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This may shock you, but not all rabbis are ecumenical peace loving progressives. I have twice left congregations because the Rabbi was too right-wing on Israel and peace issues. But others who work hard fulltime on these issues have not, such as the estimable MJ Rosenberg have stayed because of the overall community. Even when they are both proudly Jewish and specifically "Litvak-centric."

If you are Catholic who goes to church regularly, you have probably attended mass overseen by pedophiles and their enablers. You certainly have gone to services run by rabid anti-abortion rights activists. Furthermore, not only are they proudly Catholic, some Boston Irish parishes have been known to be proudly "Celtic-centric."

We all now about the many right wing extremist America hating Protestant ministers who have had most Republicans and some Democrats davening and kissing their rings for years: Parsley, Hagee, Schaeffer, Falwell, Robertson, Doug Coe and Sun Myung Moon to name just a few.  

Every Sabbath in America people attend services at their regular place of worship where the person in the pulpits says things we disagree with, particularly homophobia, ethnocentrism, patriarchy. Some of us stay there for years, for many different reasons. It is actually pretty complicated:

My Rabbis:

Here is MJ Rosenberg of Israel Policy Forum on his conservative (in all senses of the word) rabbi:

I've been a member of a conservative Jewish congregation for 25 years. I love the rabbi but not his sermons on Israel and the Palestinians. He is a total Israel hawk. To put it mildly, I am not.

Even worse, the congregation has become the favorite of Washington's neocons including the worst warmonger of all: Douglas Feith. The idea of communing with God together with a thug like Feith is sickening to me. Then there is Charles Krauthammer who, in 2001, disrupted Yom Kippur services by bellowing at the rabbi for expressing, in the most general terms, the desire for Middle East peace. The worst moment I've ever had at my congregation was when a visiting rabbi from Europe (he comes every year for the High Holy Days) devoted an entire sermon to the value of hate. "To everything there is a season. This is a season for hate." He was talking about the Palestinians. I almost puked.

And yet I am a member of this congregation and will remain one. Why? As I said, I like the rabbi (the regular one, not the annual visitor) despite disagreeing strongly with many of his views. More important, this is the congregation that my kids grew up in. This is where their Bar Mitzvahs took place. The people there (not the war criminals though) are kind of like family. It's home. Probably how Obama feels about his church.

The bottom line is that I am not discredited as a strong supporter of a Palestinian state and the end of the occupation because my rabbi has a different view. Pro-peace Israelis, Palestinians, and other Arabs do not refuse to work with me because I go to the "neocon" synagogue. My writings on Israel/Palestine are not disregarded because my rabbi is a Likud guy.

Of course, not. My rabbi's views are his views. He is my spiritual adviser not my political adviser.

Now I actually disagree with MJ on this; I'd walk. As noted, I have left two congregations that were "convenient" over peace politics. But then again, I had only been a member at each for a year or two, and there were other choices nearby. But MJ makes another point:

In 2000, when Joe Lieberman ran, do you recall articles about the political views of his rabbi? I don't know who his rabbi is (that tells you something) but Orthodox rabbis are invariably very conservative on the same issues on which Democrats are very liberal. They also tend to feel strongly that Jews and non-Jews should not marry each other or even date each other. Some Orthodox rabbis will tell you that dietary laws prevent Jews and non-Jews from even having a meal together except in a kosher locale.

Indeed, there are many reform and conservative rabbis (not just orthodox) who are not merely hardline neocon/likudniks on Israel, but who, if you non-Jews heard them, speak on issues of Jewish cultural identity would consider to be deeply racist against all non-Jews. And yes, some absolutely preach on Israel in a way that might lead an outsider to conclude there is a stronger patriotic affiliation to Israel then to the U.S.

So what. That's religion. Lieberman's politics (not his moderately liberal politics then or his conservative politics now) has nothing to do with his rabbi. Lieberman is pro-choice, pro-gay rights, pro-feminist, all the things Orthodox rabbis tend not to be. There is a good chance Joe's rabbi is against the Iraq war (75% of Jews are) but Joe sure isn't. But, as I said, Joe's rabbi, whoever he is, was never an issue. Obama's is. Why is that?

Indeed, I need to find out why my current rabbi is not listed among the supporters of J-Street, Rabbis for Human Rights, Imams & Rabbis for Peace, unlike some others in my neighborhood.

