Oliver "Buzz" Thomas: Paying for a pastor’s sins

It’s too early to tell whether the pot boiler over Barack Obama’s former minister will continue to simmer or subside, but the controversy presents a teachable moment for us on the subject of politicians and their pastors. First and foremost among the lessons learned is that most politicians have them. Pastors, that is. And, those ministers, priests and rabbis ”” if they are true to their calling ”” are beholden only to God. We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that they aren’t always politically correct.

They might even anger or embarrass us. Lord knows I have. President Truman is said to have grown so irritated with his pastor that he didn’t speak to him for years.

Ministers have described their role as one of comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable. The question becomes whether a particular politician or candidate ought to be held accountable for a pastor’s more afflicting remarks.

Read it all.


Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, Parish Ministry, Race/Race Relations, US Presidential Election 2008

18 comments on “Oliver "Buzz" Thomas: Paying for a pastor’s sins

  1. Franz says:

    Mr. Thomas has one thing absolutely wrong. The Constitution does not prevent individuals from including a candidate’s religious affilation in their consideration of that candidate’s fitness for public office (after all, how would one enforce such a proscription?). All that the Constitution does is prevent the imposition of a religious test as a legal disqualification (such as a statute prohibiting Scientologists from holding office).
    First year Con Law (as any reasonably alert law student will tell you): The Constitution does very little to regulate private conduct. It describes (and limits) government power.

  2. David+ says:

    No one should be held accountable for a pastor’s position or views other than the pastor himself. However, when someone has been a member of a parish (church) for 20 years and claims not to have know the the pastor’s views – especially a pastor who is very outspoken about them – I gag when I hear”this is all news to me” from the parishioner. I simply don’t believe it. And I do not want a person claiming such to serve in the position as my President.

  3. Chris Hathaway says:

    In a country where churches are a dime a dozen sticking with the same one with the same pastor for 20 years amounts to a full endorsement of his beliefs, and when you claim that that same pastor is the one who taught you the Gospel then it is legitimate to question your understanding of Christianity based upon the lunatic utterances made by your mentor.

  4. Mike Bertaut says:

    I think the “missed point” in this is the term “Advisor”. Mr. Obama has made it clear on more than one occasion that he has taken and valued the advice of Pastor Wright. In fact, calling him Obama’s “former minister” in the article is not technically correct. While Mr. Obama did separate himself from Pastor Wright’s views in his speech, he did not separate himself from Pastor Wright himself.

    If you knew I was taking advice from someone, and that I took it seriously, you would be remiss in not evaluating that person’s influence upon me, and how it was likely to affect my world view, before voting for me for ANY office, from Assistant Dog Catcher to President of the United States.


  5. RichardKew says:

    As a priest who has both been pastor of congregations and been a member of congregations that others have pastored, I have been on both sides of this discussion.

    Firstly, I hope to goodness no parishioner of mine gets pilloried for my political views and attitudes. While I hope those positions are informed and shaped by Scripture and my faith, there is nothing absolute about them. Obama is right to disassociate himself from Pastor Wright’s views, but he is not responsible for them.

    Secondly, I have been a parishioner in congregations where the views of the rector/vicar and myself have been at odds with one another. I am not going to leave a congregation because the priest does not dot ever ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ that I want him/her to. I have heard things from the pulpit that have offended me from pastors I deeply respect, but that is no reason to treat the congregation as if I am a consumer rather than a participant in a fellowship of believers where all of us get things right or wrong.

    Third, some of the best advice and counsel I have had in my life is from people with whom I profoundly disagree.

