Saturday, March 15, 2008

Who Will Rid Me Of This Troublesome Priest?

I find the media free-for-all unleashed on Rev. Jeremiah Wright alarming, to say the least. Liberals have long maintained that separation of church and state protects both government and church. And I think the attacks on Rev. Wright are a perfect example of why this is so important.

Wright is being attacked for his sermons. Not for things he said on Meet The Press or a column he wrote in the New York Times, or a book he recently published--not even for his appearances at a political event, a la “Justice Sunday” or “Renew America.” No, clips of Rev. Wright’s sermons have been removed from their religious, social and cultural context and trotted out for public critique by people with a political agenda.

I have a big problem with this; I think all people of faith should.

Preachers deliver sermons based on what they discern God has placed in their hearts to say. That such messages sometimes challenge the political and cultural establishment is as old as religion itself. Anyone remember a famous Jewish rabbi who was hung from a cross for defying the establishment of his day?

But this was inevitable, once we put a chink in that wall of separation between church and state. Recent decades have seen religious leaders engage in the business of government and politics at unprecedented levels. Religious leaders now freely endorse political candidates. They have access to the seats of power via weekly conference calls with the White House. Some even use the pulpit to push one political party over another. Religious groups get government funding, religious organizations perform social functions that government once did.

Religion has become a political tool used by the powerful and the want-to-be-powerful. And all was very well and good, as long as religious leaders supported the government and its agenda.

But now we have a pastor speaking out against the government. He has called on his congregation to question those actions the government has taken in their name. And all hell breaks loose. An election could be changed. A candidate must denounce his pastor’s words. And religious leaders all across the country are no doubt wondering if their words will be picked apart in the same way. Will there be consequences for speaking out about an injustice they see?

As a churchgoer I wonder: will we get to a place where pastors only preach the “safe” message? Will the integrity of the pulpit be breached?

This is what happens when you make religion a political pawn. We’ve entered a treacherous place in American politics, people. America: tread gently. We are about to cross a line, and we may not like where it takes us.