Thursday, June 12, 2008

Prophetic Preaching and Obama and American Politics and Culture

Last Sunday we had a guest preacher from a congregation that has been supportive of Reconciler since its beginning and was the ordaining Congregation of our first Baptist Pastor Tripp. Her sermon was entitled "In Defense of Prophetic Preaching". On one hand she took the words of Jeremiah and of Jesus in the Gospels that are hard hitting and provocative, to give context to the type of preaching that has been excerpted and posted on You tube in small sound bites and broadcast across the TV News and blogs etc. She made the assertion that it is this prophetic tradition out of which Revs. Wright and Pfleager preach (she however did not defend the mocking). The sermon though mostly focused on that at times the preacher is called of God to say what is not popular what is provocative and will ruffle feathers especially when there is a world and a system that is not consistent with What god intends for the world. None of that to me was extraordinary or necessarily surprising or even unusual. But she said one thing that set my mind ruminating: she said that she felt that the controversy over Revs. Wright and Pfleager was due to our having forgotten the tradition of prophetic preaching. I am not sure that is true. Israel certainly had a tradition that was quite alive of prophetic proclamation and Jeremiah, Ezekiel Amos etc. were never really well received and their messages were seen as offensive and outrageous by a significant number of Israelites. No the problem with prophetic proclamation is that it tells us who think we are good that we have failed that our self-righteousness our self congratulatory stance on what a good job and what a great people and nation we are is false. Mainly because God has a higher standard than ours. So no, I think what is offensive about Wright and Pfleager is that they do in fact speak truth and do so in a way that makes us uncomfortable as did the prophets of the Hebrews. And as Jesus did. Even if you remember the tradition of this type of proclamation it doesn't make one want to receive that proclamation with open arms.

But I also think that Revs. Wright and Pfleager have in their association with Obama and thus sudden wide public visibility (both have been preaching here in Chicago in this manner for years without anyone really taking notice both occasionally are in the local news here in Chicago, but never about what they have said in their pulpits so far as I am aware). There is a sense in which from both the right and the left that when their preaching touches on politics and the American way of life that in an election year when they have connections to a Presidential candidate that they should tone it down a bit. That is they should be hypocrites, and stop saying what they believe because people will notice and not like or understand what they are saying, even though they believe what they are saying and have been preaching this way all along, and preaching in a political way. From the left they should do this so that Obama will not be tarnished by their words and thus Rev. Wrights words and beliefs are a detriment to Obama and thus he should hide them during an election season. While I understand that this is how politics works, to expect a minister with any sort of integrity to play that game is a little naive I feel and asking that minsiter to be a hypocrite. Of course from the right it is agahst that anyone can claim that America is anything but the "city set on the hill". First that is a nearly blasphemous claim and always has been second, if America is in fact pure as the driven snow a preachers words are hardly going to effect the truth. Of course the truth is that there is plenty wrong about the United States and it is responsible for both good and evil in the world and international politics Rev Wrights prophetic critiques should be allowable public discourse even if one disagrees with him and even if he is at points wrong or mislead or misinformed. In the end if our politics and public life are indeed robust and healthy than Revs. Wrights and Pfleager's preaching should be allowable public discourse even if on the edge of civility. The practical universal horor over their words shows that our public life and politics is entirely obsesed with image and facade creation and not with substantial debate and critique required for true democratic policy making and decisions. To get at truth takes both deep and soul searching criticism and debate as well as bridge making and compromise. If all we want is the image of the US or of a politician than we have no means of making a true choice about what his/her beliefs and policies truly are.
In the end I am disheartened that Obama has consistently tried to distance himself from Rev. Wright and Trinity UCC, surely as his conservative critiques claim he attend the church for so long because what he found at Trinity resonated with him and is something like what he believes, surely he hasn't been simply tolerating Rev. Wrights sermons all these years. No in the end in our political process and public discourse Rev. Wright and Trinity UCC were simply a liability to the Image Obama needs to project to win the election even though his true self may be closer to Trinity UCC than the image he needs to project to win the election and that division and the succumbing to the dominance of a projected image is a sad and unfortunate thing to see. It also shows that truth has no place in our electoral process.