I was struck once more while reading blogs and talking with friends about Obama quitting his church that many- if not most- Unitarians never understood what the real issue was in the first place. The source of this misunderstanding is the very nature of UU itself.
Uus share a great many things- values, community, a love of good coffee. We share the humanist (small h) principle of putting our values into action, working to make the world a better place. The covenant let into the wall of my congregation begins “Love is the spirit of this church, and service is its law…” But the one thing we do not share is belief.
A Unitarian who agreed with everything he heard from the pulpit would be nervous; no two Unitarians in the entire denomination would agree with each other on everything- not even that statement. This being the case, it’s hard to understand the uproar over the things said by Obama’s pastor- “Of course he doesn’t agree with that, but so what? I disagree with my minister over a lot of things! They’re just trying to play the patriotism card or the race card.”
But a “John 3:16” Christian is very different. They don’t share “values”; they share beliefs. Beliefs are the only way to heaven, the only thing that matters. They do not fellowship for the purpose of doing good works; indeed, the Baptists- I know, I was raised one- actually warn against “trying to buy your way into heaven with good works”. To them, good works are the result of salvation, not the cause, and none of the good you’ve done in your life will save you if you don’t believe.
No such Christian, therefore, would stay in a church where he had any serious disagreement with the Pastor in any matter of faith or interpretation of scripture. If a lot of his fellow congregates agreed with him, he’d call for a vote to dismiss the Pastor- I know, I have witnessed such proceedings more than once; if not, he’d leave to find a congregation or denomination he’d more compatible with. That’s why there are so many different denominations to begin with.
This is why Obama had to quit his church. Some fundamental Christians will believe that he did it for political reasons only, but others will give him the benefit of the doubt, believing that he was tempted to stay as long as he did because he had friends there… but once having his nosed publicly rubbed in what was being preached there, staying would have been a public declaration to many tens of millions of Christians of his agreement with it, by their lights. Even if he were not running for President, becoming a public figure removed the option of staying with a church whose Pastor he disagreed with, no matter how comfortable he’d been there.