At times over the past few weeks it has felt unbearable listening to the smug attacks from both liberal and conservative news commentators on remarks made from a Christian pulpit, critical of the United States of America. The firestorm has centered on outtakes from a very few sermons by Barack Obama's UCC pastor, The Rev. Jeremiah Wright (who, incidentally has one of the most compassionate and most generous congregations in all of American Christendom).
Oddly (and tragically) the one remark by Pastor Wright that has proven most controversial seems to me fairly basic to a responsible understanding of the Christian faith. Stripped of the emotion and the phraseology, he is saying that the United States of America stands under God's judgment for our actions in just the same way that we believe other countries stand under God's judgment.
What could be more basic than that? Isn't that much of the heart of our Holy Scriptures, that Israel stands under the same judgment that other nations do? If I remember my prophets and historical books correctly, what we have been told as clearly as clear can be is that since we have been entrusted with the identity of the People of God, we will be judged even more harshly than "the nations."
The reality in this country is that we who really believe that we are that city built on a hill, the new Jerusalem will resist and in the process demonize anyone who reminds us that we stand under the judgment of God. How hypocritical! How counter to the revealed Word of God, spoken through the prophets and even by Jesus Christ, himself.
Surely we don't think we get a free pass on the torture we have inflicted in our current as well as past wars, the bombings of civilian targets, resorting to armed combat for economic reasons, our long years of practicing slavery, our condoning of marketing merchandise by images which degrade women, our deference to corporate power over the needs and the rights of the poor, and on and on.
We should all be seriously depressed at the depth of the civil religion practiced in this country that would exempt us from being held responsible for our national sins. We should be furious at those commentators who assume we can sever our prophetic roots from the Christian religion -- and who demonize one of the greatest pastors in our church for speaking the truth.
So what are the odds that Christian preachers have used this occasion to call our church back to its roots? Probably not very good. Why is that? Is that we really do prize being liked? Or is it that despite our words of reverence for the Bible, we have simply forgotten its words and message?
Don't you just love the way so many leaders of the "reasserters" claim to be the only ones in the Episcopal Church who care for the Bible and its authority while standing by as Pastor Wright is crucified by the left and the right? They are not "reasserting" anything: they are ignoring it. Those on the liberal side are not much better. We talk about the "unfortunate language" of the sermon excerpts, forgetting that we have not used ANY language in attacking our national sin. We, too, like the evangelicals are more comfortable in dealing with "personal" sins.
I had thought of including a few trenchant quotes from the prophets to sum up this short piece, but the only thing adequate would be to include the whole of the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Judges, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea, and all the rest. Maybe, since this is Holy Week, words from Jesus as he neared his own death in Jerusalem might be appropriate:
"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! (Matthew 23:36-38)
We who claim the identity of Jerusalem for ourselves have a major task of repentance ahead of us.