Ate lunch today with an old friend from high school (Lima Senior '87), the one and only, Eric "Bubba" Rummel. Bubba and I were 2/3rds of the "Half-Ton Bunch", which also consisted of Darrin Boop, Jeff Rempe, and Steve "Moose" Lawson. Let's just say we had some fun, and (for the most part) avoided trouble. Somehow we survived those devil-may-care days, and now all function as semi-responsible members of a free society.
After a number of years in the military and then some time spent working on his undergraduate degree, Bubba is now enrolled at United Theological Seminary, which is a UM-related school in Dayton, Ohio. He also (as most seminarians in this part of the world do) pastors a UCC church north of Lima. Having grown up in the household of a very conservative, somewhat fundamentalist congregationalist preacher, Bubba has emerged on the other side as a Christian leader with a pretty progressive theology. Smart, quick, and tuned into the needs of the community, he's a great pastor who's finally jumping through the final hoops toward ordination as a UCC pastor and full-time ministry. If you don't know much about the UCC, here's 30 second introduction in the form of one it's commercials:
The UCC has been in the news, albeit secondarily, as one of their own pastors, Jeremiah Wright, came out of the shadows to defend himself against what he believes has been a biased media . Wright is upset that snippets of his sermons have been used in such a fashion to paint him as an extremist pastor from the lunatic fringe, and has been responding (see yesterday's post) in kind to the criticism, creating a ton of controversy along the way.
Because Wright has been brandishing the UCC label proudly, and is considered to be somewhat of heavyweight in that denomination, I wondered what Bubba would have to say about the whole ordeal. I thought his response was pretty interesting. Wright is apparently famous within the denomination for not just talking about social action, but doing something about it in his own community. Bubba reminded me that the UCC isn't exactly filled with huge megachurches like Trinity UCC, or many examples of the kind of growth Wright's church has experienced in his tenure. His insistence on remaining true to his theological convictions has inspired the mostly liberal denomination, which has seen a good many churches and people leave it's fold amid criticism for leaning too far to the left. Hence Wright has inspired within his own denominational tradition, a great deal of admiration and respect.
Bubba pointed out too that it was no accident that Obama, who came to Chicago to begin a life of public service and politics, picked Trinity UCC to be his church. Probably, never before had Obama thought Wright to be a political liability, because in every political race previous, the support of someone like Wright would have been an advantage, particularly in the city of Chicago where is the pastor is known and respected for all the social justice ministries his church undertakes, and his willingness to go toe-to-toe with local politicians on behalf of the poor in his community. Considering some of the sermons that have been targeted by the media are ten years old, or older, obviously Wright had never been issue. Bubba surmised that this has become an issue was probably a bigger surprise to Obama's people than anyone else because for 20 years it's never come up.
In fact, in terms of getting elected in Illinois, the opposite was probably true.... who knows if he'd have gotten as far in politics with out Wright's support.
Of course, now Obama can't run fast enough away from his former pastor:
Just goes to show that particularly as it relates to politics, what flies in predominantly black communities doesn't necessarily fly with other constituencies. Kinda hard to build a broad base of support if your shackled to ideas like the Federal Government tried to eliminate the black community by introducing into it AIDS and Crack. Obama is trying, but Wright - maybe because he feels like he's nothing to lose, or maybe because he was hurt that the man who came to him looking for his support has now cut him loose, or maybe because he believes it's for the public good - won't let him. The deep pain and alienation that Wright obviously feels from the mainstream is just as real among his congregation. Maybe he doesn't want Obama to forget that. Nobody can really be sure except for the man who keeps getting up in front of microphones while digging the hole Obama stands in just a little bit deeper every time he opens his mouth.
In any event, Bubba surmised that at least the UCC was getting some media attention, and in an age where scandals can actually propel careers, there's no longer such a thing as bad publicity. Of course, that's when I chose to remind him that the Roman Catholic Church probably wouldn't agree. But in any event, if you are the denomination that wants to be known as the one that "drops the velvet" rope, maybe Wrightgate isn't such a bad thing.
God is still speaking, and if my friend Bubba is any barometer, God will continue to do so as this latest focus of the campaign continues to play itself out.