Thursday, March 20, 2008

Freedom of the Pulpit

It was a big week in the world not to be blogging -- the 5th anniversary of the Iraq war, Senator Obama's stunning speech on race in America, the revelations by the new Governor of New York and his wife's infidelities, and the roller coaster ride on Wall Street.

And the endless tape loop of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright on the right wing talk shows, caricaturizing a long term successful ministry into a few soundbites.

I kept thinking about our shared congregational polity with the UCC that gives ministers the right to a free pulpit -- the right to express ourselves without limitation of dogma or institutional boundaries. I learned in divinity school that we are to "comfort the afflicted, and afflict the comfortable" when we are in the pulpit. It has never once occurred to me that I have to agree with my minister on everything he says or that anyone who comes to my services has to agree with me on anything or everything. Indeed in my tradition, we expect as many "I really disagreed with you today" as "good sermon, Reverend."

But, we also have freedom on the pew. We encourage our congregants to take what they like, to leave the rest, to only believe our truths as it reflects their own. In all the reports on Reverend Wright, I haven't seen a news report that remembers to tell us that Trinity UCC has more than 6000 members and is the largest church in the UCC.

That's because these attacks on the Reverend Wright aren't really about him or his church -- they are about trying to discredit Senator Obama. In this "GOTCHA 24/7 news cycle" Governor Paterson felt he needed to tell us about the most private of issues in a marriage before the press could do a story on it, and every association that a candidate has is available for dissection and ridicule.

If you want to know more about the Reverend Wright and the Trinity UCC, go here. And a hurrah to Senator Obama for saying what all of us in free churches know -- that our ministers have the right to speak their hearts and minds from the pulpit and the people in the pews have the right to love them even when we disagree.

4 comments:

Rev. Melinda V. McLain said...

Well-said Deborah! The media, including Newsweek, also reports that Trinity UCC, Chicago was the first black church in the UCC.

That is, of course, ridiculous, many, historically-black churches were formed by Congregationalists just after the Civil War because they were very active in abolition.

bwb said...

Yes! Our pastors do have freedom in the pulpit! I attend a progressive church in Pasadena and the pastor's there speak out, often---and loud. I don't always agree, but I like the fact that they are relevant.
Thank you for this post!

Anonymous said...

so why is this message not getting out....why isn't this message getting publicity?....

Larry D. Pickens said...

I appreciate your comments. I served United Methodist congregations in Chicago for over 20 years and came to know Jeremish Wright as a strong and passionate advocate for the community.

I was talking to a former parishioner yesterday and we were discussing the visit that she and some of our other white parishioners took to Trinity UCC a few years ago.
What she said to me is that the Trinity Church and the Pastor Wright being portrayed in the media in no way reflects the experience that they had at the church. They felt welcomed, respected and received fully into the worship experience. What is really significant is that these are conservative Republicans!

That is a victory worth celebrating

Dr. Larry D. Pickens,
The United Methodist Church