Archive for March 19th, 2008

About That Preacher

Much has been made recently about the video clips of Barack Obama’s pastor’s offensive remarks, given in the course of several sermons at Mr Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ.

Never mind that many of the things he said are manifestly true. America is controlled by rich white people. America did kill innocent civilians at Hiroshima and Nagasaki (and in the firebombings of Tokyo, Dresden, etc). Osama bin Laden cited Hiroshima in offering a justification for the innocents whose murder he oversaw on September 11, after all. If that isn’t "chickens coming home to roost" I don’t know what is.

And whether white people want to think about it or not, the legacy of slavery continues to affect our present situation.

And when I think about the most inflammatory thing the Rev Wright said, the "God damn America" thing, I can’t help but wonder if that other Jeremiah, the Jewish prophet, would bless America, were he here, or condemn Her for Her sins.

None of this excuses the worst excesses of the Reverend; his travels to visit Quaddafi with Louis Farrakhan coming to mind, or his more paranoid speculations.

But to me this has a familiar ring.

Until recently my family and I were members, for six years, of St Nicholas Byzantine Catholic Church. The pastor was about as complicated a man as the Rev Wright, gifted in many ways -intellectually, musically, linguistically- and tremendously compassionate: this was a man with a great heart. He was a gifted preacher and truly loved the Divine Liturgy, which he chanted in his resonant basso profundo, nearly as much as he loved his people.

And yet….

In 2003, just after the American invasion of Iraq, Father stated in the pulpit, in the course of a homily, his support for the war. I was stunned, and after the liturgy, at the coffee and donut social, I let him know that I was disappointed that he had imposed his personal political opinion during the Liturgy, an opinion that disagreed with the Pope’s stated opposition to the war.

The discussion grew heated, the first of several clashes between us.

But I didn’t leave the Church, even though Father had publicly expressed an opinion that to me was distasteful and wrongheaded.

And it did not diminish my recognition of his many fine qualities. To this day we are friends; I truly love the guy, blind spots and all (though to be fair, he like many Americans, has rethought his support for the war). We have him for dinner and enjoy his company, and I do not hesitate to praise him for his greatness of soul.

The idea that one must be flawless to merit love damns us all to lovelessness. I have lived with saints, real saints, in my life, and I saw their flaws. I am not an Obama supporter, but I see clearly how he could love his pastor, in all his complexity and contradictions.

Daniel Nichols


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