Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama’s choice of church will be more revealing than any political policy

President-Elect Obama bestrides the narrow world like a Colossus, and all the petty politicians of the world are falling over themselves to be granted an audience with this demigod. They pray for the possibility of a phone call that might written about in the newspapers; they dream of photographs, and they are positively orgasmic at the thought of some film footage of a meeting with this man-god. It is not that all he touches turns to gold (which would really be useful at the moment), but that his political aura radiates a kind of divinity, and all who kneel before him to kiss his ring bask in the efficacy of his blessing.

President Obama promised much to many. It is the price one pays for being all things to all people. But his one consistent promise was change, of which he is the very incarnation. And he may well have transformed the image of America abroad, but his transformation will stop short of transubstantiation.

Although he was supported by the majority of America’s Roman Catholics, he shall not worship among them. There is the lovely little St. John's Church just across the park from the White House, which is known as the ‘Church of the Presidents’ and can trace a presidential lineage back to James Madison. And St. John's has a standing invitation: Pew 54 is the President's Pew, reserved for the nation's leader.

But this was the sanctuary of President George W Bush, and President Obama may not wish to hear from the same Episcopalian God as his predecessor, for he sent all manner of curses and plagues.

In truth, the President-Elect has been spiritually homeless ever since he severed his links with his mentor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and the Trinity Church of Christ in Chicago. This was the man at whose feet Barack Obama learnt the scriptures, at whose home he enjoyed fellowship, in whose embrace he prayed, by whose words he was married, and by whose hands the Obama children were baptised.

He exit from the stage is convenient for all manner of reasons. Not least because it permits the Rev. Billy Graham to play pope once again and preside over the coronation of another president. Actually, although this is possible, it is not likely as Dr Graham is ill with Parkinson's disease and other health problems. The prospect of the first black American president receiving the crown at the hands of a white man may have been a little unpalatable anyway. But Dr Graham remains America’s counsellor, pastor and god-father, and his theological views have from time to time been known to permeate more than a few presidential policies.

And so churches in Washington are falling over themselves to welcome the Obamas to their congregations. And the pressure is most keenly coming from those rooted in African-American culture and history. In his 2006 book ‘The Audacity of Hope’, Barack Obama wrote: ‘the historically black church offered me a second insight: that faith doesn't mean that you don't have doubts, or that you relinquish your hold on this world... You needed to come to church precisely because you were of this world, not apart from it.’

So ‘believing without belonging’ is not an option for him: he has to go somewhere.

And the choice is bewildering:

There are the broad headings – the ‘Christian Right’, the ‘Born-Again’ variety, the ‘Evangelicals’, and these terms are not all mutually inclusive, for there are Evangelicals which are politically liberal or progressive. Black Evangelicals, for example, are overwhelmingly Democrat and identify with the poor and unemployed, but are conservative on issues such as homosexuality and capital punishment. In fact, ‘Evangelical’ is such a broad church it embraces groups as disparate as black Baptists, the Dutch Reformed Churches, Mennonites, Pentecostals, Catholic charismatics and Southern Baptists.

But President Obama is not really a Protestant Evangelical.

Unless he is speaking to them or dining with them.

When the bell rings, he transmutes into whatever he needs to be.

President Obama transcends labels and denominations, and will most likely ‘pick ‘n’ mix’ his theology to match the national mood. And yet he cannot easily church-hop, so it is worth looking at the chief political features of each theological strand, for these will have implications for the United States' role and image in the world.

The three contemporary streams of American Protestantism (‘Fundamentalist’, ‘Liberal’ and ‘Evangelical’) lead to very different ideas about what the country's role in the world should be.

The Fundamentalists tend to be pessimistic about the prospects for peace and security, and perceive the world order as an unbridgeable gulf between the sheep and the goats. They, of course, are the sheep. The goats are anyone who does not like America. Liberals tend to be more optimistic about the prospects for world order, and they perceive the common humanity ruminantia of the sheep and the goats. The Evangelicals occupy the via media.

