Monday, July 7, 2008

Obama’s Fuzziness on the Constitutional Separation of Church and State

As a member of the Unitarian-Universalist Church, I continue to feel uneasy about Barack Obama’s notion of strengthening and embellishing the Bush Administration’s faith-based initiative when and if he is elected president.

In the days since he became the presumptive nominee of the Democratic Party, Obama has been attempting to broaden his base beyond the extreme left, which - as lefty guru Arianna Huffington recently reminded her pick - brought him to the dance in the first place.

In the process Obama has pandered to the right on FISA, abortion rights, public campaign funding in the general election, wearing a flag pin, gun control, the death penalty, and in the little matter of the constitutional separation of church and state.

Obama has said that he found Christ at Trinity UCC in Chicago where he was a member for 20 years before the Rev. Wright controversy erupted and threatened to throw his drive to the presidency off course.

If Trinity is indeed where Obama was introduced to Christianity, he very likely learned the version offered by liberation theology. And in that case, he is left with a very naïve theological understanding that can be construed to mean that God takes sides and condones the use of violence in resolving conflicts.

Other theological perspectives teach that God leads by invitation, not by coercion, and seeks to transform, rather than destroy those who are guilty of wrongdoing - that would be the image of God modeled in scripture by Jesus.

It’s hard to determine how much Trinity UCC influenced Obama’s faith perspective. We know from the viral videos of first Rev. Wright and then Father Pfleger that politics and religion – church and state – were not separate in the venom spewing from Trinity’s pulpit. First Wright, then Pfleger, used his office to ridicule and mock Hillary Clinton, Obama’s main adversary in the Democratic primary.

As noted earlier, since first arriving at the dance on the arm of his left-wing partner, the Democratic presumptive nominee has quickly slipped out of his liberal guise to – among other flip-flops - snatch the faith-based initiative out of Dubya’s hands and use it to appeal to the evangelical crowd.

Who knows where the theologically naïve, but politically astute Obama will move next as he attempts to straddle the centerline on the road to Denver.

If you’d like to read more on this topic, I recommend James Carroll’s thoughtful column in today’s Boston Globe titled Secular Rule Benefits the Faithful, Too; and Jacques Berlinerblau’s post at On Faith (WashingtonPost/Newsweek) titled Obama’s Faith-Based Initiative: a Dissent.

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