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Obama, Wright, Huck, and The Pulpit: What’s Right? What’s Wrong?

Posted by: Lowell Brown at 11:10 pm, March 20th 2008     —    1 Comment »

goodfriday.jpgGood Friday greetings to our readers.

Morton Kondracke spells out the depth of Obama’s problem, and makes it pretty clear why that problem is political, not religious:

In the 1960s, black Americans had a choice whether to side with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. or Malcolm X — the healer who sought to fulfill America’s highest ideals through nonviolent struggle, or the raging polarizer who tried to mobilize blacks out of resentment of whites.

Jeremiah Wright — not just back then, but to this day — took the Malcolm X route. And Barrack Obama chose the Rev. Wright as his pastor.

John’s tied up today, but notes by e-mail that Kondracke’s piece “makes the point that populism builds disunity, which ties Obama’s current problems in a neat knot with Huck’s approach.”

Ah, yes, Mike Huckabee. What does he think about all this? Not surprisingly, he continues as the would-be conservative voice of populism. David Freddoso quotes him at The Corner:

It is interesting to me that there are some people on the Left who are having to be very uncomfortable with what Wright said when they were all over a Jerry Falwell or anyone on the Right who said things that they found very awkward or uncomfortable years ago. Many times, those were statements lifted out of the context of a larger sermon. Sermons, after all, are rarely written word for word by pastors like Rev. Wright, who are delivering them extemporaneously and caught up in the emotion of the moment. There are things that sometimes get said that, if you looked at them in print, you’d say, “Well, I wouldn’t have put it quite that way.”

Really? A pastor extemporizes his sermons and sometimes, well, just goes “over the top” a bit? Like saying “God d**n America,” in church? From the pulpit? This is a very forgiving view indeed!

Freddoso later reports from an e-mail he received from a Lutheran pastor who sees the preacher’s duty a little differently:

[T]he sermon cannot be the mere flippant, crass, light, or half-considered thoughts of the moment. It is a frightfully serious thing to mislead the people of God . . . the judgment on those who do so is severe. I tremble at it when I must go up to preach on Sundays, praying always that God will not let me mislead his people . . . That Mr. Huckabee & Mr. Wright believe these considerations to be outweighed by the need to create, or get caught up in, an emotional moment is itself very disturbing . . .

One does not toy with the things of God.

With Mr. Huckabee it is often (usually?) difficult to tell just what he takes seriously and what he does not. I hope John will weigh in, since he’s attuned to creedal Christian ways in a manner that I will never be.

Oh, well, a joyous Easter weekend to all.

John (briefly): The orthodox Christian view of the pastoral, and in some cases priestly, office varies hugely in its details across the spectrum of denominations. The Lutheran pastors presents what is the predominant mainstream Protestant view, and Roman and Orthodox Catholics kick that up a notch. However, lower church traditions, like the Baptists, AME, CoC, Pentecostals take preaching somewhat less seriously.

What they all share in common is an understanding of the pastoral, or priestly, office as occupied by someone that is “set aside,” someone that uniquely and specially represents Christ in this world. A person occupying the office has a special burden to represent the grace, truth, sacrifice, and love of the Savior.

Problems arise when we try to figure out how to fulfill that role in contexts outside the church, like politics. In one real sense, Wright and Huckabee have been confronted with the same problem. Kondrake illustrates the essential difference in the MLK and Malcom X approach to civil rights. Creedal Christians have a similar choice when confronted with religious competition from Mormons. We can take the Bill Keller approach, or we can rely on the fact that God’s grace in us will make itself apparent and attractive to those around us, creating opportunities for frank but cordial discussion.

The problem is that both men, Wright and Huckabee, saw the political battles they were fighting as essentially religious ones. Wright went Malcolm X/Bill Keller all the way. Huckabee was nearly Pharisaical in his efforts to appear like MLK, but do Malcolm X underground.

This is where the much discussed separation of church and state is SO important. In the end, both men are trying to have religious wars on political turf – that is the essential problem. This, by the way, is why MLK was effective and Malcolm X remains a somewhat disgraced figure. MLK fought political battles on political terms, but as a man changed and improved by his faith. That is all I ask of any politician of faith.

It is a shame Mike Huckabee could not figure that out.

And that is a lot more than I intended to write.

Postscript from Lowell: Today’s Ramirez cartoon seems appropriate on several levels:

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