Friday, March 28, 2008

A Sterile World: Pastors, Parishioners, Candidates

A Sterile World: Pastors, Parishioners, Candidates

I’ve watched the debate over Sen. Barack Obama and his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright with some dismay. I’m distressed that our country, particularly politicians and media persons have such a limited understanding of the relationship of pastor and parishioner. In most Christian traditions one is not asked to check their brain and free will at the sanctuary door. Rather, preaching is meant to stimulate our thought, to challenge our complacencies and move us to respond. There is no assumption that the preacher’s word is the last word or the only word. I feel bad for the political figures in my former congregation if they were somehow held responsible for every sermon I preached!

While the lack of understanding of pastor-parishioner dynamics is disturbing, it points to something of greater concern. The standard we seem to hold for our highest political leader seems to be one which devalues exposure to a differing ideas. We ask our president to think in a narrow box. But we know that engaging ideas which are different (even opposite) our own broadens our world view and sharpens our own beliefs.

It is no different when it comes to faith. Engaging new ideas does not weaken our faith, but rather gives it new depths as we are forced to think more fully about our beliefs.

What would have happened if the media (and we) focused on what we could learn from the experience out of which Rev. Wright preaches. Those of us who are white would benefit from understanding the experience of those who are black. If we set aside our fears, imagine the new levels of understanding and empathy we might gain.

Also, the pressure to repudiate Rev. Wright speaks of a narrowness of relationship reserved only for those with whom we agree. In my own experience I have benefited greatly from friendships with persons who were on different sides of heartfelt issues. In the community of the church we recognize that we do not have to agree about our ideas to remain in Christian fellowship. (Of course sometimes we forget this in the church as well.)

I was impressed that Senator Obama was able to separate out the ideas from the person, rejecting one while still embracing the other. Do we really want leaders who only relate to people like themselves? Do we want leaders who are afraid of exposure to different, even radically different ideas from their own?

I for sure don’t!

Grace & peace,