Friday, March 14, 2008

I remember too clearly when a Methodist pastor at my hometown church defended the Vietnam War from the pulpit & then decried "godless antiwar protestors." I'd marched against the war in New York City & had been surrounded by Catholics, Lutherans, Quakers, Mennonites (all the way from Virginia), & a very vocal group of kids from a prominent yeshiva all wearing their school's basketball jerseys. It was the last time I entered that church - to this day - & the only time I'd wanted to stand up & yell, "What the hell is wrong with you, Rev?" Not a single black person attended that church, although there were plenty of black Methodists a short four blocks away, walking distance, across the railroad tracks, in a neighboring town.
Many clergy since have aroused that anger in me. Most on the right, a few on the left, nearly all of them male, who come across as witless. Often, they identify the problem accurately enough; it's cause & effect that trip them up. Using scripture as a substitute for science & historical evidence, no surer method of calling into question whatever wisdom & truth one find in "holy books." Christians take an enormous leap of faith just by calling Jesus the "Christ" without dragging "young Earth" theories into the mix. There really nothing theoretical there, it's all fallacy. Don't get me started on End Time predictions. The arsenals of the world are still loaded with nuclear weapons.
I'm easing up to certain statements made over the years by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago USA. Barack Obama belongs to the congregation, it turned his spiritual life around, & glory be now he's running for president with a hopeful message of reconciliation that has a good deal of appeal to white as well as to black Americans. Whether or not you're convinced is your beeswax. But it's the most "Christian" message in the best sense I've ever heard from a major presidential candidate (Edwards had the most Democratic platform, which I preferred). Whatever happened to Obama when he was touched by Trinity UCC was a good thing.

Much is made of Trinity being "Afrocentric." It happens to be located in a poor section of Chicago. But it's a real church, a large one, a community church, not an antiseptic modern cathedral that raises millions as an internet or TV business. I would be welcomed there on any Sunday. No one makes much of a big deal about "Eurocentric" protestant churches where Jesus is routinely depicted with, at most, vaguely Mediterranean features or perhaps a sun tan, & often enough as a blue-eyed sandy blonde not unlike our preferred image of a shaggy California surfer unfettered by a regular job & material possessions. Where the stars of Heaven & the bloody stripes of the Roman whip are covered with the Stars & Stripes of our national flag. Frankly, if I were a dark-skinned person, you couldn't sell me that version of Jesus as the only God-man ever to walk the Earth.
I heard some of Pastor Wright's statements. I didn't find any of them particularly shocking even when I disagreed. Perhaps it's because I'm old enough to recall the rhetoric of Black Power in Wright's generation. Nobody wants to own up to America's part in creating the conditions for radical Islam; our support of the proto-Taliban against the Soviet Union; siding with Saddam against Iran; our obeisance to the House of Saud & blindness to the use of oil money for spreading Wahabism; Palestine, always Palestine. More recently, the impression America gives of having an evangelical government & military. These should be as obvious to us now as the rationales we provided Japan for attacking Pearl Harbor (where our advance intelligence also got sidetracked as it moved up the chain-of-command). Doesn't justify anything, But let's not be naive.


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