I love the headlines in the Chicago Tribune:

Obama blames ’60s for pastor’s comments

And the report goes on saying how Obama defends his pastor:

Both Wright, who is 66, and Ferraro, who is 72, were products of the often violent and racially divisive ’60s and were stuck in a time warp, Obama explained.

Ah, the sixties. well, I lived then, but like a lot of people not in the “in”crowd, I was too busy in medical school and internship to have the experience of “the sixties”, except for treating drug overdoses, botched abortions and the STD’s of our local love children.

Bruce Springsteen has a story song “Glory days”.

Wright, and indeed much of the aging anti war movement, is about reliving their “glory days”. Some of the sixties was good: racial equality, rejecting materialism and volunteering to help people. But without the balance of emphasizing personal responsibility for one’s own life and actions, the sixties deteriorated into the hedonism and drug taking of the seventies, and the destruction of the family by a sexual ethic that no longer recognized the idea of responsibility and duty.

I am not impressed with the “megachurch” phenomenum. Too often this means glorifying the minister instead of God. We are told Rev. Wright’s church has 8000 members but that it also has lots of social ministries:

Trinity United Church of Christ’s ministry is inclusive and global. The following ministries have been developed under Dr. Wright’s ministerial tutelage for social justice: assisted living facilities for senior citizens, day care for children, pastoral care and counseling, health care, ministries for persons living with HIV/AIDS, hospice training, prison ministry, scholarships for thousands of students to attend historically black colleges, youth ministries, tutorial and computer programs, a church library, domestic violence programs and scholarships and fellowships for women and men attending seminary.

Very impressive. Of course, a lot of megachurches do the same, and even the average Chicago Catholic parish sponsors most of these things, either in the parish or in cooperation with the diocese, so it’s not like he is alone.

And I wonder about a scandal driven media who take a few phrases out of context (?) to villify a good pastor without praising the fruits of the good reverend’s life.

But I do have a problem with Obama’s pastor.One problem of being stuck in the sixties is that one sees reality through the glasses of a rigid ideology.

For example, one of the political actions of the church was to encourage the city council to stop Walmart.

Rich people hate Walmart, which pays lousy wages and undercuts a lot of small shops.

But, for poor rural people, the opportunity to go to a Walmart and buy cheap and good quality goods nearby at one stop is a blessing.

In the city, yes, there are local shops. But the prices are higher, and the choices are limited. The sidewalks are icy, and your purse might be stolen if you were old or looked like you wouldn’t fight back. So my neighbors would spend five dollars to take a taxi to the bulk grocery store to buy goods. Wouldn’t they also benefit from a Walmart, where they could buy other goods they need (clothing, school supplies) at lower prices?

So, do you as a pastor encourage stores so your people can afford to buy the goods they need, or do you follow the left wing ideology that says bad big business?

Let’s not let reality get in the way of our ideology.

Similarly, it’s nice that one has an HIV outreach.

But this week, a report tells us that fifty percent of Black girls have STD’s.

Now, anyone who works with battered women know that many of these girls were sexually abused as very young teenagers. In the sixties, sexuality of early teenagers was celebrated as “freedom”, not statuatory rape.

Yet many of these girls pay the price for the men’s sexual pleasures in teenaged pregnancy, serial abortions, infertility, chronic pelvic pain, and cancer. Ah, you might argue, but these girls enjoy it too. Oh, really? Actually, a lot of them are just educated by the media and their peers that they are supposed to have sex, and so they do…but how many get pleasure from the “slam bam thank you mam” lovemaking of the average teenaged boy?

Similarly, it’s nice to have an HIV mininistries, but when 60% of the newly diagnosed HIV cases are in black women, isn’t it time to start preaching something more than condom use? And one is happy that all sexual orientations are welcome, but did you ever preach about the sin of cruising, or the importance of conjugal faithfulness to one’s partner in life?

My question to the pastor is more ethical than theological: If there is a god, isn’t she interested in what we do in our daily lives? Do we see God as the father of the prodigal son, who welcomes home the repentant sinner, or do we see him as an enabler of bad behavior, welcoming back the son and giving him more money to waste on parties and drugs?

I have no problem with the social gospel. All churches should encourage their members to volunteer their time. Yet the reason that liturgical churches have a schedule on what part of the bible to teach each week is so that we get reminded of all the different aspects of the relationship of the deity of our daily lives.

So as a doc, I have been lucky enough to serve the poor in many different areas. But when this part of life becomes the only “important” part of life judged by God, it means one could justify sleeping with one’s patients, overbilling, and neglecting one’s family.

Yet what about those who “only serve and wait”? Don’t they too serve the Lord?

One of the holiest priests I knew served for years with the poor in one midwestern town. He came to our church and preached about helping with the local foodbank, working with abused women and pregnant teenagers at the shelter, and helping to build homes with Jimmy Carter’s groups.

But the parish he was preaching included many poor people, who “fed the poor” by taking in their grandchildren whose parents were drug addicts. They would take in nieces or even friends who were abused or pregnant with no place to go, and they didn’t need to work with a famous charity to shovel snow off a neighbor’s roof or fix a leak in their neighbor’s house for free.

Social action is fine, and is quite rewarding (been there, done that).

But charity begins at home.

Churches that preach social action without mentioning personal ethical reform deteriorate into cults of feel good sociopaths who can ignore or abort or exploit those nearest to them while insisting they are saintly for their good deeds.

Been there, done that too…


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.

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