Politics & Society

Not Obama's 'Pastor Problem'?

So, you should know that today's program was almost entirely LIVE (with the exception of BackTalk). So, you can imagine that adrenaline levels around here were pretty high. Love it.

Also, in case you haven't heard, it seems Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama is back in the hot seat with "breaking news" of a fiery sermon — given by Catholic priest Michael Pfleger — that contained a pretty strong analysis of Obama's rival, Sen. Hillary Clinton.

See for yourself:

So, here's the question: should Obama necessarily be implicated by Pfleger's words (both have since issues statements shunning the remarks)? Although the comments were made from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ, where Obama once attended and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright serves as Senior Pastor, Father Pfleger is not Obama's spiritual leader, never has been.

And, what more, if anything, do these types of sermons — and, recently, the subsequent media attention — say about traditions within the Black church (Pfleger, himself, leads a predominantly-black parish)?

Meet you back here on Monday.



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I used to attend Saint Sabina, the parish where Fr. Mike shepherds. At the time, I found a parish that was effectively committed to evangelizing the Catholic faith in the African-American community, a parish that treated the neighborhood as a resource rather than a problem, and a parish school which offered a superior educational opportunity to the depressingly bad public schools (only the last part not surprising for a Catholic parish). The parish was out to stop drugs and gang violence in the neighborhood and demonstrated for social and economic justice. And, since I am bass player, I got a chance to play with the choir, which was jamming.

But, that was 15 year ago. I returned a few years ago to find a parish that was in schism in all things but name. The entire introductory rite from the sign of the cross to the Gloria (if you're not Catholic, ask a Catholic friend what I talking about) was replaced with a Woodstock-type dance circle around the altar. It's one thing if that were a spontaneous exultation, but this was planned spontaneity, to use a Cold War expression. Then, after the Liturgy of Word (again, ask your Catholic friend) was mumbled through in a manner that would embarass even a predominantly White parish, Fr. Mike subjected us to an hour long homily which had nothing --nothing-- to do with the Scriptural readings, a definite liturgical no-no. The only redeeming quality was that the Eucharistic consecration (ditto) seemed to be valid, but, since I am not a liturgist, I can't be 100% certain of that.

But, even as bad the liturgical abuses were, that's would put in the same camp as half of the Catholic parishes in America. No, the worst of it is that Fr. Mike has fashioned himself as the ecclesiastical thane of his own parochial fiefdom. After his superior, Cardinal George, sided with Fr. Mike over his attempt to have the school's sports team join a Catholic league over the objections of the other schools --schools that claimed they feared for their safety playing at St. Sabina-- the Cardinal told Fr. Mike that he, like every other pastor, had to take a new assignment at a different parish. Instead of abiding by the vow of obedience to which all priests swear, Fr. Mike told the Cardinal that, if he got reassigned, he would leave the Church, potentially taking most of parishioners with him. The Cardinal backed down, possibly avoiding an incited schism. Such arrogance in lieu of committment to his priestly vocation has marked Fr. Mike's relationship to the Cardinal ever since, to the detriment of both.

But Fr. Mike's hubris hasn't stopped there. He has brought guest speakers to preach sermons at Saint Sabina which are in direct conflict with Catholic Church teachings. Harry Belafonte preached against President Bush's opposition to abortion, an opposition with which the Catholic Church agrees. Rev. Al Sharpton likewise preached an anti-life sermon there during his own Presidential campaign, no less, without so much as a murmur from the usual separation of church and state crowd. When pro-life demonstrators protested Sharpton's sermon (it's bizarre to have pro-lifers picketing outside a Catholic parish, but this is Fr. Mike world), Fr. Mike's security detail harrassed the demonstrators, trying to have them arrested, even though they were practicing constitutionally protected free speech.

Then, there's Fr. Mike's paying prostitutes to come to church. Now, Jesus loves the prostitute, but He paid for that love through His passion on the cross, not by the hour.

Finally, there's Fr. Mike's encouraging a crowd demonstrating outside a suburban gun store to hunt down the owner "like a rat" and "snuff" him out. Even the Cardinal had to step in; something he's not wont to do, given Fr. Mike's threats. Frankly, I find this to be worse than anything Rev. Wright has said.

I'm a cradle Catholic. I've known some great priests. I've known some terrible priests. I've known priests who were little more than placeholders at the altar. Fr. Mike was a great priest at one time. Then he became a terrible priest. Now, he's just nuts, and, as a former parishioner, it hurts me to say that. All the good work done at St. Sabina could be undone because of Fr. Mike. One of his brother priests might do well to put his arm around the man and say, "Mike, we need to talk." In the meantime, he remains in my prayers.

I apologize for this post's length, but what Fr. Mike has done during this campaign has burdened my spirit.

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 7:07 PM | 5-30-2008

Once again I'm forced to examine the ruminative process of those who find Father Pleger's sermon, the words of Senator Obama. I am simply dismayed when I hear people reacting as if Father Pfleger's sermon was any thing but, HIS sermon. Senator Obama is no more responsible for that sermon as is every white person is responsible for racism. Consider this, I once had neighbors who were drug-dealers, for years criminal activity took place near my house. Am I a drug dealer too, because of the lawlessness that took place at my neighbors house? Finally, America has engaged itself in an unjustifiable war, most of us have lived here all of our lives, are we responsible for the death, the carnage, or the disquietude of Iraq? I didn't think so.

