Obama and the church

I’ve been reflecting upon the nature of the African-American church as reflected in President Obama’s eulogy for the Rev. Clem Pinckney.

I’ve had the privilege at seminary of having classes with pastors from black churches. Their attitudes and experiences reflect what Obama said in the video. The black church has been not just a place to gather for an hour of peace on Sunday morning, but as the central institution in the life of the community. It is the theological, social, political, and economic heart of its people.

I can’t help but feel that in white church we have lost track of this, reducing the church to a fast-food dispenser of spiritual services. And I feel convicted that it is people like me who have let that happen by not stepping up to the work and call of pastoral leadership. It has slipped so far, of course, that most white Christians cannot even imagine what a community of people formed around Jesus Christ even looks like, not white mainline Protestants, at any rate.

I was also struck near the end of the eulogy when the president talked about grace saying we don’t deserve, we get it anyway, but we have to choose how to receive it. Speaking at an AME church, that sounds like good Arminian theology to me.


2 thoughts on “Obama and the church

  1. I found something incredibly instructive about their response. African American Christians are a people who have learned to mourn…together…with hopeful expectation. I think that white people tend to mourn privately. Rather than congregate, we isolate, and it leaves us feeling very much alone in times of trouble and turmoil. Perhaps what we can most learn in those situations is that at our darkest times, we must intentionally push back against the temptation to reduce into obscurity. I have wondered what it might look like if orthodox Christians had rallied in a similar way on Friday. It would have been difficult, but perhaps we will be salt and light by publicly demonstrating that we have no fear of the evil one, and that Christ will win.

  2. Adam Roe’s comment has merit.

    But I wanted to share this quote I recently stumbled across in “Divine Intention” by Larry Shallenberger.

    “…Much has been written about how the church has become unintelligible to the surrounding world. The church has responded by changing its liturgy, music, and preaching styles. The church has adopted marketing models and business models in an attempt to reinvent itself. These efforts are necessary and frequently positive, but ultimately inadequate. The church is unintelligible to the world because, in the final analysis, it has become unintelligible to its own members. We’ve envisioned the church as everything that it’s not: as a program, a building, an institution, the source of fire insurance, a curriculum dispenser, a moral watchdog, a guardian of heritage, or a self-help group. A self-destructive instinct leads us to conceptualize the church, and ultimately Christianity, as anything other than a relationship with God and his people…”

    Shallenberger’s description of the church has become unintelligible to its members speaks volumes to me who continually felt like the church constantly left me rambling somewhere between something and nothing until I finally distanced myself from all things church and discovered what all I did not know about basic orthodox Christianity. I have spent enough time with early Methodism to know that, at its core, it was about connecting individuals to God and then to each other; for the Wesley’s that was the priority #1 they never ever deviated from.

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