The Fundamentalists are not only sceptical about social reform; they are hostile to the idea of a world order based on secular morality and on global institutions such as the United Nations. There is no compromise to be had with terrorist regimes, and no cooperation with governments that oppress churches, forbid Christian proselytising, or execute apostates. For the Fundamentalists, the UN is the seat of the Antichrist, Islam is a religion of death and destruction, and the demise of George W Bush hastens the final conflict and the Day of Armageddon.

President Obama shall not fellowship with them, for they shall remind him of Sarah Palin.

For the Liberals, the Bible is not literal narrative, but metaphorical and relative. All people of all faiths are united by their common humanity. The Unitarian Church, introduced to the United States in 1794 by the English scientist and theologian Joseph Priestly, is of this school of theology. It seeks to combine theism, materialism, and determinism which Priestly believed would lead to a proper understanding of the natural world which would promote human progress. He was lauded by Benjamin Franklin and was also a significant theological influence on Thomas Jefferson, although both presidents attended Episcopalian services when they went to church.

Liberals dispense with ‘original sin’ and tend towards universal ethics and entertain the Christ in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, Islam and Atheism. There is a kernel of ethical truth in all people, all religions, and secularism. This optimism positively embraces the prospects for a peaceful world order and about international organisations such as the UN. Liberal Christians have frequently perceived such institutions as the partial fulfilment of the kingdom of God. The Liberal Protestant tradition has influenced such presidents as Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dean Acheson, Dwight Eisenhower, and John Foster Dulles. They are typified by their environmentalism and involvement in human rights organisations like Amnesty International. They are also separated from Roman Catholics by their support for abortion and gay rights, and alienated from many Jews by their decreasing support for Israel.

President Obama may fellowship with them, for they are ecumenical and inclusive.

Evangelicals share common roots with Fundamentalism, but their ideas about the world have been heavily influenced by the optimism endemic to the United States. They have a history of ‘soft Calivinism’ and are most comfortable with the teachings of John Wesley. The largest denomination is the Southern Baptist Convention (16.3 million members), and this is followed by the African American churches (which include the National Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention of America, representing around 10 million members). It includes the Pentecostals, the Assemblies of God, the Lutheran Church¬ and a few ‘para’ organisations, such as the Campus Crusade for Christ, the Promise Keepers, and the Wycliffe Bible Translators.

Their world may be divided into sheep and goats, but each goat has the possibility to become a sheep. Salvation is available to all, and billions of perishing souls are worthy of great national effort. They will work with Roman Catholics and Jews on issues such as abortion, though are more sceptical of working with Muslims. They not only dedicate their lives to help poor and needy, they see it as the task of America – the light on the hill – to proclaim the gospel and bring lost souls to Christ. But they are pragmatists and can fuse most aspects of US culture with the practice of their faith and belief in moral progress. They expect revival and look forward to the return of Christ, but are less obsessed than the Fundamentalists with the identity of the Antichrist.

The growing influence of evangelicals has affected US foreign policy in several ways, not least the issue of foreign aid and human rights. Evangelical influence also affects US support for Israel. George W Bush appointed Evangelicals to his policy and speech-writing teams, and it is noteworthy that his presidency has seen a 67 per cent increase in aid to Africa, including $15 billion in new spending for programmes to combat HIV and AIDS. Evangelicals do not, however, follow blindly the human rights and humanitarian agendas crafted by liberal and secular leaders. They have made religious freedom a central focus of their efforts. President Bush introduced the International Religious Freedom Act in 1998, establishing an Office of International Religious Freedom in a somewhat sceptical State Department.

President Obama is not likely to fellowship with them, for fear the ‘light on the hill’ be misinterpreted as a moral crusade.

Within these broad Protestant threads is a plethora of denominations, and President Obama could choose to worship with the Episcopalians, the Methodists, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, or the United Church of Christ. And he will find elements within them all which are antithetical to his policies.

Or he could eschew them all, and go to the gym every Sunday, just as he has done throughout his campaign.

14 Comments:

Blogger Holy Smoke said...