Your Ministers:

Here is Mike Lux from OpenLeft on his brother a Methodist minister:

...I thought I would weigh in on a topic not that much covered in the progressive blogosphere, which is the nature of ministers and their sermons. I only go to church these days when I am back home in Lincoln, but as the grandson and brother of Methodist ministers, and the son of the lay (non-clergy) leader of the Nebraska Methodist Church, this is a topic I know something about....

My minister brother and I were taking a few days back about the whole Wright thing, and he commented, "I sure wouldn't want my parishioners to be held responsible for the stuff I've said in my sermons." And that sentiment is true for every good minister I know of. What I was always told growing up was that a minister's job was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Bad preachers speak in mushy truisms watered down to the lowest common denominator. Good ministers stir people up, challenge their congregants' assumptions, make people uncomfortable. They should serve, in the language of the church, a prophetic role that speaks truth to power.

They can get away with that, if they are good at their work, by that comforting the afflicted part of their job: visiting sick and elderly people at the hospital and in their homes, doing the funeral services, counseling those in trouble. When a minister does that sort of thing, they build an unshakable loyalty that allows them to survive, say, giving a sermon in favor of gay rights in North Platte, Nebraska. There were probably five people in my brother's congregation of 300 that agreed with what he said in such a sermon that day, but they didn't fire him or quit the congregation in droves because of it. That congregation knew my brother to be a good and gentle man who had been there for all of them time and time again in the hardest of times, and so they accepted what he said in his sermon without necessarily agreeing with it. I'm guessing that if one of them had run for office in North Platte, and been confronted with that gay rights sermon by my brother, they would have said about what Barack Obama did of Jeremiah Wright - "Well, I didn't like what he said, but that man performed my marriage and baptized my children and brought me closer to my faith, so I'm not going to walk away form him personally."

Good ministers say dramatic things, stir things up, and push people hard to look at what they believe and how they act. That's their job. To hold their congregants accountable for every word they say in a sermon is absurd, and shows the people who attack them for such that they don't understand religion very well.

The flip side of this is of course the fact that the Republican Party, and some Democrats, have been attending the Right ministries that hate America for more than the 20 years that Obama went to Wright.

Somewhat separate from Christians, and I suppose needfully hidden from them as a cult, is the longstanding bizarro world ties of the Republican Party to the Moonies as noted in the book Bad Moon Rising and at the author's homepage.

Another worrisome cult-like group that has gone out of its way to cultivate the Washington Power Elite, mostly Republicans but also some Democrats is The Family, also referred to as The Fellowship, led by Doug Coe.

Most of us recall Robertson's and Falwell's hate for San Francisco, New York City and New Orleans (are they not America too?). But the story of Francis Schaeffer was new to me; here is his now repentant son:

Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer -- denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers... rail against America's sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the "murder of the unborn," has become "Sodom" by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children... They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama's minister's shouted "controversial" comments were mild.

Dad was a frequent guest of the Kemps, had lunch with the Fords, stayed in the White House as their guest, he met with Reagan, helped Dr. C. Everett Koop become Surgeon General.

Dad became a hero to the evangelical community and a leading political instigator. When Dad died in 1984 everyone from Reagan to Kemp to Billy Graham lamented his passing publicly as the loss of a great American. Not one Republican leader was ever asked to denounce my dad or distanced himself from Dad's statements.

Take Dad's words and put them in the mouth of Obama's preacher (or in the mouth of any black American preacher) and people would be accusing that preacher of treason. Yet when we of the white Religious Right denounced America white conservative Americans and top political leaders, called our words "godly" and "prophetic" and a "call to repentance."

We Republican agitators of the mid 1970s to the late 1980s were genuinely anti-American in the same spirit that later Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson (both followers of my father) were anti-American when they said God had removed his blessing from America on 9/11, because America accepted gays.

In the Bible, many of the prophets, notably Isaiah, Micah & Hosea do indeed God-damn their own people from turning from the one true way. And they are held up (more in the Protestant tradition then Judaism) as the ultra-righteous model to be followed. Preachers white and black shout in the sermonic form called "the Jeremiad" for a reason.

Your Priests:

As noted, if you are Catholic who goes to church regularly, you have probably attended mass overseen by pedophiles and their enablers. You certainly have gone to services run by rabid anti-abortion rights activists (to say nothing of anti-birth control, anti-condom-so-pro-HIV transmission). Furthermore, not only are they proudly Catholic, some Boston Irish parishes have been known to be proudly "Celtic-centric."

In general the officials of the American Catholic church have played enforcer over abortion issues more then they do over poverty, death penalty, war and torture. Needless to say many American Catholics, like modern religious people of all faiths, have similarly taken the pick-and-choose cafeteria approach. Just as The Church has picked and chosen certain issues and candidates to embrace, so congregants may attend church and receive communion regularly from priests, bishops and cardinals who have not only preached things they don't believe but have committed acts that are reprehensible... but they also make other choices in their daily lives and politics.

