Do you think Barack Obama is getting tired of having to apologize for the comments of all the pastors in his life? Has there ever been a presidential race like this before where a candidate’s connections to clergymen figure so prominently?
Anyhow, I’ve got a few thoughts on Obama’s latest “pastor problem.” First, didn’t Father Pfleger know that video from that Trinity United Church of Christ service would invariably end up circulating on YouTube and eventually everywhere else? Being from the Chicago area, I’ve known about and respected Father Michael Pfleger for a long time. He’s a true champion for justice on the South Side, and a man who faithfully lives out what he believes. But this current presidential race has turned a lot of usually sane and media-savvy leaders into careless loose cannons (e.g., Gloria Steinem, Andrew Young, Samantha Power, Geraldine Ferraro, Jeremiah Wright, Bob Johnson, Bill Clinton, etc.).
Even though the words at issue appeared to be only a brief aside, shouldn’t Father Pfleger have known better? His comments about Hillary Clinton were nothing new; I’ve heard similar criticisms in private settings. But was the church where Jeremiah Wright’s infamous rant originated the best place to say those things publicly?
Second, as Peter Parker intoned repeatedly in the first Spider-Man movie, “With great power comes great responsibility.” As we near the possible election of the first African American president of the United States, a lot blacks and urban-minded folks are giddy with excitement. And given the history of our nation regarding race, Obama’s candidacy is deserving of the excitement. However, with this dawning of a potential new era in racial progress, the African American community can no longer carry on as if everything it says and does in the privacy of our own churches and social gatherings is “just amongst ourselves.” The rest of the nation is listening now, like they’ve never listened before. In fact, many folks are just waiting to pounce on anything that smacks of “reverse discrimination” or unpatriotic speech. Indeed, a residual effect of Obama’s emergence as a national figure is that the black church will no longer be dismissed by the majority culture as “a nice little pastime for blacks, with great music.” Many folks are now suspicious of–and even threatened by–what may or may not be going on at Second Baptist or Bethel A.M.E. on Sunday mornings.
Third, many of our black and urban pastors (and I tend to consider Father Pfleger a black pastor) need to dial down the worldly political rhetoric in the pulpit and start speaking more like Jesus. This doesn’t mean they have to curb the fiery, prophetic sermons that challenge society’s injustices. But it does mean their first inclination should be to speak the truth in love, with a spirit of compassion and grace.
We’ve been studying the book of Galatians in my small group from church, and the apostle Paul’s words in chapter 6 about restoring fallen brethren, carrying each other’s burdens, and serving others with humility are fresh in my mind. He says in verses 9-10:
“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (NIV).
No matter how vindicated many African Americans may be feeling in light of Barack Obama’s success, no matter how justified we may feel in criticizing white America’s propensity for cultural blindness or their persistent sense of entitlement, we cannot allow bitterness or sarcasm to define our faith or our identity as believers. The way Father Pfleger mocked Hillary Clinton was devoid of the compassion and grace one would expect from a pastor, especially one as influential as this important leader.
Isn’t it sad that the politicians are now the ones who have to chastise and apologize for the pastors?