Why pick just one? Washington D. C. is an African American city and he would be welcomed in all of them probably even in the Catholic cathedral. He should go to a different church each Sunday. This would allow him to connect to all his faithful.

19 November 2008 at 09:25  
Blogger McKenzie said...

They are for religion when in rags and
contempt; but I am for him when he
walks in his golden slippers, in the
sunshine and with applause.

John Bunyan 1628-88 The Pilgrim's Progress

Christian. Not a step farther, unless you will do, in what I propound, as we.

By-ends. Then said BY-ENDS, "I shall never desert my old principles, since they are harmless and profitable. If I may not go with you, I must do as I did before you overtook me: even go by myself, until some overtake me that will be glad of my company."

Now I saw in my dream that CHRISTIAN and HOPEFUL forsook him, and kept their distance before him; but one of them looking back, saw three men following Mr. BY-ENDS; and behold, as they came up with him, he made them a very low bow, and they also gave him a compliment. The men’s names were, Mr. HOLD-THE-WORLD, Mr. MONEY-LOVE, and Mr. SAVE-ALL —men that Mr. BY-ENDS had formerly been acquainted with; for in their minority they were schoolfellows, and were taught by one Mr. GRIPEMAN, a schoolmaster in Love-gain, which is a market town in the county of Coveting, in the north. This schoolmaster taught them the art of getting, either by violence, fraud, flattery, lying, or by putting on a guise of religion; and these four gentlemen had attained much of the art of their master, so that they could each of them have kept such a school themselves.

Well, when they had, as I said, thus saluted each other, Mr. MONEY-LOVE said to Mr. BY-ENDS, "Who are they upon the road before us?" For CHRISTIAN and HOPEFUL were yet within view.

By-ends,. They are a couple of far countrymen, that, their mode, are going on pilgrimage.

Money-love. Alas! why did they not stay, that we might have had their good company; for they, and we, and you, sir, I hope, are all going on a pilgrimage?

By-ends. We are so, indeed; but the men before us are so rigid, and love so much their own notions, and do also so lightly esteem the opinions of others, that even if a man be never so godly, yet, if he jumps not with them in all things, they thrust him quite out of their company.

Mr. Save-all. That’s bad; but we read of some that are righteous overmuch, and such men’s rigidness prevails with them to judge and condemn all but themselves. But, I pray, what and how many were the things wherein you differed?

By-ends. Why, they, after their headstrong manner, conclude that it is their duty to rush on their journey all weathers; and I am for waiting for wind and tide. They are for hazarding all for God at a clap; and I am for taking all advantages to secure my life and estate. They are for holding their notions, though all other men be against them; but I am for religion in and so far as the times and my safety will bear it. They are for religion when in rags and contempt; but I am for him when he walks in his golden slippers in the sunshine, and with applause.

Mr. Hold-the-World. Aye, and hold you there still, good Mr. BY-ENDS; for, for my part, I can count him but a fool, that, having the liberty to keep what he has, shall be so unwise as to lose it. Let us be wise as serpents; ‘tis best to make hay when the sun shines: you see how the bee lies still all winter, and bestirs her only when she can have profit with pleasure. God sends sometimes rain, and sometimes sunshine; if they be such fools to go through the first, yet let us be content to take fair weather along with us. For my part, I like that religion best that will stand with the security of God’s good blessings unto us; for who can imagine, that is ruled by his reason, since God has bestowed upon us the good things of this life, but that he would have us keep them for his sake? Abraham and Solomon grew rich in religion. And Job says, "That a good man shall lay up gold as dust." But he must not be such as the men before us, if they be as you have described them.

Mr. Save-all. I think that we are all agreed in this matter; and therefore there need be no more words about it.

19 November 2008 at 13:21  
Anonymous oiznop said...

From Mid-East online:

Barack Obama and the Imperial Church

Maybe the Church will repent of its involvement in massive rearmament programs, and pressure the State to end the deadly and racist wars in the Middle East. It may possibly avoid a spiritual death, notes Dallas Darling.


