Pastors can wield enormous influence in the life of someone seeking spiritual answers. Such was the case of Pastor Wright a U.C.C. minister in Chicago and Barack Obama– a relationship that has been built over the last twenty years, and reveals a good deal about the interests and yearnings of Senator O’Bama, and why he came to embrace the Christian faith There is a very interesting article about this relationship in this morning N.Y. Times. Here is the link—

Jeremiah Wright is like many African American preachers of his generation. His especial strength is in the area of the social Gospel when it comes to his preaching. He sounds like a more flamboyant and less eloquent version of Martin Luther King Jr., with the benefit of hindsight that Martin did not have. Two things about Wright’s preaching that did not much characterize King is his Afrocentric approach to theology and preaching, and his attempt to relate the Gospel to black music culture– including R+B. Hip Hop is apparently too recent for Pastor Wright.

One of the interesting angles of this article is that it chronicles briefly the friendship between Barack and Jim Wallis. Here is an interesting quote from Jim about Barack— “He comes from a very secular, skeptical family,” said Jim Wallis, a Christian antipoverty activist and longtime friend of Mr. Obama. “His faith is really a personal and an adult choice. His is a conversion story.”

In other words, all the rhetoric from the Fox Noise Channel about Barack’s Muslim school education can be ignored. It was no more influential in his religious or spiritual life than the fact that he went to a Catholic school for a while when he was young as well. What is also clear about Barack’s embracing of the Christian faith is that it was certainly not politically motivated. Barack spent a long time reflecting on whether to become a Christian or not during a period in his life where there was little or nothing to be gained politically by doing so. Obama is not a one dimensional figure, and his faith reflects his larger values in some respects– particularly his attempt to find good in various different approaches to contentious issues.

For example Jodi Kantor, who wrote the article for the Times relates this– “Mr. Obama reassures liberal audiences about the role of religion in public life, and he tells conservative Christians that he understands why abortion horrifies them and why they may prefer to curb H.I.V. through abstinence instead of condoms. AIDS has spread in part because “the relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down, and needs to be repaired,” he said to thunderous applause in December at the megachurch in California led by the Rev. Rick Warren, a best-selling author.” ( thanks to the N.Y. Times for the use of the quoted material. Please read and cite the original article).

Obama’s positions will not entirely please either the religious or secular right or the religious or secular left either. He is his own person, and so far as I can see, while he tries to listen to and relate to everyone, he panders to no one.

I do not know if Barack Obama is electable. To most white conservative Evangelicals he will surely appear to be a liberal Protestant at best, even if his faith is accepted as genuine. And of course there are genuine concerns about his lack of experience in Washington in very uncertain times, but of course that didn’t prevent George W. Bush from becoming President.

What I do know is this— all, and I do mean all of the Presidents since Nixon have been Protestant Christians who could or at least tried to relate to Protestant constituencies, including especially Evangelicals. We will see what happens come the fall, and the weeding out process of candidates. Rick Warren took enormous personal heat for having Obama at his AIDS conference at Saddleback. This may be a barometer of how Obama would be received in other large white Evangelical settings as well. Time will tell.

In the meantime, we should pray for all the candidates running for our highest office. The next four years promise to be rough ones for America with lots of hard choices, and a massive Federal debt thanks to the war in Iraq.

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