jeremiah Wright's preaching probably resonated with him back then, but it also clearly showed him, or opened him to the possibility, that politics wasn't quite everything. That in itself is an important spiritual development. Stated another way, Obama came to Christ in Wright's church through Wright's preaching. I would hope that Obama's faith and views have deepened somewhat in the ensuing twenty years. I think there's at least a little evidence that they have. But it doesn't surprise me that he retains a certain (and admirable) loyalty to the man at whose altar he became a Christian.

Let me repeat for the sake of clarity: there are plenty of reasons to oppose him and plenty of bases on which to criticize him without making the oversimplifying assumption that everything Jeremiah Wright says Obama also believes. Do we want to make the similar assumption about Catholic admirers of Pope Benedict XVI? Must we assume, for example, that they agree completely with his views of Iraq?

"Most of us" are not professional politicians. The rules you cite apply more to typical people, although I'm not sure how much more in this case. I can't see how any self-respecting person would continue to attend a radical church unless he agreed with the messsage. I never suggested that Obama be held "responsible" for "everything" this lunatic has said and done. However, it's not only reasonable to suppose that he identifies with this viewpoint, but unreasonable to suppose otherwise. In personal life, we might bend over backwards to be fair to people. In politics, we cannot. Given that Obama can be presumed to identify with the black nationalist (i.e., racist) viewpoint, I for one have no patience for "fairness" concerns in a political campaign. We can analyze him academically later, after he has either left the presidency or (hopefully) been consigned to political oblivion. Until then, we must be political, not philosophical.

Judging from the Timespiece, he does sound like a Social Gospel type. It wasn't like I was planning on voting for him, anyway.

Interesting look at Obamas poll numbers by Matt Yglesias. He is perceived as being a moderate, more so than Bill Clinton.

Yes, and this phony "moderate" image is all the more reason for those who know better to expose this fraud, before he gains too much traction. If Obama wins the nomination, the Republican base will not go all-out to defeat him, even though his politics and Hillary's and Edwards' and Gore's are ALL THE SAME.


The racism involved in peoples reaction to Obama is remarkable. If he had the same resume and experience but were white, would anyone in the country be seriously considering him for President, or be fawning over his "intelligence"?

Mega-dittoes, John. The Obama boom is based solidly on a combination of classic racism, reverse racism, and childishness -- though, I'd say, not in that order. Unfortunately, that's a formidable base in today's idiotic politics.

Yea, I think that's what's bothering me about all the "Obama-rama" going on here at NLT. Is it an outgrowth of NLT's knee-jerk political correctness (when it comes to race), or are they just going along with the media?

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