Whenever I turn on the television these days, it seems I'm bound to hear of some new intrigue on the part of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and how it's probably going to undermine the presidential campaign of Sen. Barak Obama. And it always boils down to the same two questions: If Wright preached hate for the 20 years Obama attended his church, then shouldn't we be concerned that Obama believes the same hateful things? And if he believes those things, is he fit to run our country?
Now, for the record, I'm not coming out as a supporter of Obama, or of Sens. Clinton or McCain, for that matter. But I do think it unfortunate that Obama should have to be accountable for what Wright chose to preach. After all, it's Obama who is running, not Wright. But I understand how that works.
In my own denomination, there seems to be an unsolvable conflict between those who think of themselves as progressive thinkers and those who think of themselves as guardians of the traditional faith. At the extreme ends of the issue are two bishops, one of whom is a partnered gay man, the other who led his diocese out of the Episcopal Church.
I don't agree with either, I sympathize with both, but I try to spend my energy on preaching the good news of Jesus, and on building a parish that practices authentic Christianity. Therefore, I find it terrifically annoying when I'm characterized as a "fightin' fundamentalist" by extreme liberals, or when I hear from some extreme conservative that I'm the priest of "a gay church." It just isn't fair, or accurate, when someone considers me guilty by association. And I feel the same thing for Obama.
But let's think about the two questions. Does Wright preach hate? Well, quite honestly, I can't say, because I don't attend his church. But I don't think that a few soundbites aired on television can accurately summarize 20 years of sermons. And besides that, I've heard other Christians publicly witness to the theological soundness of Wright's preaching.
However, I can say that I've viewed his infamous "chickens have come home to roost" sermon, and while I found that I agreed with some of what he said, I also profoundly disagreed with his conclusions and the way in which he arrived at them.
But I also have to say, in his defense, that standing in the pulpit to preach the Sunday after 9/11 was one of the most difficult things I've done in my career, and that I spent several years afterward wishing I had done it differently. While I didn't care for that sermon, it was only one sermon out of a career of sermons, and it didn't represent my core beliefs.
And, to tell the truth, I've heard some pretty questionable stuff come from the mouths of a lot of church leaders, including Episcopalians, but I try to give them all the benefit of the doubt, at least until I know better.
The other question concerns the spiritual fitness of Obama for service as president. Once again, I don't know Obama, and I don't know the quality of his faith. I suspect that one possible reason Obama remained a member of that church is because it's simply a good church, attended by good people. Barring that, perhaps it's simply been politically expedient for him to do so.
And while I think he did receive some useful, inspired guidance from Wright, it doesn't mean he agreed with everything Wright said, or even felt the need to confront him. That seems pretty typical. In fact, I'm sure there are people who have been faithful members of the parishes I've served who have sat through sermons they disagreed with, maybe even plenty of them, but never said a word about it. That doesn't mean they're responsible for what I said.
To tell the truth, I've never been completely happy with the candidates I've had to choose from, and I've been voting since 1972. But I'm happy that America has become the kind of place where an African American and a female can have a chance at winning our highest office. For the first time in our history, America really is the country where any kid can grow up and become president. It would be a shame if that were undone because of something someone else might have said.
The Rev. Daniel Crockett is pastor of St. Simon's Episcopal Church on Ga. 138 in Conyers. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 770-483-3242.