While the world was watching Barack Obama’s ascendancy to the White House and heralding it as a new era in race relations and peace, another epochal scene was occurring in the US After meeting with presidential hopeful John McCain, Reverend Billy Graham announced an end to his Presidential Council, which has advised and anointed every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower. In some ways, the Church has never been good at blessing the State and being complicit in the raising of armies and fighting wars. When this happens, the Church has often lost its prophetic imagination and distinctive role in society. Because of this and over the centuries, the Church, at least in the West, has assimilated the values found in absolute monarchies, totalitarian states, and militant democracies. In some instances, it has behaved worse than the State and has become an Imperial Church.

At the beginning of the Cold War and when Russia tested its first atomic bomb (the US already had over 300), Rev. Graham’s ministry was fledgling. Newspaper mogul William Hearst encouraged Rev. Graham to start preaching that “Communism was inspired by the Devil and its leaders were Antichrists.” (1) In 1953, even though President Eisenhower had helped bring an end to the Korean War and had warned the US that “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed…it is humanity hanging from a cross of Iron;” millions of Americans packed stadiums for Rev. Graham’s Crusade for Christ rallies and heard “Communism wants to establish a totalitarian dictatorship in America…already there are over 1100 Communist organizations.” (2)

Rev. Graham became a national celebrity and helped pave the way for the rise of the Religious Right and Neo-Conservatives, that have dominated recent US foreign policy. He also supported Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt against suspected Communists. Due to Loyalty Oath Review Boards. Thousands of Americans lost their jobs and were jailed. Rev. Graham and the Imperial Church also sanctified the Cold War and the Vietnam Conflict, consecrated military actions against Iran and Guatemala, and warned Rev. Martin Luther King that he was going “to far and to fast.” (3) This time, though, in 2008, Rev. Graham’s blessing over John McCain was not enough for a presidential victory. Does this mark the decline of Rev. Graham’s Gospel of fear and America’s Imperial Church? Is the Imperial Church experiencing a leadership vacuum? And if so, who will now advise and counsel President Elect Barack Obama?

I can immediately think of Father Roy Bourgeois, who is working to close the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia. Graduates have tragically tortured and killed thousands of innocent civilians in Latin America. What about the hundreds of church workers whom are providing sanctuary to Conscientious Objectors and immigrants, and on any given night are sheltering and feeding the homeless? Would Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who questioned America’s lack of remorse in bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki while also raising concerns about the causes of the attacks on Sept. 11, be a prophetic voice? If President Elect Barack Obama really wants to mend relations with the global community, should he appoint Jean Bertrand Aristide as an advisor? (A former priest and President of Haiti when George W. Bush kidnapped him and forcibly removed him from office.)

It is ironic that when Jesus asked for disciples, prophets, servants, peacemakers, and healers; he instead got national celebrities, reverends, televangelists, and chaplains. But maybe with the election of Barack Obama, it will be different. Maybe the Church will proclaim and practice a Gospel of Forgiveness. Perhaps it will confront and transform the National Security State and Military-Industrial-Academic Complex, that President Eisenhower warned about. Maybe the Church will repent of its involvement in massive rearmament programs, and pressure the State to end the deadly and racist wars in the Middle East. And finally, perhaps the Church will persuade Barack Obama to meet with Iran’s Supreme Religious Leader, who has anathematized nuclear war. In doing this, the Imperial Church and its leaders may possibly avoid a spiritual death and resurrect a new and just Prophetic Church.

19 November 2008 at 13:42  
Blogger The last cause said...

Recently it was announced that Billy Graham would decline from offering counsel to President Obama mainly due to his strong support of infanticide and abortion on demand and also due to his advancing age.

It was also announced that then candidate Obama was counseling with "Bishop" Gene Robinson, America's first gay Bishop of a major denomination.

Welcome to the brave new world.

19 November 2008 at 13:51  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Their world may be divided into sheep and goats, but each goat has the possibility to become a sheep. Salvation is available to all, and billions of perishing souls are worthy of great national effort."

