Trinity United Church of Christ, the church where Barack Obama is a member has been in the news this week – but not for the reasons most churches make the news. The angry anti-American sentiments of the church’s long time, now pastor emeritus, has come rumbling into the national consciousness.
Obama has declared, “I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy. I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies … I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue.”
The Senator has also disavowed direct knowledge of the pastor’s radical views. Such a position seems dubious, given his close relationship with the pastor over the years. Did he know about the pastor’s radical views? How could he not have known? Such views don’t tend to be one-sermon issues. They color one’s thinking pervasively. They affect one’s world view and spill over into any number of corollary positions? They filter perspectives, programs and policies of the whole church. If such a view was only the content of one sermon, a departure from “the norm,” it would certainly seem that it would be a shocking experience in most congregations.
Watching the video, it is clear to any observer, that the people are not in shock. They are cheering. Supportive. It would appear that they have heard, or certainly understood as implied, such radical positions espoused before. Churches change slowly. They resist change. The video would suggest that the church was well-primed for such a message. It suggest that they infact had heard such rhetoric before.
The call for judgment on a nation is not new. Prophetic voices cried out against social injustice in ancient Israel. But they did so as conflicted Israelites, as insiders, members of the community who were emotionally invested in the nation. Their love for the nation drove them to confront the injustice. Hatred and bigotry were not the driving motivations. Their confrontation was typically partnered with a call to repentance, and a promise of redemptive grace. It was confrontation, laced with the potential for reconciliation, pending doom wrapped with an offer of gracious intervention.
Given the rhetoric of Obama’s pastor, an old photo has reappeared. The picture is authentic. It was published in Time magazine and was taken 9/16/07 at an event in Indianola, Iowa where six Democratic presidential candidates appeared. It was Iowa Senator Tom Harkin’s annual “meat and greet.” The fourth person in the picture is Senator Harkin’s wife, Ruth. Not seen in the picture are three other candidates who were standing out of view on the right side of the platform, Senator Chris Dodd, Senator John Edwards, Senator Joe Biden.
The question is clear – What was going on with Senator Obama? Why was he not saluting the flag? At the time of the even, critics circulated the picture and accused the Senator of not respecting the flag or the national anthem. This is troublesome, especially since the protocol, according to the United States Flag code, is that civilians should have their right hands over their hearts and that they should be facing the flag.
Obama’s supporters say this was a little lapse should not be held against him. The assert that there have been plenty of other events at which he has saluted the flag. Some supporters suggested that the picture may not tell the whole story, that he may have raised his hand shortly after it was taken.
An ABC News video, however, shows that Senator Obama did not salute at any time during the anthem and that everybody else on the platform did.
Which is the real Obama? The one with the rhetoric of hope? Or the one who does not salute the flag? At least, early in the campaign, he chose not to salute the flag. At least on this occasion. He probably learned a lesson from the negative media attention. Is he authentic? Or, do the views of his church more clearly represent him? Is he, as his lovely wife expressed, “finally proud” of the nation?
A spokesperson for the Senator told Fox News that it was ridiculous to suggest that Obama was making any kind of a statement and that sometimes “he does and sometimes he doesn’t place his hand over his heart during the national anthem.”