Obama's Reverend:

Okay, lets go through the ritual... I renounce and reject Wrights comments on HIV/AIDS (another example of religion and science not mixing well) and (to some lesser extent) on Farrakhan.

That said, we are of course also talking about the man who served two tours of duty as a Marine and whose views of America were formed not only based on some truths about the real history of this country, but also because he came of age at a certain time. Chris Rock had a good bit on this generational aspect:

Somewhat more seriously, why did Obama choose that church over any number of other black churches in Chicago twenty years ago? Just an activist's need for street "cred" and a personal need for identity does not answer the question of why THAT church and minister, given the numerous choices available.

I think David Mendell biography, as channeled via Noam Scheiber in The Stump probably has got it right:

Wright earned bachelor's and master's degrees in sacred music from Howard University and initially pursued a Ph.D. at the University of Chicago Divinity School before interrupting his studies to minister full-time. His intellectualism and black militancy put him at odds with some Baptist ministers around Chicago, with whom he often sparred publicly, and he finally accepted a position at Trinity. ...

Wright remains a maverick among Chicago's vast assortment of black preachers. He will question Scripture when he feels it forsakes common sense; he is an ardent foe of mandatory school prayer; and he is a staunch advocate for homosexual rights, which is almost unheard-of among African-American ministers. Gay and lesbian couples, with hands clasped, can be spotted in Trinity's pews each Sunday. Even if some blacks consider Wright's church serving only the bourgeois set, his ministry attracts a broad cross section of Chicago's black community. Obama first noticed the church because Wright had placed a "Free Africa" sign out front to protest continuing apartheid. The liberal, Columbia-educated Obama was attracted to Wright's cerebral and inclusive nature, as opposed to the more socially conservative and less educated ministers around Chicago. ...

...it was his intellectualism and social progressivism that won Obama over. Certainly it's hard to imagine that someone like Obama, who came from a progressive, secular background, would have felt genuinely comfortable in a socially conservative, anti-intellectual church. The problem for Obama is that the flip-side of these virtues was a minister with a radical worldview and a penchant for advertising it loudly. ...

Which, put another way, means that Obama's decision to join Trinity was probably the opposite of cynical. Trinity was the place where, despite the potential pitfalls--and he must have noticed them early on--Obama felt most true to himself {as a worshipper}.

Of course this too subtle, thoughtful and progressive an interpretation to get a general hearing.

And there is a  more directly political and theological history going on here, as the Prospect pointed out:

Starting in the Reagan years -- and with considerable practical and moral support from the GOP, which Posner documents -- the prosperity gospel swept through the country's Pentecostal churches, both black and white. To give you some idea of how incestuously this movement is bedded down in GOP politics, consider the fact that John McCain claims Rod Parsley and John Hagee -- two of the nation's biggest purveyors of the prosperity gospel -- as his "spiritual advisors." (A lot of us wondered why he chose these two, who are regarded as nutcases even by many Evangelicals; but reading Posner, the political ends being served become obvious.)

Needless to say: not everybody welcomed this new gospel with open arms. Millions of devout Evangelicals who've read their Bibles and noted Jesus' contempt for greed, as well as those who hew to older and more rigorous theologies like the Social Gospel and King-style liberation theology, find the whole thing beyond offensive and verging on blasphemy.

Wright has been a visible and articulate critic of the GOP's new pet theology over the years -- one of a noisy clutch of ministers who've made no bones about the mischief inherent in this new theology. He's also a respected and insightful proponent of black liberation theology, holding King's torch high in the face of unscrupulous preachers who think they're helping poor people by cajoling them to vote away their safety net and toss their government checks in the offering plate.

Beyond that: unlike the vast majority of these ministers, most of whom attended small Bible colleges of dubious accreditation (if they attended seminary at all), Wright has degrees from Howard University and the University of Chicago Theological Seminary. It's gotta go down hard that he's a black man who is far better-educated than they are, and can argue circles around them about the Bible or anything else. Take it as a whole picture, and it's not hard to see that Wright is very sharp thorn in these people's sides. As long as he and his friends out there, their 30-year investment in the whole Word of Life movement is at risk. Obama's candidacy put him in the spotlight, and thus magnified the threat. So now he has very powerful enemies on the religious and political right.
Furthermore, turning Wright into a national demon was a two-fer. They could not only tank the Democrats' front-runner; they'd also take down a serious and persuasive theologian who's been calling them out hard on one of their longest-running and most successful efforts to sell the conservative worldview to the very people who stand to be most harmed by it.

