Tuesday, March 25, 2008

If You Knew Jeremiah Like I Knew Jeremiah...[part 2]

The attacks on Dr. Jeremiah Wright, whose ministry I have long admired, has had me enraged to the edge of inarticulateness. Hillary Clinton is now taking up the task herself of questioning Obama's church affiliation. She says that she would have left her church if her pastor said the things Dr. Jeremiah Wright has been quoted as saying.

A couple years ago I heard Tony Campollo tell a story about William Sloane Coffin (pictured above), the former Chaplain at Yale and minister at Riverside Church in New York City. After delivering a spirited anti-war sermon at Riverside, he was shaking hands at the door as people left the service. An older gentleman, a retired colonel, filed through in the line.

He said, "When you there delivering that sermon I wanted to come up there and punch you right in the nose."

"Why didn't you?" Sloane asked.

"Because when my wife was dying you came to her bedside and you helped me through the worst time in my life."

If Jeremiah Wright's congregation lets him get away with bellowing outrageous phrases like "G*d damn American!", he must be one h*ll of a pastor.

Everyone of us has relationships that survive arguments and disagreements because of the strength of the bond that's shared. Without the history together, it doesn't take much to have you looking for a new friend or a different minister.

Several people have asked me in the last few days, "How could he go to that church for 20 years?" But it's precisely because it's been 20 years of family events, baptisms, weekly sermons, and private conversations that he would cut his pastor some slack on the various conspiracy theory. I've been to Wright's church. There is an altar call every Sunday, in which people are invited forward to give their lives to Christ. Senator Obama took that walk and became a committed Christian under Wright's care.

In fact I would be very concerned about someone who would so easily abandon a relationship or a church over a disagreement with the terms used in a few sermons. Would that be a person who is never tolerant of differing ideas? Would that be a person who is cold and calculating about their friendships and their faith? Really, what kind of person would do that? Perhaps Senator Clinton has the answer.
From a minister friend of mine:
When I was in seminary, my cell group leader (sounds like a prison community, doesn't it?), who was (still is, actually) lesbian, said how you can get away with just about anything you say in the pulpit as long as you do the pastoral care: visit the shut-ins and nursing home people and hospital patients. I've also learned if you can connect with people during weddings, funerals, and baptisms you amass a lot of pastorpoints....This day and age I think you have to earn the right to be prophetic. Maybe Jesus or Jeremiah or Ezekiel could get away with cutting off their hair and lying around naked, but if I did that, people would talk. I think you encourage more life transformation when people trust you and like you than when you spout off your provocative ideas then go hide in your office. Dr. Wright was the kind of pastor who was involved deeply in the lives of his congregation. His words sound scandalous to people who didn't have him visit when they were sick, or pray with them when they needed spiritual guidance. We just see a prophet being crazy without the context of his pastoral ministry.