Down on the Farm -- The unwritten pact
Sometimes you can't win. Just when the Democrats finally find a candidate who's seen the inside of a church, people decide they don't like the church.
Oh my goodness, how adamant people are that Barack Obama condemn, denounce, renounce, disown, disbar and reject his somewhat over-the-top minister.
Did you ever think a politician would try to prove that he wasn't in church on a particular Sunday?
But since when are parishioners responsible for what is said in the pulpit of their church? Since when do church people agree with everything their pastor preaches?
People should realize that Barack Obama is merely part of a long and honorable American tradition of attending church but ignoring what the pastor says when you don't like it.
If people got up and walked out every time a pastor said something a little crazy, most churches would be empty.
In fact, many pastors say crazy things just to provoke, and you can imagine why. When you see people nodding off, what better way to wake them up then to rage on about some evil that's ruining the world?
Even my favorite Republican, Mike Huckabee, himself a preacher, came to the defense of Barack Obama's minister Jeremiah Wright. "Cut him some slack," Huckabee said this week.
Huckabee knew enough to get rid of all the tapes of his sermons before he ran for president.
You never hear the people who now scour Wright's sermons for political incorrectness protest when Rev. John Hagee calls the Catholic church the "whore of Babylon," or when Pat Robertson condemns a Pennsylvania town to a natural disaster for voting in a school board he didn't like.
As a rule, preachers--at least the white ones--are free to blame lesbians for hurricanes, accuse the pope of being the antichrist, predict the end of the world next summer -- whatever it takes to keep the people in the pews inspired and generous. That's the nature of the business.
In 1981, I heard a preacher at camp predict that the world would end in 1988. He had us convinced. We all cried and hugged and promised to change -- and then forgot completely about it. Needless to say, we're still here.
Even in large institutional churches, most members take clerical pronouncements with a healthy grain of salt.
A good-sized chunk of Catholics, even those who attend church, ignore the church's teachings on birth control and myriad other dogmas -- and thank goodness.
The Lutherans aren't much different.
In the 1940s, there were many movements to ban alcohol in small towns. The local Lutheran minister often led the charge. They preached against booze from the pulpit and wrote editorials in the local papers.
Yet, when the Lutheran voters pulled the curtain shut on the voting booth, two out of three of them voted for booze. It must have driven those poor ministers nuts!
Along came the 1970s. The Lutheran ministers gave up on the booze thing and got big into El Salvador, Nicaragua, world peace and nuclear disarmament.
That left-wing agenda got the same response as the temperance talks: blank stares from the sturdy Scandinavians in the pews.
Yet, did they up and leave? Did they storm out the door every time the minister preached against American foreign policy? Nope, they sat like statues until the table grace was sung.
In fact, about the only thing that really stirs things up is when the parishioners find out that their pastor doesn't believe that Noah actually built an ark, or that Jonah was actually swallowed by a whale, or that a rapture is going to happen soon like they say in the Left Behind novels.
For that reason, most mainline church pastors have the good sense not to break the news to their congregation that they don't take biblical miracles and prophecies literally and don't view Leviticus as a rulebook for modern living.
When such divisive issues come up, usually at ecumenical meetings that attempt to heal doctrinal splits and make everybody one happy family, things usually degenerate into a food fight.
To keep the peace, many ministers have an unwritten pact with their congregations: You ignore what I say and I'll ignore what you do.
Now let's all go downstairs for some coffee.