Jesus said "You believe not".. Why? "because you are not of my sheep". He didn't say "You are not of my sheep because you believe not." Those who believe do so because they have been ordained to eternal life (Acts 13 v 48)Those who are His sheep have been chosen from before the foundation of the earth. God isn't throwing a net over the world in a desperate attempt to save some.True,all who want to be saved, can be... trouble is, man left to himself doesn't want to be..... or at least wants to be saved their own way and not the ONLY way. Salvation belongs to God.

19 November 2008 at 14:06  
Anonymous len said...

For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life and there are few that find it. matthew 7:14

19 November 2008 at 18:18  
Anonymous Sinner Saved said...

Sheep are always sheep.
Goats are always goats.
Salvation is for the elect of God.
Not one more and not one less.
Christ said "my sheep hear my voice".
He did not say that to the goats.

19 November 2008 at 20:10  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Obama may be or turn out to be many things.

But some things Obama will always be are.

More then half white.

9th cousin to George Bush, and therefore directly related to The British Royal Family.

A part therefore of exactly the same establishment as virtually all other American Presidents have been.

A 33% freemason (see above).

Owned hook line and sinker by exactly the same people as the current American administration is. Which are all members of The CFR. Which Obama has been an highly active member of for many years.

Given the above FACTS. It is hard to imagine much CHANGE other then what the CFR have already planned to change.

So all you have to do is find out or work out what The CFR are planning to change, and you then know exactly what Obama is going to attempt to do.

Atlas shrugged

19 November 2008 at 20:50  
Anonymous Who is John Gault said...

High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people.

19 November 2008 at 21:29  
Blogger McKenzie said...

I'm Spartacus!

19 November 2008 at 21:59  
Anonymous Rebel Saint said...

I'd recommed he sticks to the gym and watches God TV!

20 November 2008 at 00:20  
Blogger Fergus Carrick said...

Your Grace, I fear that you have fallen into the trap of current unthinking media by trying to lump US citizens into neat little groups. I consider myself a Fundamentalist: I believe what the Bible teaches and have the unmitigated gall to suggest that Jesus really intended us to love our neighbour. I am also an Evangelical. Did Jesus not tell us to take the Good News into all the World? Finally, I am a Liberal, for I believe our Lord wants us all to be remade in the image of his Son – regardless of the starting point. Is this not the teaching of all Christians.

I pray that the Holy Spirit leads President Elect to a place of worship that gives him and his family the support and fellowship they need and also offers a place where they can use their talents to build up that body. Maybe that’s my Fundamentalist side – but it is also a thought I would have expected Your Grace to raise in your analysis.

20 November 2008 at 01:41  
Anonymous Pope John XXIII (1410-1415) said...

Nothing to do with the subject, Your Grace, but is there any chance of you selling T-shirts with your brilliant "Loving Jesus...." logo on them? I for one would wear one for vestry hour. Inspector Gadget's are apparently going quite well.......

20 November 2008 at 08:43  
Blogger Superb Jon said...

Brzezinski spawned Zia al Haq, Khomeini, and bin Laden. Carolignian Brzezinski wants to break up the superpowers using Aztlan and Kosovo. That's what Joel Garreau's Nine Nations was about. Brzezinski and Buchanan are winking anti-Semitic votes for Obama, deliver USA to Pope's feudal basket of Bamana Republics. Michael Pfleger and Joe Biden prove Obama is the Pope's boy. Talal got Pontifical medal as Fatima mandates Catholic-Muslim union against Jews (Francis Johnson, Great Sign, 1979, p. 126), Catholic Roger Taney wrote Dred Scott decision. John Wilkes Booth, Tammany Hall and Joe McCarthy were Catholics. Now Catholic majority Supreme Court. NYC top drop outs: Hispanic 32%, Black 25%, Italian 20%. NYC top illegals: Ecuadorean, Italian, Polish. Ate glis-glis but blamed plague on others, now lettuce coli. Their bigotry most encouraged terror yet they reap most security funds. Rabbi circumcizes lower, Pope upper brain. Tort explosion by glib casuistry. Bazelya 1992 case proves PLO-IRA-KLA links.

21 November 2008 at 21:48  

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