As the media begins to examine Barack Obama's pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ (UCC), Obama will distance himself from Wright's virulent racism. That exercise will display some interesting linguistic choreography and promises to be an example of incredible denial.
For 25 years, I was the pastor of congregations in a mainline protestant denomination similar to the UCC denomination. It doesn't take a preacher long to understand why people join a church, why they stay, and why they leave. In a setting where the pastoral leadership turns over frequently, laypeople will stomach a preacher they don't like for a few years in hopes that a better one will come along.
In settings where the preacher stays indefinitely, as at Trinity, the decision to join a church is typically more thoughtful and intentional, particularly where the preacher has a style that's noteworthy in content and delivery. That clearly fits the description of Pastor Wright. Obama has no choice but to associate himself with the content of Pastor Wright's sermons. They were the defining characteristic of that church. The Obama family picked it, and they've stayed for 20 years. It's their church, and any denial of that association is incredible.
"Guilt by Association" is not the relevant concept. It's "Agreement by Association" that is.
I was sitting in my church office one day when two men from my church asked to speak with me. They represented two of the five most active families in the congregation. Sitting across from me, they quickly came to the point asking, "Do you think homosexuality is a sin?"
I'd never addressed the topic from the pulpit, but the denomination was struggling with the issue, as most were, and still are. I said I didn't know the answer, but believed that some people were born with a genetic proclivity toward being homosexual. I added that if a sin was involved it might be in yielding to the urge to practice that proclivity. But on balance, I didn't look at it as a theological issue.
They asked, "So you won't say that homosexuality is a sin?" "No, I won't.," was my answer. My response didn't please them, and they and their families soon left the church and went where they got the answer they wanted. Here's my point:
When intelligent people are serious about their faith, they pick their church home very intentionally and with considerable forethought. When they stay, they do so intentionally, and with commitment. If they don't approve of what they hear from the pulpit, or what they don't hear from the pulpit, they leave, as well they should. There are exceptions, but those are relatively few.
Barack Obama either agreed with what was preached from the Trinity pulpit, or he tuned it out and stayed around pretending to for political reasons. To say he stayed for 20 years but doesn't agree with Wright's preaching is incredible denial. It'd be like a man buying White Sox season tickets for 20 years, attending the games, and saying he's not a fan. (The writer's name has been withheld at his request -- editor)