Presidential churches

There has been much wringing of hands over video of a speech delivered by Sen. Obama’s pastor. Pastor Wright says various and sundry things which go well beyond what ought to be said at a pulpit, and beyond what a presidential candidate would consider, well, presidential. Obama has responded, rejecting those statements (in language stronger than McCain’s tut-tutting over Hagee’s bigoted statements) but standing by his affiliation with the church. Defending that choice, Obama cites Wright’s imminent retirement, with a successor already chosen, and Obama’s and his family’s ties to the congregation, not to the pastor in particular.

One response to the handwringing over this has focused on whether congregants can be assumed to buy into all the stuff that is said from the pulpit, with a growing consensus that no such assumption is warranted. Pastors may espouse odd political views, but most people don’t go to church to get political commentary, so political sermons can just waft by. Plus, as Obama notes, church is about community, not just the pastor, and people stay in a church for reasons beyond politics, sometimes even beyond theology.

The only thing I want to add, which I haven’t yet seen people point out, is that the longer this pseudo-controversy drags on, the harder it will be for anyone to trot out the the “Obama is a s3kr1t Muslim!!1!!!1!” smear. Every time Obama is asked to comment on his Christian pastor’s sermons, the more Obama gets to reach out to religious voters. And who are those voters?

In Democratic primaries, the important demographics that Obama can reach on religious grounds are African-Americans (nearly unanimously backing Obama already), Latinos and women. Interestingly, these are groups Obama needs to reach out to if he wants to win Pennsylvania. His explanation that his pastor’s views are not necessarily his own will hardly turn off Jewish or secular voters (major chunks of the Democratic base).

In other words, this is a chance to perform a neat bit of judo, turning this attack right around on his opponents. It would be nice to know what it means that McCain identifies as an Episcopalian, attends a Baptist church, but hasn’t been baptized. What religion is he, exactly? Consider this confused discussion with Beliefnet:

For years, you’ve been identified as an Episcopalian. You recently began referring to yourself as a Baptist. Why?

[It was] one comment on the bus after hours. I meant to say that I practice in a?I am a Christian and I attend a Baptist church. I am very aware that immersion is part?as my wife Cindy has done?is necessary to be considered a Baptist. So I was raised Episcopalian, I have attended the North Phoenix Baptist Church for many years and I am a Christian.

What prevents you from taking that final step of undergoing the baptism?

I’ve had discussions with the pastor about it and we’re still in conversation about it. In the meantime, I am a practicing Christian.

Seems like anyone with questions about Obama’s minister ought to have at least as many questions about what, exactly, John McCain believes, or (as Scout Finch points out) what exactly Mike Huckabee said when he was a minister.


  1. #1 Christian Prophet
    March 18, 2008

    Barack Obama would be better if he didnít want to both have his cake and eat it. Itís good he would like to see America rise above race and religion. But he sabotages himself by trying to hide the non-race aspects of his personal THEOLOGY. See:

  2. #2 Gerard Harbison
    March 19, 2008

    So Josh, did America start the AIDS virus, as Jeremiah Wright suggests?

  3. #3 Josh Rosenau
    March 19, 2008

    Gerard: No. Thanks for asking.

  4. #4 DaPrez
    March 20, 2008

    How does the adage go? “Birds of a feather, flock together”
    I really do like Barack Obama and the geniune hopeful message that he brings with his campaign. He is a welcome relief from the entitlement and insincerity displayed by the other Democrat left in the race.
    If Barack gets the Democratic nomination then my vote could be his come election time in the fall. If Hillary is the nominee then my vote is for McCain. Right now it all really depends on Barack’s management of this issue and it is very deep hole he is in. This is the most significant test of his candidacy yet and can be what propels him to the White House or leaves him as Junior Senator from Illinois.
    I understand that people attend congregations for more reasons than just the pastor, but it is unacceptable for someone with the lofty goal of being Indian Guide Chief or being Commander in Chief to have maintained as close an association with the vitriol that is Pastor Wright.
    Barack would have been just as well off to have Rev. Farrakhan perform his wedding and baptize his children, given the common themes presented by both of these “theologians”.

  5. #5 DaPrez
    March 20, 2008

    “It would be nice to know what it means that McCain identifies as an Episcopalian, attends a Baptist church, but hasn’t been baptized. What religion is he, exactly?”
    – This is a variation on the Chewbacca defense.

    Not exactly mental Judo but it is funny to watch.

  6. #6 Josh Rosenau
    March 20, 2008

    DaPrez, the passage you quoted isn’t offered as a defense, just a question that seems worth asking. Why is Obama’s religious background considered so relevant, but McCain’s is not even on the table?

    Wright said stupid things, Obama has addressed that. That’s the defense.

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