When infatuation with Barak Obama transitions to examination of his positions, how will he reconcile the racial exclusiveness of his religious environment with the racial inclusiveness of his political speech?
On July 27, 2004, the candidate for the U.S. Senate from Illinois walked onto the stage of national, and now international, politics to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in Boston. In that speech, entitled "The Audacity of Hope," (a title gleaned from one of his pastor's sermons) he displayed an oratorical style that continues to serve him well. Among the most memorable words he delivered were those with which no national politician would quarrel:
It's [the fundamental belief that "I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper] what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family: "E pluribus unum," out of many, one.
Now even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.
Well, I say to them tonight, there's not a liberal America and a conservative America; there's the United States of America.
There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.
On June 24, 2007, a Chicago Tribune article written by Manya Brachear, entitled "Obama tells church right ‘hijacked' faith," quoted his speech to 10,000 members of the United Church of Christ (UCC) at a golden anniversary celebration of the denomination.
Weaving biblical imagery with political promises, Obama, a member of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side, encouraged those in the audience to follow their consciences and fight for a better America.
"Doing the Lord's work is a thread that's run through our politics since the very beginning," Obama told church members. "And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America -- a principle we all must uphold and that I have embraced as a constitutional lawyer and most importantly as a Christian -- means faith should have no role in public life."
He also accused the Christian right of "hijacking" Jesus to polarize the public.
"Somehow, somewhere along the way, faith stopped being used to bring us together. Faith started being used to drive us apart," he said. "Faith got hijacked partly because of the so-called leaders of the Christian right, who've been all too eager to exploit what divides us." (bold added)
Is it not itself polarizing and exploitative to label "so-called leaders of the Christian right" as hijackers of the faith?
On its website, Trinity UCC describes itself with these words:
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
Suppose one of the other presidential candidates was a member of a church with a self-description that read as follows.
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly White...Our roots in the White religious experience are deep, lasting and permanent. We are a European people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization...We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a White worship service and ministries which address the White Community.
How would we react to that?
The Trinity UCC congregation's 10-point Vision describes the church as having a "non-negotiable commitment to Africa." The church's Black Value System includes the following language:
Commitment to the Black Community
The highest level of achievement for any Black Person must be a contribution of substance to the strength and continuity of the Black of the Black Community.
Commitment to the Black Family
The Black family circle must generate strength, stability, and love despite the uncertainty of externals, because these characteristics are required if the developing person is to withstand warping by our racist competitive society.
Disavowal of the Pursuit of "Middleclassness"
Classic methodology on control of captives teaches that captors must keep the captive ignorant educationally, but trained sufficiently well to serve the system. Also, the captors must be able to identify the "talented tenth" of those subjugated; especially those who show promise of providing the kind of leadership that might threaten the captor's control.
The self-understanding of Obama's worshipping community is that of captives to the oppressive "captors," whose precise description is omitted.
In summary, we face the glaring ambiguities when these two conflicting statements are compared.
Obama the Politician: There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.
Obama's Chosen Congregation: We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization.
If, as Obama clearly implied in his speech to the UCC denominational gathering, faith deserves a role in public life, how does he reconcile the racial inclusiveness of his political speech with the unvarnished exclusivity of the church where he worships?