I’m not a particularly religious person, but even I can’t really imagine what it’s like to feel forced to turn one’s back on the family church.
Hillary Clinton’s repeated claims that she would’ve left the Trinity church Barack Obama attended never seemed to be anything more than the typical hollow Clinton political statement — calculated for the moment and devoid of any sincerity. But it must have been far more painful for Obama to sever that 20-year relationship than the moment of political opportunism that Clinton’s continued goading would’ve made it seem.
I grew up Catholic as a member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Auburn, Nebraska. I was lucky as a kid to have two great priests — men who took their roles as priests seriously, but also loved and supported their congregation. It wasn’t until the second one retired several years ago — and I encountered his replacement — that I really started actively disliking visiting that church.
The Lincoln Diocese is known for its political conservatism. And 1st District Congressional Representative Jeff Fortenberry is friends with several prominent Catholic families in Auburn. So there had been an increasing amount of politics involved in church activities, but it was largely just due to active church families taking an active role in helping with a campaign they believed in.
But I remember sitting in church with my parents and my then-fiancé after the November 2006 elections, which put Democrats in charge of Congress and saw an amendment allowing stem cell research narrowly pass in Missouri. The priest stood up there and gave a sermon not indirectly claiming it was a sin to vote for Democrats. Every implication followed — Democrats do the devil’s work; to vote Republican is to carry out God’s will; etc. He particularly condemned Missouri for their sinful votes, which especially offended my Missourian wife.
She comes from a diocese in Missouri where the priest openly welcomes Protestant visitors at mass, giving them instructions at the beginning to help them feel comfortable. I come from a diocese in which a priest read a note from Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz at a wedding, blaming all the Protestants in attendance for the divisions in Christianity.
I’ve been disgusted with a lot about my hometown church and diocese in recent years, but in no way would it be easy to just turn my back on it. That church is where my parents were married. It’s where my sisters and I were all baptized and confirmed. One sister was married there and the other soon will be. My grandpa’s funeral was there. We have our issues with the priest (like being told we do the devil’s work for voting our conscience, for example) but membership there is about so much more than placing some figurative stamp of approval onto the political views of the priest.
And so I can’t imagine what it’s like for Barack Obama to have to turn his back on a 20-year church membership. He’s someone to whom faith is clearly very important. Anyone who stands up and acts like that should be an easy act clearly hasn’t been part of that type of a community.