Only Churchgoers Need Apply

Thinking about Barack Obama’s problem with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, I was reminded of why, despite an interest in politics that goes back to when I was eight years old, I never considered running for office.

It seemed like all politicians went to church – like you just had to be a practicing something-or-other in order to get elected.   I didn’t go to church.  I’ve never gone regularly, and if you add up all the Sundays in my life, I’m sure I haven’t spent more than one percent of them in a pew.  I just wasn’t raised that way. 

My mother, feeling pangs of guilt, sent me to an Episcopal church in Connecticut for about six months when I was about 10, but she tells me I was impatient with Sunday school and asked to be relieved of it.  What I mostly remember  was a little store across the street from the church where I could buy flavored wax lips while waiting (and waiting) for my parents to pick me up.  In my adult life, I’ve attended church sporadically, usually at someone’s invitation.  My late wife got me to go to a Methodist church for awhile, but only because they had this great jazz-gospel organist. Repeating my own pattern, however, my son’s reasonable objections to Sunday School ended that.  

My beliefs about God veer from hopeful agnosticism to “gimme a break” atheism.  To anticipate what my wife now would say, yes I feel life on earth is a miracle, a holy thing, full of mysteries.  But there’s another side to me that says: Every spiritual experience, every act of prophecy or other-awareness is, one day, going to be explained by physics.  And maybe physics leads to God.  But I won’t live long enough to find out.

But I digress.  The point is, I figured early on that if I didn’t go to church, I could never successfully run for office. For some reason, it never occurred to me to do what Barack Obama and probably thousands of other politicians did, just expediently join a church and sit there every Sunday and pretend to agree.  In Obama’s case, he chose a church in the heart of the community he hoped would elect him to public office.  Poignantly, he also apparently chose this church because he wanted to understand African-American culture — a culture everyone assumed he was part of even though he really wasn’t. 

But Obama’s strategem really was no different from what a white would-be politico of no particular religious upbringing would probably do.  It’s just never occured to the news media to find out what the politician’s minister was really saying.  I’m guessing Obama is being held accountable for statements he not only didn’t believe,  but were probably said when he was out a side door, smoking a butt and politicking.  Or maybe even sleeping. Church is a great place for a sitting-up nap, almost as good as the movies. 

I just couldn’t do it, I guess.  The indignity of having to do as John McCain did, describing some obvious whacko as a “spiritual advisor,” just seemed like more than I could ever bear.  Some of the things Obama has said, about how Wright “brought me to Christ” make me queasy, now that we know what the Rev. Wright’s all about.  Hillary has said plainly unbelievable things about her faith, too.  I mean, we all know she’s hardly a pious person.  Her reputation for foul mouthed vindictiveness, dishonesty and gargantuan ego does not track with what we’ve been led to believe religious people are all about.  But she gets credit for being a churchgoer.  For some voters, not going to church is a dealbreaker.  To me, attending church insincerely is profane. 

None of this is said to forgive Obama’s condoning of Wright’s poisonous lie that the government created and launched HIV as a genocidal plot against blacks.  The idea that someone would take their children someplace they could hear such statements is inexcusable, especially if the point was mere political networking.  Much as I want to, I can’t make it go away.  If I vote for him in November, I’ll have to do so in spite of this.