  6. Larry Morse says:

    #5,what you say is reasonable, but Wright has NOT been reasonable; he has been outright vicious in his attacks on white America, and in the past, Obama both knew them and did not reject them publicly, and, in praising Wright earlier, passively accepted them. Of your last paragraph, I would therefore ask: Does Wright fall into that class you have created? Or has the time come for all of us, regardless of color, to grow very weary indeed of black extremism, tired of the complaints that they are not responsible for their own behavior, that they are owed an unpayable debt that gives them permission to curse the “debtors” without limit? When does the black community become responsible for its own character, its own failures? Or is it the case that the debt can never be paid and t hat therefore they never need to assume responsibility? Larry

  7. libraryjim says:

    not just “advisor” but [b]”MENTOR”[/b] which implies an even closer relationship between the two. If I have a mentor, spiritual director, anamcara, etc. it implies that I am being [i]discipled[/i] by this person and thus am being instructed in and willing to adopt his beliefs, thoughts, etc.

    That’s what has a lot of us worried.

    Jim Elliott <><

  8. Chris Hathaway says:

    Richard, if you were attending a church where it was regularly preached that Jesus was not really risen from the dead, that it was just a metaphor, and you stayed there for twenty years and called the priest your mentor and advisor and praised him, I would certainly be justified in questioning your faith. Would I not?

    To call objections to the ministry of Jeremiah Wright a quibling over dotting i’s and crossing t’s is a little ridiculous, and insulting. Watch the videos. that church ate up what he preached enthusiastically. It was, and remains a racist church in which the Gospel is mixed with political hate and power. Church is not like family. You are given a family, like it or leave it. Church, you choose, because that communion is a voluntary act, which is why we are exhorted in Scripture to use our will in not associating with those who pervert the Gospel. No one sitting in the pew, unless he is a minor with no legal power to resist, has any right to completely disasociate himself from what is being preached in his church if he still remains a member of that church.

  9. Michael Bertaut says:

    I appreciate your point libraryjim (#7), prior to Mr. Obama’s speech, I read it online (through http://www.drudgreport.com) and found it to be a MASTERFUL piece of writing, in its depth, sharpness, logic, and prose. I thought the text of the speech could have easily been delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial by Dr. King himself and he would have found it worthy.

    Unfortunately for the African American community, it had to be delivered by a socialist neophyte with no hubris, and no talent for changing people’s minds through the spoken word, faintings and “catching the vapors” at his concerts and rally’s notwithstanding.

    His speechwriter needs grand recognition. It was an amazing document, once separated from the deliverer.


  10. John Wilkins says:


    Have you listened to an entire sermon by Jeremiah Wright?

    In the “chickens coming home to roost” sermon, someone who was attentive would have noted that Wright was preaching about how the faithful often do not want merely to hurt their attackers, but upon innocent people. It was a reading of psalm 137:
    8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
    happy is he who repays you
    for what you have done to us-

    9 he who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.”

    And now even the faithful often want to hurt innocent people. Towards the end of the sermon, he asks people to examine themselves. He did not say that the attack was justice: not at all. If anything, everyone was condemned. It sounds like Wright was enjoying the attack. Unfortunately, this misunderstands WRight and black preaching. He was saying something simple: violence begets violence, and even the faithful want to hurt people. And its right there in scripture:

    Further, as someone who went to the church several times, well, none of the white people there felt hated. The message is hope – for all people. It comes from an afrocentric perspective, but, by default, most white churches are from a eurocentric perspective. In a white Supremacist church, blacks would be driven out. But as Martin Marty (white, Lutheran professor of Church History at the University of Chicago) said, “Trinity focuses on biblical teaching and preaching. It is a church where music stuns and uplifts, a church given to hospitality and promoting physical and spiritual healing, devoted to education, active in Chicago life, and one that keeps the world church in mind, with a special accent on African Christianity. The four S’s charged against Wright — segregation, separatism, sectarianism, and superiority — don’t stand up, as countless visitors can attest. I wish those whose vision has been distorted by sermon clips could have experienced what we and our white guests did when we worshiped there: feeling instantly at home….

    Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright’s sermons were pastoral — my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives — they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet. Though Jeremiah of old did not “curse” his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses — what biblical scholars call “imprecatory topoi” — that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called “the jeremiad,” a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.”