Sent by Randy | 9:02 PM | 5-30-2008

I have to say that I REALLY don't like the religion/politic mix and though the media nutty reaction to Rev Wright made me angry I think it's time to say enough is enough. Someone in the B-shop segment said Sen Obama brought this on himself by encouraging Dems to embrace their religious life in a public way. If we had been having an earnest conversation I would agree but this is just more of the gotcha media cycle. So now every person that speaks in his church is attached to the Sen.? Why don't we check out every person he's supported politically in Chicago and hold him accountable for the things they say. Hagee is important not for the things he's says but what it says about McCain and his trouble getting close to the religious right and what that means as he tries to form a coalitions. I know it is repellent to some members of the TV media to conceive of the lowly public holding two opposing ideas at the same time but we do. We, the collective unwashed are sick and tired of being treated like chimps at the zoo. Sen. Obamalike all of us should be judged by his actions and his deeds. Enough said. One more thing. Matthew, intersting post.

Sent by Raul | 10:00 PM | 5-30-2008

"So, here's the question: should Obama necessarily be implicated by Pfleger's words?"

It makes no difference whether he should be thus implicated. He has freely chosen this church community, and yet seems to disavow it.

Can you say "hypocrite"?

Sent by True_Liberal | 7:45 PM | 5-31-2008


Hey folks, the Associated Press is reporting that Sen. Obama and his family have formally "resigned" membership from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Of course, this appears to be`a casualty resulting from the massive spotlight that's recently been placed on the congregation.

Read the story for more details.

Surprising? Necessary? ... Unfortunate?

What's your take?

Sent by Lee Hill, TMM | 10:03 PM | 5-31-2008

There are over 6,000 members of Trinity. Sen. Obama should not be held accountable for any of their statements or visitor's statements. He should only be accountable for his statements. Is anybody going to John McCain's church and sending blurbs to YouTube? His detractors cannot find enough to smear him with, so they go for guilt by association and smear him with other people's words. I am glad he is standing up for himself on this issue.

As I now understand it, Father Pfleger was not delivering a sermon. The United Church of Christ was having its nationwide discussion on race, which it promised to hold in May, after Sen.Obama gave his Philly speech on race. Pfleger was there for a Ecumenical meeting to discuss race--- when I looked at it, I realized that he was talking (or acting out) about white entitlement---an issue that the press and pundits completely glossed over when they rushed to exploit the video. Other people have said the same thing about the Clintons on CNN ---they just did not frame it from a racial perpective.

Furthermore this nation still has free speech. Public figures are mocked all the time in the media.

Sent by Glenda A. | 9:34 AM | 6-2-2008


Thank You! My thoughts exactly as I wrote in this link: http://afroamericawriter.blogspot.com/2008/06/obama-quits-church.html#links

Sent by Moji | 3:31 PM | 6-2-2008

I have a problem with this whole line of conversation. There's been a lot of talk about Father Pfleger's speech. quite frankly he was just expressing what a lot of us were thinking.

Sent by marilyn | 4:17 PM | 6-2-2008

@marilyn, point taken, but speech has context, not just in the words spoken but also in the time and place they are said. Had Fr. Mike taken off his collar, both literally and figuratively, and said these things in a secular environment like a street corner, political rally, or blog entry, it would have no more and no less moral authority than any one of us. But, since he is a member of the clergy (though not one of the UCC, he is one of another church) and he is saying these political statements in an ecclesiastical setting (though not his own), this implies a greater moral authority than it warrants. Such political theater from the pulput is why, if Cardinal George would ever enforced the canon, Fr. Mike could be excommunicated if he tried that stunt in his own church. Maybe, that's why Fr. Mike did it at Trinity, but I don't read minds.

Another thing, isn't a church supposed to be open to anyone who seeks to be a member, even if she does enjoy White priviledge? Does not Paul write that, in Christ, there is no Greek nor Jew?

@Moji, this might surprise you, given our earlier exchange on a different topic, but I agree with you. I believe there's been far too much scrutiny of Trinity UCC than need be. I've been more critical of Fr. Mike since, as a Catholic priest, he should know better than involve himself in partisan politics. Supporting certain causes is one thing; endorsing certain candidates, using the pulpit to bully parishioners to vote that way, is quite another.

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 5:01 PM | 6-3-2008

@True_Liberal, a hypocrite, according to Greek etymology, is someone who's two-faced. That can taken many ways. Someone who has a low moral standard to judge himself but a high moral standard to judge others is a hypocrite. Someone who knows that something's wrong but claims that it is in fact right is a hypocrite. Someone who says they do one thing and then does another could be a hypocrite.

Now, there are things about Obama that could be considered hypocrisy. A couple of examples include claiming to support the federal Born Alive Infant Protection Act but voting against the same language in the Illinois State Assembly or insisting that conservatives couch their arguments in secular terms but then justifying his support of same-sex unions by claiming it's supported by the Sermon on the Mount.

I don't think disavowing his former church fits the definitions of hypocrisy. In fact, if he stayed with a church whose tenets he rejects, that would be hypocritical, since he would be claiming to believe one thing but do something else.

Sent by Matthew Scallon | 1:23 AM | 6-4-2008

What the priest said is what much of America is thinking under their breath.The truth hurts . Truth cuts. But Truth is Truth. And what the priest said is True.Nothing hurts like realizing that you are not entitled to a Damn Thing . It is very similiar to the pain that whites felt when Jim Crow and Segregation were waning out. Everbody knew that stuff what injustice personified , but they surely enjoyed the status they got with the terrible system. So now Hillary and Bill are feeling and they can't accept the reality of the failure.Obama may win or lose in November, but the lesson that his campaign has taught the world will never be forgotten. The lesson: all that mushy freedom loving, eqality stuff that the older generations take as just so much talk- the new generations sees the possibilities and are not to be denied.

Sent by Lisimba Tafirenyika | 10:43 AM | 6-4-2008


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