Religious Right leaders have complained a lot about President Barack Obama since he took office in January of 2009. Among their litany of gripes is that the president doesn’t go to church very often. (This, of course, just feeds kooky right-wing conspiracy theories that Obama is secretly a Muslim.)
Well, Obama and his family went to church on Sunday for Easter services. And guess what, the Religious Right still isn’t likely to be happy.
The Obamas attended services at St. John’s Episcopal Church, which scholars often call “the church of the presidents” because so many chief executives have worshipped there over the years.
The Rev. Luis Leon, rector of the church, delivered the sermon. According to press accounts, Leon based his remarks on the Gospel of John and argued that Americans should stop obsessing over the past and look to the here and now. Jesus, he said, gave a similar message.
But Leon did not stop there. He went on to say, “It drives me crazy when the captains of the Religious Right are always calling us back, back, back -- for blacks to be back in the back of the bus, for women to be back in the kitchen, for gays to be in the closet, and for…immigrants to be on their side of the border.”
Added Leon, “The message of Easter is about the power of love over loveless power….God addresses us in the now.”
I’m expecting Religious Right leaders to throw a fit over this. Some already are. First out of the gate is Mark Tooley of the Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD). On the IRD’s blog, Tooley wrote, “It’s sad when clergy egregiously politicize worship, especially on an important holy day at an historic church that used to symbolize non-partisan unity.” He accused Leon of employing “some cheap shots.”
I have to wonder if Tooley had a straight face when he wrote this. So the Religious Right is suddenly concerned about politicizing churches – the Religious Right? Seriously?
This would be the same Religious Right that has been working to turn churches into cogs in a massive right-wing political machine at least since 1978. It’s the same Religious Right whose leaders tell pastors to ignore federal law and endorse candidates from the pulpit. It’s the same Religious Right that annually holds conferences where there’s little talk about Jesus but where far-right politicians are fêted and pastors are instructed on how to convert their houses of worship into the equivalent of local Republican Party precincts.
Please! Tooley isn’t angry about the politicization of churches; he’s angry because this particular member of the clergy made comments that lean in the liberal direction. (I don’t recall Tooley complaining when the Catholic bishops used the Red Mass to lecture elected officials and judges on issues like abortion, same-sex marriage and tax funding of religion. I don’t recall him freaking out when surgeon Ben Carson, who is suddenly the darling of the right wing, used the National Prayer Breakfast to preach the joys of a flat tax.)
Clergy are perfectly free to address public issues in their sermons if they choose to do so. It’s only illegal when it takes the form of church intervention in an election. And with Religious Right leaders’ record of partisan politicization of pulpits, they’re in no position to carp when a sermon about public issues doesn’t break their way.
Off in the distance, I hear the howls of the hypocrites….