I address my commentary today to my friends on the political right, who, like me, suffer from the illusion that sharing our respective views on religion or politics can actually change each others’ minds.

Why does the Religious Right not trust Obama?

One of my friends and dialogue partners, (I’ll call him Ralph), is senior pastor of a large, predominately white, suburban church in California, and is fond of sending me emails that raise my ire. And, I confess, I enjoy provoking him as well. For example, I sent him and others last week this link: http://www.PetitionOnline.com/Clergy/
It was an online petition to sign or not called: “Clergy Concerned For Fairness in Politics.”

Instead of joining me in adding his name to the document, we exchanged a series of pointed emails about our respective views on presidential politics and religion.

Ralph, like others of the Religious Right, objects to Obama for these reasons and more:

• Obama does not condemn abortion or gay marriage
• He opposes the war in Iraq and may not effectively fight international terrorism
• He quotes Scripture and sounds like a Christian, but is he really a Muslim?
and, may I add, He wants Americans to share their wealth with the “have-nots” in a way that sounds like socialism.

Okay, fair enough. We’re all entitled to our political and religious views on the critical issues and leadership
of our day, and should ask good and honest questions to help us decide.

But what offends me deeply are the many circulated emails and images from Christians on the political right who clearly are ‘bearing false witness’ against a Christian brother by calling him a ‘Muslim in sheep’s clothing’, or depicting him as a terroist, thus showing themselves unscrupulous in support of their political cause.

According to Ralph, my friend on the right, Obamba should be held accountable for his past and scrutinized about his religious associations:

“We deserve to know the full implications of his past,” he wrote me. “There is a middle road on this: avoiding the ditch of dishonest & unfair attacks on him………which he has certainly suffered………and the other ditch of whitewashing things from the past. While calling for people to stop sending false & vilifying emails about
Obama, there should also be considerably more openness about the early portion of his life.”

My friend itemized for me two big questions Obama must be made to explain:

1. “Credible sources interviewed–colleagues and classmates from his youth–
said he was viewed as a practicing Muslim at one time.

2. What exactly is meant by the racially exclusive language on Obama’s church’s website: http://www.tucc.org/home.htm The terms need to be explained. Accusations dispelled. Open discussion needed.”

I emailed Ralph that more credible sources than his confirm that Obama is a faithful and practicing Christian. According to his own testimony and of those who know him well, including a personal friend of mine in Chicago who has known and worked with him over the last 20 years, “Barack’s the real deal.”

From his own testimony, Obama was not raised in a religious home; he converted and was baptized a Christian as an adult, coming to faith though the Black church. One of his pastor’s sermons became the title of his book: “The Audacity of Hope.” Because he admits in his book that he may have used drugs as a youth, before he became a Christian, opponents seized upon the admission as evidence of his lack of Christian morals. This is unfair!

Was his father a Muslim? Sure. So? He left the family and was not there to raise Obama as a Muslim.

Did he attend a meeting of Muslim students in college? Perhaps. Shouldn’t we all become more knowledgeable about other religions around us? I remember as a child seeing a circulating photograph of Martin Luther King Jr. attending a Communist Party meeting, allegedly proving that the civil rights leader was a communist. And growing up as a child in a culture of fear in the 60’s, I believed the lie.

Is Obama a Muslim today? No. It’s an intentional lie to say he is. But he does want to build bridges and unite all God’s children, especially the monotheistic religions of Abraham.

Is he anti-Muslim? No, why should he be? The Religious Right tends to object to Islam on the basis of the violence in the radical fringe, in the same way that many left wing ideologues object to all Christians on the basis of the radical fundamentalist fringe.

My friend in Chicago, a Roman Catholic lay leader at Notre Dame, assures me that Obama is a deeply Christian man and an honest politician. I believe my friend, as well as trust what I personally see and hear in the man.

I also wrote Ralph that I was in fact familiar with Obama’s church—Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago–and do not believe its afro-centric ministry is exclusionary, any more than predominantly white churches that minister primarily to the dominant culture are racist or exclusionary. The only difference may be that predominanty white churches don’t put their ethnicity on their website, nor do they need to empower their members in the same way that minority churches do. And remember, God has a special interest in those who have been poor and oppressed…(Matt. 25).

The self-identity statement of Trinity UCC on its website reads as follows:

“We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian… Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain “true to our native land,” the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.”
Okay, so Trinity UCC is primarily a Black Church that ministers primarily to African Americans. The Presbyterian Church I attend in Summit, NJ, is primarily a White Church that ministers primarily to European Americans. I don’t believe that either church is exclusivist or raciest, though certainly not as integrated and multicultural as they could be. But true to the spirit of Jesus, the Trinity UCC practices radical inclusion and embrace of all persons regardless of race, social-economic status, and other labels that divide. The membership of Trinity UCC exceeds 8,000 worshippers and has been a major force for good in the community through social and spiritual empowerment. Its mission statement reads as follows:

Obama’s pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., identifies with the Black liberation theology of James Cone as a necessary corrective to Eurocentric Orthodoxy. That’s okay with me. I have my favorite theologians and so do you.

Dr. Wright understands that he and his church have been called by God “to be a congregation that is not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ and that does not apologize for its African roots! As a congregation of baptized believers, we are called to be agents of liberation not only for the oppressed, but for all of God’s family. To have a church whose theological perspective starts from the vantage point of Black liberation theology being its center, is not to say that African or African American people are superior to any one else.“

“We are called out to be “a chosen people” that pays no attention to socio-economic or educational backgrounds. We are made up of the highly educated and the uneducated. Our congregation is a combination of the haves and the have-nots; the economically disadvantaged, the under-class, the unemployed and the employable. The fortunate who are among us combine forces with the less fortunate to become agents of change for God who is not pleased with America’s economic mal-distribution!”

“African-centered thought, unlike Eurocentrism, does not assume superiority and look at everyone else as being inferior. There is more than one center from which to view the world. In the words of Dr. Janice Hale, “Difference does not mean defiance.” It is from this vantage point that Black liberation theology speaks.” From the church website: http://www.tucc.org/home.htm

I include all this in my Obama blog, not to endorse Mr. Obama the candidate or his pastor, Dr. Wright, but in the interest of fairness. I’m sick and tired of those on the religious and political right, just as much as I’m offended by the ideologues on the religious and political left, who justify their means by the end. Fight fairly, say I, and let the best, most qualified, called and chosen, candidate win, whether she is Black or White, rich or poor, gay or straight, young or old, male or female, Jew or Muslim, Christian on the left or on the right, as determined by an open and fair democratic political process.

Which is why I agreed to help distribute the “Clergy Concerned For Fairness in Politics” Petition for consideration. If you missed it the first time I sent it around, here it is again: http://www.PetitionOnline.com/Clergy/