I Question The Timing, Part I

Well, Barack Obama has pulled a “Peter” and denied his faith. It’s not surprising — the ongoing scrutiny into both the past and present practices of the Trinity United Church Of Christ has damaged Obama’s standing with a lot of Americans, especially those who put hold their own faith as very important.

But I find myself wondering — at what point did the Church go too far for Obama? When did it change?

Author’s note: as an agnostic who’s never belonged to any church as an adult, I probably don’t have the best perspective on the nuances of church membership. On the other hand, I think of myself eminently qualified to render a truly objective opinion, untainted by my own faith.

Obama joined the church over 20 years ago. He was devoted enough to the church to make it the place where he married his wife, where he had his daughters baptized, and gave them plenty of his own money (as opposed to funneling federal funds) over the years. But now that he’s on the cusp of being the Democratic nominee for president, he’s finally had enough and is walking away.

The thing that bothers me is, the church has apparently been like this for pretty much all the time the Obamas have been members. Reverend Wright’s inflammatory statements (both from the pulpit and from the church’s newsletter, which featured Obama on the cover numerous times) go back years and years.

This leaves me with two obvious conclusions: either Obama didn’t know about them before now, or he wasn’t bothered by them.before now. And neither explanation is overly palatable.

In the first case, Obama actually fits in with a large number of Americans: he went to church, paid his donationss, politely nodded in the pew, and didn’t pay much attention to whatever the church said. (Bill Clinton is a great example of this one.) But that doesn’t fit in with his profession of a deep, strong, abiding Christian faith — after all, a church is God’s house, and it seems to me that a good Christian would object most strenuously to someone using God’s house to so loudly and forcefully espouse things in God’s name that he found repugnant.

The other case is even more cynical. It says that Obama was aware of the — let’s say it — vile things being espoused by his church, from its pulpit, but didn’t see them as a big deal. That implies that either he agreed with them, or he didn’t think that many people would find them repulsive. Either way, that puts him seriously out of touch with mainstream America, who doesn’t think that 9/11 was God’s punishment for the US or that the government concocted AIDS or that God’s ministers should be calling presidential candidates whiny, racist crybabies from the pulpit.

By standing steadfast with his church — while denying association with its more unpleasant aspects — for as long as he did, and then jettisoning it when it grew too tough, Obama revealed that he had no real investment in his association with it. Had he been truly repulsed by its practices, he would have taken a stand — or walked away — long ago. Had he been truly devoted, he would have stayed and fought for “hope” and “change” within.

But, instead, he stands exposed as what he was all along: an opportunist. He joined the church because he thought it would do the most good for his political career, and hoped like hell that what played well in Chicago would never go national, where it would go over like the proverbial “fart in church.” But we live in an age where pretty much every aspect of a presidential candidate’s life is an open book — especially a 20-year association with a minister to the point where he singled out Reverend Wright for special praise in his autobiography, even borrowing a phrase from him for its title.

The impression left behind is a telling one: Barack Obama is a man of strong beliefs and convictions — but stronger self-interest. When he makes a commitment, he will stand by that commitment right up until it becomes too inconvenient or costly, and then he will drop it like the proverbial hot potato — and his sycophants will praise him for making a difficult but principled decision.

This is not a “new” thing in politics. This is not the “politics of hope and change.” This is old-school politics, the kind of crass and cynical opportunism that is a large reason why so many people are disgusted with politics.

Here’s hoping the Obamas can soon find a new church soon. After all, he has so much invested in his faith (if not personally, then certainly politically); being a generic “Christian” but not going to any particular church doesn’t really mean much in many people’s eyes.

Including a lot of the people who will be deciding if he will be their next president.

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