The Rev. Wright controversy assumes something about American church goers that is fundamentally wrong: that we are fundamentalists.
“He does not speak for me. He does not speak for the campaign,” Obama says. Yet every time Wright opens his mouth, it’s as if Obama were speaking. That’s how it’s treated in the media. Wright says something. Obama must agree. They MUST agree. Wright was his minister for twenty years! That’s what we’re being told to believe.
Except for one thing.
A while back, I wrote that I was glad Barack Obama was not a Unitarian Universalist. I didn’t think we could take it. We’re not a bumper sticker religion. We’re not afraid of uncertainty and exploring inconsistent or contrary lines of reasoning. We gather, not for our doctrine, but for community. The media would kill us. It wouldn’t be a fair fight.
Obama’s description of his church experience seems very similar to a UU. When Obama speaks about church, he focuses on Trinity United‘s COMMUNITY, not the wisdom of the minister, or the truth of specific doctrine.
From Obama’s “My Spiritual Journey”:
“My work with the pastors and laypeople there deepened my resolve to lead a public life, but it also forced me to confront a dilemma that my mother never fully resolved in her own life: the fact that I had no community or shared traditions in which to ground my most deeply held beliefs. The Christians with whom I worked recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that a part of me remained removed, detached, an observer among them. I came to realize that without an unequivocal commitment to a particular community of faith, I would be consigned at some level to always remain apart, free in the way that my mother was free, but also alone in the same ways she was ultimately alone.” -Barack Obama
Listen to his speech in full here:
Obama was a community organizer. The church is a spiritual community. Trinity United offered him “the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change.” As a young political organizer, the church offered him a way to fulfill his dreams, and to help others realize theirs. Obama’s church was a communal experience as much as it was a personal one. Trinity United offered the Black community an outlet to express their frustrations, celebrate their successes, and commune together with love and understanding.
It is my experience that this power of community is exactly what holds together Unitarian Universalist Congregations. Absent the guilt and dogma of other religions, spiritual community may even be the ONLY thing.
*hint to ministers* – intellectual stimulation is not a glue that sticks
Rev. Wright has brought the real pain of today and of so many years ago back to the surface. It is real and it must be dealt with, but Obama was offering the world his vision, his formula for healing and success. Wright is clinging to the fight- the fight that helped him embrace love in the face of hatred. It’s difficult to blame him for his feelings.
But even as Rev. Wright was destroying so much with his words, he had the audacity to quote Proverbs. From the Chicago Sun Times:
“During a question and answer session after his speech, Wright was asked why he waited so long to try to explain himself: “As I said to Bill Moyers — and he also edited this one out — because of my mother’s advice to me. My mother’s advice was being seen all over the — all over the corporate media channels, and it’s a paraphrase of the Book of Proverbs, where it is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. (LThe media was making a fool out of itself because it knew nothing about our tradition.”
I see that you’re suffering, Rev. Wright, but if you don’t mind, I’d like to hear the unifying words of presidential hopeful Barack Obama. I do not excuse the sins of the past, but I do not want to lay them before us once more.
I believe in my duty to find the sacred, to chose it for myself, and hold it in my heart.
I affirm this right in you as well.
Together we can share in the joy of community, the power of reverence, and the burden of freedom.
This is the creed of my heart, extended to you, and expressed through this loving institution.