The Obama Family Is Winning the Religion Primary

by James M. Wall

Barack Obama was campaigning in Aberdeen, South Dakota on Saturday while the Rules Committee of the Democratic National Committee was deciding what to do about delegates elected in the Florida and Michigan primaries. A reporter from Time magazine asked him to comment on the decision he and his wife, Michelle Obama, had just made regarding their membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. His lengthy interview with Time was a remarkable statement of faith.

The interview is long but it needs to be posted on every church, mosque and synagogue bulletin board and read in full because it has the feel of his earlier Philadelphia speech on race, which he delivered after Jerimiah Wright’s sermons had been excerpted and played on the internet. Barack Obama is providing the nation with a tutorial on religion, religious institutions and the different cultural manifestations reflected in the great diversity of American religion. 

He does so not with calculated rhetoric but with thoughtful personal observations that reveal a man and his wife in the process of discovering how, as a family, they will bring together faith and practice under intense public scrutiny.  Early in the interview, Obama tells of how he and Michelle felt they needed to proceed as the nation’s possible first family and still remain faithful to a church community

They are sensitive to the impact their presence will will have on any congregation. They will face scrutiny, but so will the church.  Here are two paragraphs early in the interview:

After the National Press Club episode, as I said, I had a long conversation with Michelle and also had a long conversation with Reverend Moss [Wright’s successor as pastor of Trinity]. We prayed on it and you know, my interest has never been to try to politicize this or put the church in a position where is subject to the same rigors and demands of a presidential campaign. My suspicion at that time, and Michelle, I think, shared this concern, was that it was going to be very difficult to continue our membership there so long as I was running for president.

The recent episode with Father Pfleger [the local Catholic priest whose sermon at Trinity making fun of Hillary Clinton was quickly put on the internet] I think just reinforced that view that we don’t want to have to answer for everything that’s stated in a church. On the other hand, we also don’t want a church subjected to the scrutiny that a presidential campaign legitimately undergoes.

In the interview Obama is revealed as a man in a spiritual partnership with his wife who speaks of his faith and his church in a manner rarely heard from a public official. And the media reaction to the story has also been revealing. 

On Sunday, the Los Angles Times ran a sensitive piece about the Obama family’s decision.  The paper had called me for a comment and I was impressed with the treatment of my remarks by P.J. Huffstutter, the reporter who called. For some in the media, the religious community is foreign territory. Not so, in this instance. 

There are still three candidates running for president.  So far, Obama is winning the religion primary.


About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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