The saga of the first family’s search for a new church home has inspired no small amount of advice from the media, some serious and some less so. EbonyJet.com journalist Eric Easter’s of the reasons why President Barack Obama should become an Episcopalian falls into the latter category.
Easter’s piece reminds me of a Seinfeld episode in which the comedian goes to confession. Seinfeld is annoyed that his dentist, Dr. Tim Whatley, has converted to Judaism not out of religious conviction but because he likes using Yiddish words and telling Jewish jokes.
“And this offends you as a Jew?” the priest says.
“No, it offends me as a comedian,” Seinfeld responds.
I’m not offended by Easter’s advice for President Obama, but I believe — as an Episcopalian — that the president can do much better than settling for the frivolous atmosphere that Easter describes. Easter’s list includes many of the worst reasons to become an Episcopalian, such as these:
- 2. None of that pesky theology stuff. “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again. Allelulia.” That about sums it up. You can fake the rest.
- 4. Catholicism without the guilt. All the pomp and circumstance and none of the confession.
Actually, you can easily fake “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.” Some bishops of the Episcopal Church say this aloud every week, but then endorse trendy theologies that affirm only the “Christ has died” portion. To be fair, Episcopalians also recite the Nicene Creed each week, which says substantially more than this threefold affirmation.
The “Catholicism without the guilt” line is clever but not true. There are plenty of guilt-mongers in the Episcopal Church. It’s just that they drone on about incandescent light bulbs and male pronouns for God instead of reflecting on the Seven Deadly Sins. Besides which, I’m a great admirer of guilt, which is an entirely appropriate emotional response to personal sin — so long as it leads to repentance and forgiveness.
If Easter believes that high-paid preachers are a rarity in the Episcopal Church, he needs to visit more Episcopal churches. Some cardinal rectors — leaders of the most-wealthy Episcopal congregations in a given diocese — are paid more than their bishops.
From my experience, Episcopalians talk a good game about justice, but too often this consists of merely writing indignant letters to Congress or to their local newspapers.
I did enjoy learning from Easter’s article that black journalists Juan Williams, Bernie Shaw, Clarence Page, Jack White, Carol Randolph and William Raspberry are all Episcopalians, and attend the same congregation.
I certainly would welcome Obama as a fellow Episcopalian, but why should he settle for an insular wine-and-cheese clique when greater Washington offers such a rich variety of churches?
I admire the plan that Obama has announced to visit churches on the other side of the cultural-elite tracks. I hope the Obamas will consider visiting the small World Missions for Christ Church in the Eastern Shaw District, which was depicted so well in a PBS documentary, Let the Church Say Amen.
For the long term, I hope the Obamas find a mid-sized church that can accommodate their security requirements but allow them to blend in without a lot of fuss. That may be impossible, but I think any serious congregation can rise to the occasion if it’s guided by some wise advice from the senior pastor.