Monday, April 9, 2007

An Open Letter To Barack Obama's Pastor

Dear Reverend – It would appear, given the current media frenzy, that one of your parishioners is about to be crowned King of the Democratic Party. And he appears ready to accept the crown. But before you hang that “White House or Bust” banner across your pulpit, it’s time for a little reality check. The Senator Obama who just kicked ass in the first quarter fund raising drive will never get elected president of the United States of America. Not in 2008. Not ever. And it’s quite possible that it’s all your fault. Frankly, if it weren’t for the fact that the opponent in his last (and first) congressional campaign was the reliably wacky Alan Keyes, imported from out of state by a Republican Party caught off guard by the lurid sexcapedes of their candidate Jack Ryan, Senator Obama would still be a little known Chicago pol serving time in the downstate Illinois capitol. I think even I could have taken Mr. Keyes out on election day – Illinoisians outside of Chicago are conservative but they’re not crazy – but presidential contender Obama has confessed that Mr. Keyes almost got the best of him. “Alan Keyes,” he reports in his now best-selling book The Audacity of Hope, “presented the essential vision of the religious right in this country, shorn of all compromise. Within its own terms, it was entirely coherent, and provided Mr. Keyes with the certainty and fluency of an Old Testament prophet. And while I found it simple enough to dispose of his constitutional and policy arguments, his readings of Scripture put me on the defensive. ‘Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian,’ Mr. Keyes would say, ‘and yet he supports a lifestyle that the Bible calls an abomination. Mr. Obama says he’s a Christian, but he supports the destruction of innocent life.’” Senator Obama passionately describes the dilemma that Democrats across the U.S. have found themselves in over the past several decades: “What could I say?” he wonders aloud. “That a literal reading of the Bible was folly? Unwilling to go there, I answered with the usual liberal response in such debates.” In other words, he dodged it. And that left his constituencies – and Senator Obama himself – “steeped in doubt” about whether or not he can call himself a “true Christian.” And everybody knows you can't get elected president of the United States today unless you are a "true Christian" (or a Mormon who acts like one). So all I can say to you, Mr. Reverend Sir, is: Shame on you. And shame on all of us who are "leaders" in the church today who have failed to teach people a responsible way to read and understand the Bible. We've allowed Sunday School literalism to become the foundation of the "true" Christian faith and we've made heros of those who check their brains at the church door. We've ducked and weaved when our parishioners have come at us with "hard" questions about creation and Noah and women preachers and all the rest instead of telling them the truth about what we learned in seminary and what we ourselves believe. We've tried to protect them because we've assumed their faith is too fragile to ask questions and deal with the uncertainties that are inherent in any ancient text. And we've tried to protect ourselves and our pay checks because we've assumed that, angry because we've upset their childhood faith, they'll fire us. Shame on all of us. If you're at all interested in seeing Senator Obama in the White House come January 2009, hop on the next plane to wherever his campaign has taken him and sit him down for a little one one one Bible Study. Teach him about all of the ways faithful Christians are reading the Bible these days - tell him about historical criticism - tell him about the narrative approach - tell him that the Word of God is bigger than the Bible! - tell him that JESUS is the Word of God and that, the last time we checked, Jesus is still alive and kicking - in other words, tell him that GOD IS STILL SPEAKING in and through the Bible but also in many and various other ways today. Tell him that "true" Christians worship a living Lord; they do not worship a book. Above all, tell him to quit second guessing himself and his faith. You don't have to read the Bible literally in order to be a "true Christian." In fact, a literal reading of Scripture IS folly...not to mention unfaithful, dangerous, and IMPOSSIBLE. Tell him that.

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The Bottom Line

For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love becomes slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." - Galatians 5:13-14