Thursday, May 01, 2008

Acting White: Who’s Your Baby-Pastor???

Barack Obama’s ‘pastor disaster’ has me recalling the reverends I have known and how decisions to attend a particular church are inherently imperfect. First off, I have difficulty trusting pastors because I can count, on one hand, those who could come close to walking a straight path. Black, white, Catholic or Protestant, they are better at chasing skirts and money than keeping the devil away from the flock.

My favorite minister was a Japanese Presbyterian, Rev. Ichishita. He was a terrible orator, but I liked him mostly because my folks let me ditch school on some Mondays to go skiing with him, and he had no roving eye. There was a ‘white Jamaican’, Rev. Mullings who thought his light skin made him better, in my father’s opinion. My favorite priest was Father Verdieck S.J. a white, chain-smoking theologist who said I could make something of myself. I liked him, but he was exactly the kind of guy the church might send to some backward land to muscle the locals into seeing the Lord their way, or else.

Most people stick with a church, because members become family, warts and all, if only for one or two hours a week. Obama no more agrees with Wright than we agree with the people we marry, work for, vote for, associate with, or fight and die for. We ignore differences until we can no longer stand it. Everyone has their breaking point. I always wondered how non-racist whites could belong to racist country clubs. Sometimes the imperfect answer is that they just like golf - more than they care about certain racial inequality. Not pretty, but true.

For many, enduring insufferable ministers is part of the penance we choose to show God we are team players. But it is not only bad pastors, it can be bad singing, butt-aching pews, poor ventilation, misbehaving kids, dueling cheap perfumes, hypocritical doctrine or the constant haranguing for more money in the collection plate. All in exchange for the salvation of our mortal souls.

I think leaders choose churches to get leverage to lead, including when they are looking to break into politics. The bigger the church, the more votes in the bank. When people keep asking Obama why he stayed so long with Rev. ‘Wrongway’ Wright, I understand. You tune out the pulpit nonsense, you reprogram your kids on the drive home, you smile and enjoy the extended family-ness, you network those members who offer and/or want help, if just for that moment. During this time you are hopefully figuring out who you really are, because once the service is over you are back in the jungle, to eat or be eaten, walking that fine line.

People should give Barack a break - they know exactly why he stayed in Wright's church. That church helped him greatly. We all make these trade-offs every day of our lives. Some deals with the devil sink us, and should. Other's are just part of living and paint us as human. I won't go into Hillary's Bill dilemma, except to say that she would be nowhere without him. Meanwhile, the country crators. We need to move on.

James C. Collier


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Brown Girl said...

LOL!!! I loved this post. It was extremely funny and brought back my own abysmal Sunday mornings as a child, but really captured the nuances involved in life's decision making process.

I think Obama is similarly nuanced in his approach to life/politics etc. but some in the media, john public etc. prefer the more hypocritical, cruder black and white interpretations of reality, not shades of grey for them. It all makes me so tired. Sigh!!!

Anonymous said...

Brother Collier, your blog was so basic and soo true. Sometimes I wonder what world we are in at the moment. Its as if we have gone thru a time warp. I was raised in a Holiness church and have taken some good things from my attendance. As an adult, I have attended my spouse's church for the last 34 years (34 years of a truly blessed union) and I have stayed for the harmony and etc. Can't see how a man was forced to "good boy" to a situation that will make him seem as someone who could not walk away from a negative situation. With all the misery in Chicago the good Reverand Wright is lucky to still have a sense of right and wrong. It seems strange that the race that have committed sins/crimes will attack the messager and not the message. The transgressions are labled ancient... I bet no one will label the Jewish holicust as ancient.Stll a Black Panther...forever.

Anonymous said...

So true. We expect the world and our leaders to be perfect. But I want someone who lives a life where they also have to ask themselves questions every now and again. And have to suffer their religious choices. And have to fight to eat or be eaten. Who have people they love that might not be as perfect as the world want them to be. Or preach the way others want them to preach. Because then I know they are alive and with me. Same struggles and same real lives. I might not agree with Wright, but the fact that Obama was in his church makes me like Obama even more. Because it makes Obama more real.

Anonymous said...

People should give Barack a break - they know exactly why he stayed in Wright's church. That church helped him greatly.

Great post! I do think that white folks usually have a very different understanding of what church is for. They're much more individualized people, and their reasons for going to church are often more individualized too. That makes it difficult for them to see the communal aspects of black churches.

Who was it who pointed out that Sunday mornings are the most segregated time of the week? As a white guy, my understanding is that a big reason that a lot of non-white people go to churches of their own is the same reason that all the black kids are sitting together in the cafeteria--it's a nice break from the otherwise overwhelming whiteness.

The Roving Reporter said...

I always wondered how non-racist whites could belong to racist country clubs. Sometimes the imperfect answer is that they just like golf - more than they care about certain racial inequality. Not pretty, but true.

I think that's the key in this whole Rev. Wright "scandal." I'm sure Rev. Wright's critics all belong to some club/organization that has said and done things that they would prefer no one know about. Everyone has had that pastor that has said or done something that you don't necessarily agree with. But, we all try to stick it out as long as we can because we are there to get the word.

Duchess Of Austin said...

Ok, I'm hoping that all these comments were written before Rev. Wright's latest PR Junket to the NAACP, where he put forth that black brains are different from white, please....when the white men said the very same thing 40 years ago, they were villified by history as ignorant racists. Does the message change according to which mouth says it?

I respectfully disagree with you, Mr. Collier, on the idea of giving Mr. Obama a break on his choice of pastor. Although I conceed your argument that people stay in relationships that may be toxic for a number of reasons, i.e., habit, expedience, children, etc., Mr. Obama is running for President on little more than his word that he's ready and competent for the job. He expects us to take his word that he didn't ever hear any of the nutty, anti-American, conspiratorial (come rational black people really believe the government invented AIDS and crack to create a genocide?) rhetoric spewed by Rev. Wright on any given Sunday, when Wright's disinvitation to Mr. Obama's Presidential candidacy announcement speaks volumes about what Mr. Obama DID know, or had heard in church?

To me, it smacks of disingenuousness, and intellectual dishonesty. If Obama joined the church for blackness credentials in his quest for political power, he used the Rev. Wright and his community contacts to help himself, yet has no problem throwing the man who inspired Mr. Obama's book, his friend and mentor of 20+ years, the man who married him and baptised his children, under the bus when politics demand it, not to mention his white grandmother, whom he threw under the bus well before Wright.

His relationships with Chicago political fixers on trial and unapolagetic domestic terrorists of times past tells me that his vaunted "Judgement" isn't all that great.

Combine that with his patronizing words to the San Francisco choir and his wife's only newfound pride in her country and you have a disaster waiting to happen in the general election.

Sorry, but I don't see Obama as the post-racial savior the left sees. I see a kinder, gentler, better educated, more polished and likeable Jesse Jackson 2.0.

Perhaps Mr. Obama doesn't really believe the racist rhetoric Rev. Wright spews, but he has been the beneficiary of this man's influence in the chicago black community in order to gain power, so, IMO, that makes Obama no makes him an ordinary politician who will say or do anything to get elected.

Jazzylady said...

OK. I whole heartedly agree with that, he was there because he needed, or thought he needed what they had, peeps with names. But I'm sorry, he gets no kudos in my book for choosing that church. As a pol you have to put your face out there, you have to get to know people, talk to them, spread your name around. The choice of that church was a deliberate one on his part, and the bottom line was that the man was just plain lazy. He could have done the work himself and didn't. His judgment was extremely poor, as was his selection. I wish people would tell me what's going to happen if this man is not the messiah people make him out to be.