Friday, November 16, 2012

Millions of Republicans believe President Obama is not a Christian

Here is a note I wrote to a conservative who repeated the assertion that the President is no Christian, the proof being that notorious video clip of Reverend Wright cursing America. His initials are AB.


re: Obama's church
AB, I know some Mormons who agree with you, saying President Obama is not a Christian, and a sizeable number of fellow Republicans agree with my Mormon friends...and you.

In my friends' case, I find this a little ironic, since a majority of American fundamentalists believe Mormons aren't Christians.

I was raised Episcopalian myself, which is like being a Protestant in Catholic clothes. So, having attended Episcopalian churches for a dozen years and Mormon wards for 28 years, that's 40 years of religious instruction by churches that all relied on the King James Bible. So even though I'm not Christian myself, God knows I know an awful lot about Christianity.

I also know a lot about American history, including understanding that President Obama's pastor, Reverend Wright, grew up in a different America than the one I grew up in (and the one President Obama grew up in), even though I'm old.

In Reverend Wrightt's America, most American citizens who looked like him weren't allowed to vote--and would very likely be murdered if they tried. Where they couldn't sit where they pleased on a bus. Where they couldn't drink from a any public water fountain or use any public bathroom. Where judges addressed black defendants by their first names--not Mr. or Mrs.--and cops and even store clerks addressed folks like Reverend Wright as "Boy" even if they were doctors in their 40s. Where if a black man was walking along a sidewalk and a white person was coming the other way, the black man would step off the curb into the gutter and stand there, cap in hand, head down, eyes down, until the white person had passed by. It was an America where black defendants were treated as guilty unless proven innocent--and the prisons were stuffed with black men, some with good reason, others not.

Listen to Billie Holliday's "Strange Fruit" for a flavor of that America.

In other words, blacks in Reverend Wright's generation weren't treated as American citizens. Yet they didn't belong anywhere else either. Least of all in Africa.

Enter young Barry Obama, raised his whole life in surroundings where he was pretty much the only black person. As a teenager, culturally he was no blacker than I am. His first immersion in black American culture came when he moved to Chicago to work as a community organizer after his college education.

America had treated young Barry Obama very well. So he had no reason to hate his country from his personal experience. But he had gone to a lot of effort to try to understand the black American culture most people he met assumed he was part of. He learned to be a Black American from his community, his wife, and his church.

I know it's un-Christian to curse at the people who'd oppressed you, and by the time young Barry Obama arrived in Chicago the days of Jim Crow were officially long gone. Of course the white Southern power elite was still up to its old tricks, and is to this very day, but not in Chicago. So for Barry Obama Reverend Wright was an anachronism, but also something of a spirit guide into the Black American experiencethat he was completly missing.

And just because the only thing you've seen Reverend Wright say was his one minute of damnng America, it's not like that's what he was saying every Sunday. Your experience of Reverend Wright was edited and framed by the Republican Party's Ministry of Propaganda.

Now of course no pastor of mine ever talked like that. Instead I give you Father D'Amico, the Episcopalian priest of the church we attended in Los Angeles at the time of the Freedom Bus Ride riots. He was an amicable, perpetually smiling paster beloved of all the little old ladies at church. His reaction to the Freedom Bus riots was to tell us that we didn't have to worry about it because there were no blacks in our parish.

But there was no YouTube then, and probably no one remembers Father D'Amico besides me. But I do. And what he said appalled me. It seemed utterly contrary to the teachings of Jesus.

So which was worse--Reverend Wright's unChristian rage at real oppression, or Father D'Amico's preaching indifference to the suffering of others (as long as the others were black at least)?

I would guess that Barry Obama was distressed by his pastor's thundering about past wrongs in a racist America that was foreign to his own American life. But I'd also guess that he was reluctant to judge the good Rev, since his studies had taught him that the Rev's rage was based on a very real, very ugly stain on America's history.

Virtually the only racism I've experienced personally was by blacks against whites. I am not preaching perpetual white guilt over our country's racist past. I feel zero guilt personally, since I've never discriminated against anyone for their race or ethnicity myself. If it were up to me our laws and enforcement should be race-blind as much as possible, with affirmative action for the econnomically deprived, not for members of some race/ethnicity or other.

That said, I will say that if Reverend Wright isn't a Christian--then neither was Father D'Amico. I judge President Obama's Christianity by two measures:
(1) Does he say he's a Christian? If so--and he does--I'll take him at face value barring contrary evidence about his behavior--not the behavior of a past pastor;
(2) Does he appear to apply Christian principles in his life? He certainly does in his family life. And I believe he does in the public sphere as well. But I'm not about setting myself up as the judge of someone else's religiosity unless their behavior blatantly transgresses the standards of their religion (or if they do what their religion tells them to do but their religion itself is evil, as is the Fundamentalist LDS church, for example).

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