  11. NewTrollObserver says:

    #10 John, Amen.

    Wright is no more anti-white than MLK Jr. He is definitely anti-injustice, and given the historical imbrications of power-and-privilege in American history, it might be difficult for many non-minority citizens to discriminate between speech anti-injustice from speech anti-white.

  12. libraryjim says:

    Yet, he doesn’t have a very clear picture of who Jesus is does he?

    “Jesus was born a poor Black Man in a country ruled by rich white men”.

    Strange, I always thought Jesus was Jewish.

  13. John Wilkins says:

    LibraryJim: the literary / rhetorical style is called analogy. It’s used in the bible. And it’s used in preaching.

    I hope this helps you understand. In fact, its useful in evangelism. Lots of cultures paint Jesus as looking as they do….

  14. Chris Hathaway says:

    It’s called BS and racism. And that’s also used in preaching. I’m sure Hitler’s speeches had plenty of other stuff in them than just “kill the Jews”. So what? When a minister preaches “God damn America” or God damn anybody he has left Christianity entirely. That’s even supposing he was ever there in the first place.

  15. Robert A. says:

    Michael B: I also read the speech in it’s entirety and I agree with you. It is a magnificent piece of writing and deserves credit. Of course his willingness to renounce the speech but not the man appears politically self serving, and yet, I can’t really see how, as Christians, we can fault this. Nor frankly, would it make any sense for him to do otherwise. My own opinion is that this speech is unlikely to change any one’s opinion about him one way or the other. Those that liked him before will continue to do so and those that didn’t will also continue with minds steadfastly unaltered.

    Which seems pretty much the norm around here…

    On the other hand, JW, as I have mentioned before (at grave risk to my reasserter membership), I’m enjoying a lot your recent posts. They have a gentleness and clarity to them that I, at least, much appreciate.

  16. Larry Morse says:

    If Wright were white and said such things about blacks, guess what his reward would be? Would there all sorts of people writing into blogs whitewashing his remarks – to coin a phrase? He would be executed on the public block, as you well know. The defense of Wright and his remarks is what we now call reverse racism and is politically correct and perfectly acceptable. Larry

  17. Words Matter says:

    [i]Of course his willingness to renounce the speech but not the man appears politically self serving, and yet, I can’t really see how, as Christians, we can fault this.[/i]

    I find Obama’s remarks in this respect completely admirable. I won’t vote for him because I deplore his political views, but for loyalty to a man he considers “family”, I will give him credit.

  18. John Wilkins says:

    Thanks, Robert. I think Kendall’s closing the comments for holy week was an act of wisdom that made me reflect upon how I’ve been present here.

    Chris: if I thought Wright were like Hitler, I’d definitely disown him. After all, we have lots of homophobic priests busy trying to convert Jews in this country, eager for holy war in the mideast. If Wright were truly urging a holy war or hated white people, then I wouldn’t defend him at all. But I don’t think that’s the right interpretation. I think, if anything, we can see – in scripture – what he is trying to say.

    There is biblical warrant to using “God Damn America.” Amos chastized Israel (1:3-2:16), for example, and there are places in Micah where harsh language is also used. This is the root of Black Prophetic Preaching: identifying with America as Israel, and challenging it to recognize its role in oppression. Of course, not only blacks have read the prophets in this way: the puritans could have used it against the King as well. But remember: these blacks are both identifying themselves with America, but also holding America accountable.

    An I can’t tell if Wright was a Christian in the first place, but I don’t think I can judge. I will say that when I visited I was welcomed.

    But comparing Wright to Hitler, alas, just exemplifies the racial divide we have in this country. I think Wright made mistakes (although, I understand the cultural logic of some of his opinions), but given that he has, himself, worked with a wide variety of Americans, served his country, and built a pretty amazing church, I humbly submit that what you think he is saying, he’s not saying. But if Wright truly is urging a holocaust, then give me evidence so that I can change my mind.