Left: The Hierophant, from the Rider-Waite tarot deck.
Ah, yes, religious authority. Incredible this is all happening during Holy Week--irony, anyone?
Today, Senator Barack Obama addressed the issue of his preacher, Reverend Jeremiah Wright Jr. The preacher gets exercised and says things, as (God knows!) preachers are wont to do.
As pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, he is the Christian servant responsible for bringing Senator Obama to the Christian faith. I doubt very much he could have succeeded at this goal by delivering boring and well-mannered sermons, but now I'm getting ahead of myself.
Last night, I attempted to make a list of outlandish things I have heard priests say. I have kissed the relics of (Maronite) St Rafka, as well as St Francis Xavier. I own a 3rd class relic supposedly touched to the tomb of St Philomena, who may or may not have existed. I have heard of saints levitating, eating vomit* and everything else. I heard one priest lambaste Jews at every available opportunity, usually honing in on various bad acts in the First Reading at Mass (always from the Old Testament) and then going on something of an antisemitic rant. I used to cringe if the First Reading had any "bad Jews" in the passage, usually those Jews partying while Moses is trying to tell them how to behave properly. Golden calves, disobedience, lack of faith! Oh no, I thought, here it comes. And he never missed a chance, in this regard.
And yes, there's more. I've heard priests trash-talk the sacrosanct USA, usually starting with the mortal sin of abortion (extremely few priests challenge birth control or divorce; hey, the collection plate might suffer, okay?) and moving on to the usual suspects, porn and gays. They often quote 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV), which states:
If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.Heal it? Is it sick? Is America sick?
And then there is that perennial favorite, which I am also quite partial to, from Deuteronomy, Chapter 30:
Here, then, I have today set before you life and prosperity, death and doom.This passage is used by the right and the left, with clockwork regularity. The right sees abortion and wild sex; the left sees war, poverty and genocide (as Rev. Wright also does). This is basic Christianity, people. And besides that, the traditional concept that people will pay for their sins is common to most major faiths.
If you obey the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin on you today, loving him, and walking in his ways, and keeping his commandments, statutes and decrees, you will live and grow numerous, and the LORD, your God, will bless you in the land you are entering to occupy.
If, however, you turn away your hearts and will not listen, but are led astray and adore and serve other gods,
I tell you now that you will certainly perish; you will not have a long life on the land which you are crossing the Jordan to enter and occupy.
I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live.
Why are conservatives allowed to say this, but liberals are not? Is it the diagnosis that we are disagreeing about? Reverend Wright has frightened the horses, announcing from the pulpit "God damn America!"--actually using the term in it's proper context, not as profanity... he meant America's acts lead to damnation in the Christian sense. Why is this any worse than the fundamentalists who warn that unbelievers who are ruining the country will all be swept up in the Great Tribulation, and will not be Raptured with the Righteous?
The last person expected to carefully separate himself from his faith was Mitt Romney. "How Mormon is he, anyway?" seemed to be the operative question. Catholic politicians and presidential candidates are not expected to answer for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, known to make extremely controversial statements on both the right and the left. Why not?
If I am 50 years old, and I've heard these outlandish and possibly unpatriotic homilies, as hit-and-miss as I am in attending church--what do you suppose other politicians and presidential candidates have heard in their respective churches? I assume they have heard as much or more than I have. Does anyone care? No. They care if you are Mitt Romney. And they care if you are Barack Obama. Why?
I think we all know the answer to that, don't we?
All of us who have attempted to be devout and faithful at any point in our lives, have had arguments with spiritual advisers, preachers, priests, rabbis, etc. We do not necessarily agree with everything they say, and we ask ourselves (if we are thoughtful and intelligent, as the Senator certainly is)--how far can we go with this? What is demanded of us? Can we deliver? Can we be good Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus? What does it mean to be devout?
The same priest that might electrify us when speaking passionately of injustice, can drone on like an old boring puritan about abortion. The same preacher who inveighs against lack of charity and lack of volunteers for the soup kitchen, can suddenly turn petty and draw already-sullen teenagers aside and hiss disapprovingly at them, that they are dressed like gangstas... (PS: this is not helpful when they are already looking for an excuse to stay home!) Spiritual leaders are human beings, and they err. Does this truly shock anyone, that most people decide for themselves what they believe, their pastor being only one of many factors that influence them? Indeed, I think this is taken for granted among affluent white people. Well, of COURSE you choose. And yet, Barack Obama is expected to disassociate himself from the person who brought him to the faith??????
Why is he being put through the ringer, because he has a big-mouthed pastor, as many (most?) of us do?
Lotus offered the wise opinion that he couldn't see what the big deal is about, since most of what Rev. Wright said was true anyway. (Spoken like a true lefty!) Bonnie Erbe, holding forth on CNN this afternoon, announced that Obama's speech today had not properly distanced himself from Rev. Wright; the so-called Reagan democrats won't be convinced, she said. Convinced of what? Why is Obama expected to answer for his pastor, when probably every single presidential candidate has some pastor in the background, saying otherworldly, disturbing things?
I think we all know the answer to that, don't we?
When asked why I don't leave the Catholic Church, I reply it would be like leaving the United States. I wouldn't know how. It is part of who I am. And why am I expected to leave? Why can't I stay and fight for what I want the Church/the USA to be?
Why is Barack Obama expected to show his mettle by disowning his one-time spiritual mentor? Worship style in the African-American community is all about a radical appreciation of justice and the cultural custom of fiery rhetoric and music that dramatizes and underscores this appreciation and attendant spiritual knowledge. This is an established American tradition, and it is not for CNN, FOX NEWS and MSNBC to judge whether that tradition is expressed "correctly" or not, just as I really don't care if anyone objects to my relic of St Philomena. I don't own it for your approval, I own it because of what it means to ME, thanks.
The fact that one tradition is accepted as a given, regardless of how outlandish it might be, and one is still being judged and picked apart, speaks volumes.
Last month, I wrote a post about religious bigotry, and obviously, I spoke too soon.
Or is this really about something else?
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24)~*~
*The Autobiography of St Margaret Mary Alacoque