That's a big part of what's driving the animus against Wright. It's the issue he was addressing head-on at the National Press Club on Saturday, when he talked about how the storm of criticism surrounding his remarks was, in effect, criticism of the traditions of the black church. It also answers the burning question of why the GOP and the corporate media will not let this go. What's happening here is bigger than just Barack and Hillary and John. It's a struggle between two competing Protestant theologies, both of which claim tens of millions of adherents -- and a galvanizing figure who hasn't gotten the hint, and still keeps standing up for his flock against those bent on shearing them.

There is a longer history here then the media's kneejerk reaction is interested in telling.

McCain's Ministers:

The standard excuse for McCain is that that his embrace of the right wing extremist nutjobs who not only hate gays, Women, Jews, Catholics, Muslims but ALSO HATE AMERICA, is just a political endorsement. That it is not the same as having been a member of the church for 20 years, been married there and had one's children baptized there. I hope the above has helped dispel why the latter would be bad.

But there are two additional reasons why that argument is false:

  1. The Republican party has been a member of that church for over 20 years. They have davened, kissed the ring, been baptized in it, married to it and raised their children in it.
  1. Obama, upon hearing Wright's objectionable imprecations did renounce and reject. But McCain came to these guys after they had already said all those much more terrible things. Already knowing that that is what they stood for, he went out of his way to seek their endorsement and to ally himself with them. That seems worse to me.

The following is a 10 minute synthesis of the greatest scatological hits of McCain's fundamentalist friends (see YouTube for myriad full-length footage):

As Jacob Halper said in Huffington Post:

It's not hard to see the thematic and stylistic similarities between the rhetoric of McCain's trinity-of-intolerance and Wright's well-publicized harangue: both claim government orchestration of black genocide; both point to the moral culpability of Americans in causing their own tragedy on 9/11; both exemplify the outrageous theatricality characteristic of evangelical pulpit-speak; and both fulminate with conspicuous rage.

Wright has been condemned for speaking kindly of the Jew-hating Farakhan; Parsley's reference to the Rothschilds as he traces the genealogy of an international banking conspiracy wreaks of Protocols antisemitism.

But Obama established his relationship with Wright long before any of his inflammatory comments were made (and before Obama was made aware of them), while John McCain embraced Fallwell, Hagee, and Parsley with full knowledge of their bigoted reputations after they had argued their positions publicly. McCain sold his maverick soul in a Faustian bargain with those very "agents of intolerance" he once impugned.

The Wright affair will at most have raised questions for voters about Obama's ability to negotiate a scandal. Since his final renunciation of Wright, there can be no remaining doubts over where Obama's loyalties lie.  

John McCain might privately disparage his radical Christian friends, but he has offered no indication to voters that he can untangle himself from their influence. McCain, like Bush before him, is deeply imbricated in the radical religious constituency that buttresses his party.


Well... it's 4pm on Friday... Shabbat Shalom.

Originally posted to DrSteveB on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:02 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  these are the ruminations of affliction... (0+ / 0-)

    we'll stand him up against a wall and pop goes the weasel /rufus t. firefly

    by 2nd balcony on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:09:57 PM PDT

  •  Very true. (0+ / 0-)

    A season of hate! wow, never heard that before, let's hope it doesn't catch on.

    Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt. William Shakespeare

    by notquitedelilah on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:12:13 PM PDT

  •  The correct usage is "reject and denounce." (0+ / 0-)

    Please make a note of it. ;)

    "In the unlikely story that is America, there's never been anything false about hope." Barack Obama for President

    by Chi on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:13:14 PM PDT

  •  Communities of Faith (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    DrSteveB

    As I posted on Contrary Brin, I wrote up an article over a week ago about a rather insightful conversation I had with an older gentleman concerning Senator Clinton's comments about Reverend Wright. It can be found here:

    http://looniewolf.livejournal.com/...

    Basically, the gentleman was outraged by Clinton's remarks. A church is more than just a minister, pastor, rabbi, or religious leader. It is a community.

    Take care

    Robert A. Howard, Tangents Reviews

    by Tangent101 on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:15:25 PM PDT

  •  Good Shabbos. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, DrSteveB, Hellenic Pagan

    And highly, highly recommended!

