In a front page story yesterday the New York Times devoted 1,500 words to how some pastors would base their Easter Sunday sermons on the controversy surrounding Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Among the gems we read are this:
The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Cleveland, said she would preach about when Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to Jesus’ tomb and were met by an angel who rolled away the stone before the cave to reveal that Christ had risen from the dead. “I’m going to talk about the stones that need to be rolled away from the tombs of lives, that are holding us in places of death and away from God,” Ms. Lind said. “One of the main stones in our churches, synagogues, mosques, communities, countries, world is the pervasive tone of racism. What Obama has done is moved the stone a little bit. “I will ask our congregation to look at the stones in our lives,” she said.
The Rev. Kent Millard of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis said he felt Mr. Obama had explained the reality of the relationship between a pastor and his congregants. “Senator Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, is member of our congregation, and I would hope he would never be held accountable for everything I have said in the last 15 years,” said Dr. Millard, who is white. “Why is there any assumption that a person in church is expected to agree with everything a pastor says?”
Some black ministers said that their sermons might address how the reputation of a man many of them revere was reduced to sound bites. They pointed out that sermons in black churches covered a long and circuitous path from crisis to resolution, and it was unfair to judge the entire message on one or two sentences. “I may not use his exact language,” said the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel, pastor of Victory Church in Stone Mountain, Ga., “but I can tell you that the basic thrust of much of my preaching resonates with Dr. Wright. I don’t think I’m necessarily trying to preach people into anger, but I am trying to help people become conscious, become aware, to realize our power to make change in society.” Mr. Samuel said his Easter sermon would be titled “Dangerous Proclamations,” and would focus on the Apostle Paul, “who was also under attack for his faith in Jesus, and for preaching the Resurrection.”
On Easter, one of the nation’s foremost preachers, the Rev. James A. Forbes, senior minister emeritus at the Riverside Church in New York, said he would take Mr. Wright’s place preaching the 6 p.m. service at Trinity in Chicago. Dr. Forbes plans to preach about how the nation is in a “night season,” a dark, destabilizing time, given the war, the economy and the vitriol over race and gender in the political primary. “It is nighttime in America,” Dr. Forbes said, “and I want to bring a word of encouragement.”
What ought we to make of the story and these quotes?
For one thing, the Times piece was much more charitable toward Reverend Wright than I can ever remember the New York Times being toward anyone on the “religious right.” Making a hate-spewing, conspiracy-minded, anti-American pastor appear sympathetic isn’t easy–but leave it to the good folks at the Times to try their best to achieve it.
Beyond that, Senator Obama has now taken on, at least among his supporters, angelic powers. To them St. Barack can move figurative (and perhaps even literal?) stones that are holding us in places of death and away from God. And to think I only viewed him as an impressive, if deeply liberal, junior senator from Illinois. Silly me.
As for Senator Lugar’s pastor: I’m sure Senator Lugar hasn’t agreed with everything he’s heard from the pulpit. But I also assume that if Senator Lugar heard his pastor asking God (repeatedly) to damn America rather than bless it and giving voice to batty conspiracy theories (America invented AIDS in order to champion genocide), Lugar would be troubled – troubled enough at least to raise the issue with the Reverend Millard and perhaps even troubled enough to leave the church if such rhetoric persisted.
I’m personally delighted to learn that the Reverend Samuel “may not use [Wright’s] exact language,” even as the basic thrust of much of his preaching would resonate with Wright. I am oh-so-eager to see just what formulations Kenneth Samuel would use that would bring joy and delight to the heart of Jeremiah Wright.
And then there is James A. Forbes, representing our reliable old friends at Riverside Church in New York City. It’s “nighttime” in America, according to the good Reverend, but fear not; James Forbes will bring a word of encouragement to us all. Of course the proposition on which Forbes relies–that America is a dark, aggrieved, divided and broken country– requires him to ignore the fact that we are the most fortunate and blessed people not only on earth but in human history; that we live in a nation that is imperfect and plagued by problems, but one that is more prosperous, freer, more benevolent, and filled with more opportunities than any Reverend Forbes could name.
Risible comments like those made by Forbes and company underscore why the “mainstream” churches in America have been steadily losing congregants for decades. They are utterly consumed by left-wing politics, so much so that on the most holy day of the Christian year they decide to devote their sermons to racial politics and an effort to restore the reputation of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. The degree to which the Left is contorting itself in an effort to rationalize the venom of Wright is now moving into the comical category. One can only imagine what kind of story Laurie Goldstein and Neela Banerjee of the Times would have written if they had stumbled across words as fierce, demagogic, and loathsome as Wright’s from a right-winger instead of a left-winger.
The double standard of the Times is on display almost every day, but it is rarely as apparent as it was on Easter Sunday.