Church and State

    Yesterday morning I read that the IRS is investigating the UCC because of a speech given by presidential candidate Barack Obama at general synod. It appears that the distinction between church and state may have been breached because Obama, who has always identified as UCC, accepted an invitation to give a speech to his own denomination during their general synod.  According to what I have managed to read so far, the crowd at the synod, which most definitely included a wide spectrum of political opinions, was informed and warned before Obama took the stage that the speech was not in any way campaign-related, but rather was intended (ironically, in retrospect) to address the question of “how personal faith can be lived out in the public square, how personal faith and piety is reflected in the life of public service.”  Personally, I think that is a great idea and probably was a wonderful speech.  Obama is known, at least in the circles in which I move, for his ability and desire to live out his faith through his work, and it strikes me as fitting that the UCC would call upon one of their own, an inspiring young representative of our often-times uninspiring government, to infuse the denomination and especially the youth and young adults of their denomination with a bit of hope for the future.

So then, I can’t help but wonder, what does it mean when a candidate who happens to be a person of faith is disallowed from speaking publicly within his or her denomination?

Considering the  close relationship that President Bush likes to appear to keep with Christianity in general and the religious rhetoric that he has consistently injected into not only his presidency but into the campaign that got him there, it strikes me as odd that Barack is the one who is getting in trouble.  It seems like just yesterday that discussions of Obama and faith centered on the question of his relationship to Islam rather than Christianity.

But really the point here is the sad fact that the UCC, a wonderfully hopeful and vibrant community of Christians, may be forced to pay the price for supporting one of their own.  If the IRS determines that the UCC is at fault, then they may lose their tax-exempt status, and anyone who knows anything about the church knows that the UCC cannot afford that kind of blow.

At this point, it is unclear how this is going to end up.  As for me, I can only continue to pray that the UCC and those who are affiliated with them, as well as other denominations and their memberships who will no doubt be affected by this decision, can continue to feel safe and encouraged to live out their faith publicly and to talk about it with others.  I pray that those who devote their lives to public service might feel encouraged to speak about their work with others, whether in a church or a meeting house or a general synod.  And I will continue to pray that separation of church and state will be used as it was intended rather than as a means of silencing people of faith.

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Election Fever

I admit it. I am obsessed with primary election gossip. Cnn’s “Election Center 2008” is hot-wired into my search engine history and now I only have to type the first “C” to get what I am looking for.

But I ask the question– What is it about this primary process that has me, and for that matter, that has America hooked? Why is my 18-year old brother passionate about the election?
While it seems like a cop out or perhaps a tired refrain to say “it matters now more than ever,” I think that perhaps the answer could perhaps be found by looking at the question of passion. Passion permeates the campaign, with each nominee staking their claim to “hope” and “change” in their own ways. And this time, more than ever, the candidates, at least externally, represent a great deal more of variance than they have in the past. There are evangelicals and liberal protestants, men and women, traditional and non-traditional. The fact that Huckabee is still sticking it out and WINNING states and REFUSES to bow out tells me that there is something to fight for on both sides, that it isn’t just the Democrats who haven’t made their mind up yet.

But again, I want to get back to the idea of passion. It feels as though people have woken up, or have been awakened, this year to the sense that things don’t have to be “the same old same old.” We have a choice. We have a voice. We may not be united in terms of what we want, but Americans seem more united than ever in our passion for something different, something better. We seem to be getting the message– Historically it seems that we always knew that our country is worth fighting for and perhaps even worth dying for, but we finally seem to be saying with our votes and our voices that it is also worth living for and dreaming for.

So while I may secretly hope that my candidate of choice blows everyone else out of the water and wins in a tidal wave of popular public opinion, I am grateful nonetheless to see that our country, on both sides of the aisle, seems passionate once more.