Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama, Rev Wright, McCain, Pastor Hagee, politics and religion

Interesting. We have the inflammatory statements of Reverend Jeremiah Wright, religious mentor to Barack Obama appearing in the news. I've been reading commentary on the American political blogs, and people are basically lining up on the sides you'd expect them to.

Curious lead in the linked article: "Barack Obama was forced to distance himself yesterday from his former pastor and religious mentor", with the editorial implication perhaps being that Obama's only publicy disagreeing with Rev Wright's views out of political necessity. Can't say I agree with that interpretation.

The full text of Barack Obama's most recent condemnation of his Reverend's statements is available online. I'm not that thrilled with Reverend Wright's statements, don't particularly think that Obama's demonstrated any kind of sympathy with such statements to date (quite the opposite in fact), but do feel that any statement from Obama on the issue should offer an explanation for how he feels about the Reverend.

Obama's explanation is one I find satisfactory. One sentence in particular I find eminently satisfactory: "he [Reverend Wright] has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor". In fact, I think that sentence goes even deeper than the current issue, and strikes at the core of a severe problem with American politics today: the conflation of religion and politics.

Is it possible to separate spiritual and political statements from a pastor? I believe that is. So, if I accept this statement as a true indicator of his feelings, does Barack Obama. It has pained me to read the comments of so many Americans, inhabitants of the nation that basically invented the laudable notion of separation of Church and State, who are unwilling or unable to make such a distinction between the spiritual and the political.

Yet it is the importance given to that distinction which contrasts, say, the relationship between Obama and Reverend Wright with the relationship between John McCain and Pastor John Hagee. One is, if we accept Obama's comments, a matter of shared religious affiliation that does not intrude into Obama's personal politics, while the other is an explicit political endorsement of a political candidate by a religious figure.

Certainly there are people in America who would disagree that Obama's approach is better. I've read plenty of people who write about "the myth of the separation of Church and State in America". I personally feel that if America does not have such a separation, then it should. I hope that Obama is sincere in his apparent effort to honour that division. I feel no compunction or double standard in applauding Obama for that effort while condemning McCain for his efforts, through seeking the political endorsement of Pastor Hagee, in breaking it down.

No comments: