Obama and His Pastor – by episcopal candidate Randy Cooper

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>With Randy’s permission, I am posting the full text of a piece he recently wrote in his church’s newsletter “The Informer.” Part of the reason I thought it important to post was because it comes at the recent controversy differently then almost everything I have seen and read. Put simply, Pastor Cooper is trying to make a point here about ecclesiology.

In a contemporary context where people try out churches the way they try on shoes at the mall, I think this is a much needed corrective and a way of framing things that people who take church seriously cannot dismiss easily.

Barack Obama has endured criticism for his membership in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and for his association with his now-retired pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Jr. Wright’s inflammatory remarks have met with angry disapproval. Yet this reflection is not about Rev. Wright. I am writing, instead, about Obama and his understanding of the Church.

Political pundits have said that Obama should publicly refute his pastor. They have written that if Obama had any integrity, he would withdraw his membership from his Trinity church. These people are merely revealing that Obama’s understanding of the gospel is far more mature than theirs. Indeed, these “experts” cannot fathom the integrity that Obama has shown. Thus far at least, Obama’s actions and words witness to an understanding of the church that is orthodox and biblical. In the tradition of Christian faith, Obama seems to understand that we do not “choose” our church, nor does the church exist to please us and to meet our needs. Rather, the church is the body of Christ. It can be wrong, and often is. Its preachers can speak words that are not the gospel, and we often do. A congregation can stray far from the gospel, but it is still the Body to which Christ has called us. What Christ expects of Obama and all of us is a willingness to suffer the gospel within our common life in His Body.

“Suffering the gospel” together refers to those practices, behavior, and daily submissions that manifest the very form of Christ’s submission unto death and his sacrifice for his church. In a word, we love our church the way we love our mother. Despite her actions or failings, we would no more think of leaving her than we would think of disowning our mothers.A month from now I will be in Fort Worth for our General Conference, which is the church’s legislative body. Of the thousands of decisions made, I will disagree with many, some of them profoundly. But this congregation and denomination are still my mother. And I love her as I love my mother. We should thus rejoice in any witness to an orthodox, conservative understanding of the church, even among public figures. Let us encourage one another. Randy

Click here to find out more about Rev. Randy Cooper who is the episcopal nominee of the Memphis Annual Conference.


  1. >Messianics (Christians) have no place in the political arena. Jesus said, do not be concerned with the affairs of this world. He also said pray for your leaders (not vote them in). Why? Because we wrestle against, not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in high places.

  2. >Religion and politics don’t go together: Christ said, do not be concerned with the affairs of this world. He also said, pray for your leaders! He never said to vote them in becuase we would be partaker of evil deeds done. Why? Becuase we don’t wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in high places.

  3. >Are you serious? Jesus said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” Moreover, as citizens in a democracy, we are responsible for the conditions of our brothers and sisters around us. It doesn’t make you more Christian to refuse to participate in politics, it simply means you’ve denied a responsibility that ought to be met. If Christians aren’t supposed to participate in the political arena, say goodbye to both the abolition movement and MLK Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. Good luck with all that.-DM

  4. >I think both of you are wrong! The radical removal from society is not what the gospel calls but it is a terrible misread to read rendering unto Ceasar as anything supporting the political narrative.The two tier economic system of Rome and the Temple made participation in the economics of Rome problematic. Jesus’ response is related to getting the influence of Ceasar out of your life. In this way our first writer makes far more sense. However, our first writer is building his arguments on a need to be literalist. Working somewhere inbetween these two extremes might be more interesting.

  5. >Extreme? Only for an Anabaptist. I don’t believe that merely suggesting Christians are called to participate in government due to the responsibilities inherent in neighbor love is an extreme position. I am not wrapping up the cross in the flag, only suggesting that being a Christian is not reducible to being anti-state. Is this “the political narrative”? Or is buying into anything less than the Yoder/Hauerwas tale to be rejected as “Constantinian”?-DM

  6. >Randy Cooper’s words reflect much wisdom, and I hope he becomes a bishop! Or, maybe God has something more important in store for him.

  7. >you know what I love/hate about this discussion and most referring to easily interpreted scripture? It in the end proves no one person right or wrong, just shines light on how easily people can adapt or manipulate the bible. I’m not going to argue how someone should interpret their faith and politics mixture. But I will say this: If John McCain’s pastor had thirty second sermon quotes along Mr. Wright’s do you think there would be such leniency placed on him?

  8. >If John McCain’s pastor had thirty second sermon quotes along Mr. Wright’s do you think there would be such leniency placed on him?I think this actually illustrates a larger point – most people don’t even know who McCain’s or Hilary’s pastors are, where they attend worship, or what things the candidates may or may not have heard at any type of gathering over the past 10 years that could be construed as objectionable to others.This whole controversy is a way to play the race card without having it appear that way – so it comes under the cloak of “anti-American, hate speech, and unpatriotic.”Just take a look at similar, “unpatriotic” words coming from the lips of Jesus – words that made the government of his day eventually play their part in killing him:As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

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