The Unitarian Church and Obama's Religious Upbringing
With the media carefully pretending not to notice, Barack Obama's choice to hold a memorial service December 23 for his late grandmother Madelyn "Toot" Dunham at Honolulu's First Unitarian Church underlines one part of the story of Barack Obama's leftist religious upbringing.
"The bumper stickers on cars outside the church gave an insight into its members' beliefs: ‘No War.' ‘If you want peace, work for justice.' ‘An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.'"Activism for peace and human rights causes has characterized the congregation of the First Unitarian Church of Honolulu since it was organized 50 years ago. Members were instrumental in founding the League of Women Voters and activating a local branch of the American Civil Liberties Union. It offered sanctuary to servicemen who went AWOL to avoid being sent to Vietnam. It helped launch the Save Our Constitution effort to fight the constitutional amendment on same-sex marriages. And just recently, the church sponsored a Death with Dignity poll that collected a 72 percent response in favor of end-of-life legislation...."‘Unitarians walk their talk,' said Rosemary Mattson, 85, of Carmel, Calif., one of the charter members. She and Ruth Iams, 90, of Kaneohe, reminisced about the beginnings of the ‘Unitarian fellowship of Honolulu' at a Wednesday tea in the church, which occupies a rambling 1910 mansion built by Richard Cooke...."‘What Unitarian Universalists have in common is an attitude toward life, an openness and interest in activities that relate to helping people. You can spot them.'
"After leaving Hawaii to work at the Unitarian seminary in Berkeley, Calif., Mattson and her husband were active in the international peace movement. She escorted more than 25 tours of Americans to the former Soviet Union for people-to-people experience. Still an activist, she took part in the Jan. 17 ‘No War on Iraq' demonstration in San Francisco.
"A memory that Jim Myers shared at the Wednesday reunion was the brush with history when the church offered ‘sanctuary' to infamous atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair, her mother and son. It was 1966, and ‘she was the most hated woman in the United States,' he said. O'Hair was vilified by religious groups after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld her challenge against prayer in public schools. ‘We put her upstairs for a while,' Myers said. ‘There wasn't really an uproar in Hawaii, probably because of the tolerant situation here.'"Later in the 1960s, ‘we gave sanctuary to Vietnam deserters...."
"I was not raised in a particularly religious household, as undoubtedly many in the audience were. My father, who returned to Kenya when I was just two, was born Muslim but as an adult became an atheist. My mother, whose parents were non-practicing Baptists and Methodists, was probably one of the most spiritual people and kindest people I've ever known, but grew up with a healthy skepticism of organized religion herself. As a consequence, so did I."
"In his only skirmish into organized religion, he would enroll the family in the local Unitarian Universalist congregation...."
"In 1955, the chairman of the Mercer Island school board, John Stenhouse, testified before the House Un-American Activities Subcommittee that he had been a member of the Communist Party."
One respite (from Americans Stanley Ann Dunham looked down on) was found in a wing of Mercer Island High called "anarchy alley." Jim Wichterman taught a wide-open philosophy course that included Karl Marx. Next door, Val Foubert taught a rigorous dose of literature, including Margaret Mead's writings on homosexuality.Those classes prompted what Wichterman, now 80 and retired in Ellensburg, called "mothers' marches" of parents outraged at the curriculum.Dunham thrived in the environment, Wichterman said."As much as a high-school student can, she'd question anything: What's so good about democracy? What's so good about capitalism? What's wrong with communism? What's good about communism?" Wichterman said. "She had what I call an inquiring mind."She also showed her politics, wearing a campaign button for Adlai Stevenson. And despite flirting with atheism, she went to services at East Shore Unitarian church, a left-leaning congregation in Bellevue.
"Obama did not speak to reporters at the small home that had been converted into the First Unitarian Church in Nuuanu. Aides said Obama's half sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her husband, Konrad Ng, also were present...."
"I wouldn't have called her an atheist. She was an agnostic. She basically gave us all the good books -- the Bible, the Hindu Upanishads and the Buddhist scripture, the Tao Te Ching -- and wanted us to recognize that everyone has something beautiful to contribute."
"I should have mentioned the Koran. Mom didn't really emphasize the Koran but we did read little parts of it. We did listen to morning prayers in Indonesia....I don't want to deny Islam. I think it's obviously very important that we have an understanding of Islam, a better understanding. At the same time it has been erroneously attached to my brother. The man has been a Christian for 20 years."
"I'm confident we'll be able to find a church that we're comfortable with. We probably won't make any firm decision on this until January, when we know what our lives are going to be like. My faith is not contingent on the particular church that I belong to...."