Obama, Wright, Trinity Recap

Lost amidst traveling and other issues was Obama leaving Trinity United Church.  I wrote a great deal about that issue when it was raging, here and here as only a few examples.

I was hoping that Obama would stay at Trinity United, but I guess it was inevitable after Wright’s theatrics at the National Press Club.

But just as kind of summary of what I think was an important issue (though given the media and the blogsophere handled so poorly).

I define politics as the art of the possible.  My own personal political dream/philosophy is so far removed from what is ever going to take place that in the practical decisions I tend towards a moderate, reformist, pragmatism.  Ideology is fine for reading and thinking at home but does not govern well.

Religion is where we able and must dream.  At best politics gives us some better, some worse, mostly more of the same (Habermas’ dialectic of modernity).  But religion offers the possibility of opening a window to a different changed human response to life.

In that sense both Wright and Obama played their respective roles.  The tension I found endlessly fascinating and that more than anything is why I’m sad the relationship is ended.  I would have loved (from my religious side) to see Wright properly criticize the government with Obama in the crowd.  Making clear that his real issue was his theology not skin color.

Obama has no choice but to be a kind of liberal nationalist.  That is to be so effusive at the promise of America, to give himself and believe in totally  its founding myth of progress and opportunity, to the hilt.  Even in some ways more than McCain.  He opens the possibility politically of simply ending some of the race based politics of the 70s (white privilege a la Clinton and black demagogues a la the Sharpton school).  This is all politically (as what is possible) to the good ime (in my estimation).  Something like what Obama’s got is the only alternative to the McCain, Bush Republican corrupt machine (which simply has to be dismembered in the hope that another kind of Party might come probably to act as loyal opposition).

Redemption alternatively is not to be found in politics but rather in religion.  And by that I don’t mean redemption as individually feeling good or individually having esoteric experiences.  But there is a dimension of the vertical not to be found in politics and when politics becomes enforced visions of redemption, totalitarianism is at hand and bodies are about to pile up.

Only in the churches and religious houses of America is the founding myth of America allowed (and properly) to be challenged and deconstructed.  As a political reality it is one thing, to the degree it becomes an end in itself, a myth of transcendence, it is an idol, in violation of the First Commandment and rightly within the realm of religion to be savaged.

In that sense, there has to be a Wright like theology or figure on the scene.  Which is not a defense of the man or his own ego (which is enormous and often gets in the way of the gospel, something all clergy do) but simply the need for the theology he outlined.

Again not as a political roadmap per se but rather as a critique that stands of its own to open the mind beyond the political.  Obama’s, mine, yours, the creepy Obama is the Messiah follower types, Moral Majority Republicans who have equated Christianity with American Empire, all them and more.

Someone must remember slavery from the position of consciousness, from the sorrow of our ancestors and its continued effects today.  As much as a politician must remember and rightly proclaim that slavery is no more and a black man may be elected president.  You create new political possibilities from politics not full on reconciliation (which is why governments can prosecute discriminatory public acts not end racism).

That is the permanent (though partial) gift of the prophetic/black church/liberation theology tradition.  That is there will always of course be a place within churches for ceremonies of the life cycle, community building, care of souls, hopefully some introduction to the contemplative path, as well as feeding the poor.  But if the church (or fill in your own religious house of worship) does not ask why these people are hungry, then it is not following the divine mission.  The work for justice is integral to the proclamation of the gospel.  Full stop.  The Jesuits taught me that and they were/are right.

If you read the Hebrew Bible, as soon as the Kings of Israel emerge on the scene, so do the prophets to stand as a kind of loyal opposition, a critique that the rulers of the world must always here.  Which is not to say that the prophets never got themselves caught up in the politics and corrupted or were party to unethical action (read the text, they do) as did Wright (as have others), but their message (if not always the exact messengers) is necessary.

Hopefully Obama will go back to a church where he will properly be both embraced and stand under judgment.

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  1. […] 15, 2008 by jumawood I love the distinction Chris makes in this post between politics and […]


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