Barack Obama has endured criticism for his membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and for his association with his now-retired pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Wright’s inflammatory remarks have met with angry disapproval. Yet this reflection is not about Rev. Wright. I am writing, instead, about Obama and his understanding of the Church.
Political pundits have said that Obama should publicly refute his pastor. They have written that if Obama had any integrity, he would withdraw his membership from his Trinity church. These people are merely revealing that Obama’s understanding of the gospel is far more mature than theirs. Indeed, these “experts” cannot fathom the integrity that Obama has shown.
Thus far at least, Obama’s actions and words witness to an understanding of the church that is orthodox and biblical. In the tradition of Christian faith, Obama seems to understand that we do not “choose” our church, nor does the church exist to please us and to meet our needs. Rather, the church is the body of Christ. It can be wrong, and often is. Its preachers can speak words that are not the gospel, and we often do. A congregation can stray far from the gospel, but it is still the Body to which Christ has called us. What Christ expects of Obama and all of us is a willingness to suffer the gospel within our common life in His Body. “Suffering the gospel” together refers to those practices, behavior, and daily submissions that manifest the very form of Christ’s submission unto death and his sacrifice for his church. In a word, we love our church the way we love our mother. Despite her actions or failings, we would no more think of leaving her than we would think of disowning our mothers.
A month from now I will be in Fort Worth for our General Conference, which is the church’s legislative body. Of the thousands of decisions made, I will disagree with many, some of them profoundly. But this congregation and denomination are still my mother. And I love her as I love my mother. We should thus rejoice in any witness to an orthodox, conservative understanding of the church, even among public figures.
(Originally published Friday, April 4, 2008)