    Why are Jews Democrats? Because the last time we followed a bush claiming to speak for God, we got lost in a desert for forty years!

    by Elsinora on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:16:42 PM PDT

  •  I was thinking about posting this as a short (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Catte Nappe, Hellenic Pagan

    diary, but in a strange way, it sort of fits here, too:

    It starts like one of those old jokes - A Catholic Cardinal [Brady], A Lutheran bishop, a Church of Ireland primate, a Prebyterian Moderator, and a Methodist.... on a peace mission in the Middle East, all go to the Wailing Wall on Holocost Memorial Day to pray...and are accused of anti-semitism because three of them are wearing...wait for it... crosses, which an Israeli settlor took to be a pointed "reminder" that Christ was killed by Jews.
    I would have shrugged this off as an extremist having a very bad day, except something else in the story caught my eye. These clergymen had to get special permission at the border to wear their crosses into Israel itself. How bizarre is that?
    Cardinal Brady is now standing in the corner with President Carter, too, I would guess, when the day before the incident "he became the first Catholic Primate of All Ireland to visit the Gaza Strip, where he appealed to Israel to reconsider its refusal of a six-month truce offered by Hamas..."
    It's an interesting article about what was almost a diplomatic incident had not apologies quickly been extended all around. This time the old joke didn't end with a funny punchline.
    Flag pin. Crucifix. People need to go back to their old Dr. Seuss books and seriously take a refresher course on innies and outies.
    Independent.ie

    The Justice Department is no longer a credible defender of the rule of law or the Constitution.

    by Overseas on Fri May 02, 2008 at 01:22:20 PM PDT

  •  And to you (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Hellenic Pagan

    Shabbat Shalom.

    Excellent diary, tipped and recommended.

    Off to mail the link to some interested parties!

  •  GREAT diary. (0+ / 0-)

    Mind if I save this to send to some right-wing journalists?

  •  excellent diary (0+ / 0-)

    thanks for putting together such a thoughtful and well researched diary. it's quite clear that as long as you're attacking the underprivilaged, under-represented, and marginalized, you can say whatever you'd like. just don't say anything about white, protestant, middle and upper class america (you know... real americans) and you'll be just fine.

  •  Great diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    dinsea

    I've had some similar experiences. FYI, I'm a "he-bro" (black/Jewish). I remember in college, my days as a black nationalist militant were cut short when I found myself at a meeting where a Nation of Islam minister delivered a rousing anti-Semitic diatribe. Similarly, my delvings into Judaism were fairly torpedoes when the rabbi of my supposedly progressive synagogue encouraged the congregation to attend a nationalistic, pro-war, pro-Israel rally during the Lebanon invasion of 2006.

    So, I'm kind of caught in the middle, you could say, and I've tended to stay away from religious institutions of any kind as a result. Ironically, my lack of "faith" has been a factor dissuading me from considering a political career, for which I've been told I would otherwise be relatively well-suited and now I see Obama taking a major hit because of his choice of religious institution. It does deepen my feeling that we as humans should probably just grow up and leave this God-cult behind.

  •  I don't find it shocking that congregations, or (0+ / 0-)

    the clergy, differ in political and social views.  

    ,,,giving a sermon in favor of gay rights in North Platte, Nebraska. There were probably five people in my brother's congregation of 300 that agreed with what he said in such a sermon that day, but they didn't fire him or quit the congregation in droves because of it.

    In fact it's common, on all kinds of issues such as gays, sanctuary cities, positions on wars such as your Lieberman example, etc.

    I don't find it shocking that Reverend Wright was a Marine and has done a lot of good in his community.  Hamas is beloved for the humanitarian efforts in Palestine and Lebanon by the people, and one must acknowledge those efforts, imo.

    I too would renounce these comments,

    Okay, lets go through the ritual... I renounce and reject Wrights comments on HIV/AIDS (another example of religion and science not mixing well) and (to some lesser extent) on Farrakhan.

    though I don't think I would view my renouncing as a ritual.  Wright is a smart man, and I don't think this has anything to do with the mixing of science and religion.  He is passing down to his congregation, and to the children in that congregation, a hatred toward America.  In this same sermon he makes sarcastic inferences to Jews.  In other sermons he uses racial stereotypes--"greedy white men".  I would have left that church, after denouncing his comments to him personally.  

    So why did Obama, likely our next president, not denounce this man and leave the church?  He says he is a uniter, one who unites.  Would a man who unites us across remaining racial differences sit in those pews?  Would such a man bring his young daughters to that church, so that racial hatred is propogated, rather than reduced.  

    I'm a Hillary supporter, who was wavering, but is no more.  I don't want this man for my president.

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