Not since John F. Kennedy has faith played such a role in a national election as today. It is a mixed bag that touches on a candidate's value system, his/her integrity, balance between compromise and understanding of growing American diversity.
Barack Obama found this out quickly when suddenly his former pastor's out-of-bounds statements on race and patriotism emerged. Pastor Jeremiah Wright has had a huge influence on Obama's faith journey; namely his conversion, his marriage and baptism of his children.
Now his sermons of years back have become a liability. Wright, who incidentally received an honorary doctor of letters degree from Valparaiso University in 2002, has retired from the Trinity United Church of Christ, a 8,000 member congregation in South Chicago.
Perhaps the media coverage of this event and the response of Obama can become a teaching event for Americans unused to the interaction of politics, race, and pulpit. There is nothing new about that.
Eighth Century B.C. prophets railed and demonstrated against kings and country, often to their own martyrdom. Jesus was no exception as he courageously went up to Jerusalem.
Religion, at its best, should be the conscience of the state. Martin Luther King Jr. is a modern example of that prophetic purpose. The Civil Rights movement was led by the church.
Unfortunately Rev. Wright, in the African-American tradition, applied the liberal tradition of the UCC Church to America's sin -- racism. The UCC Church was formed by the merger of the congregational and evangelical-reformed churches. It is largely white and is not new to controversy.
Obama took the high road and rejected Wright's defaming of America along with racism. I have served two black interim pastorates in Gary. I learned that African-Americans do not generally celebrate "the all men are created equal" words of the Declaration of Independence on July 4 but rather the Jan. 1 observance of the Emancipation Proclamation. American slavery should be damned because it was sinful.
Obama pointed out that patriotism is often defined as dissent when it takes a wrong course. That's what prophetic ministry is all about. The black church brings with it a passion that the mainline white church could follow. Incidentally the new pastor at Trinity is an evangelical-social gospel preacher. The Rev. Otis Moss III is a new generation, far removed from the Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and Jeremiah Wright generation.
Prophetic faith may yet be the spoiler of the campaign or it can be the event that takes the campaign to a higher road. Pay attention.
Amen until next Wednesday.
The opinions in this column are solely those of the writer. Wolf is a retired minister and lives in Valparaiso. Write to him c/o The Times, 1111 Glendale Blvd., Valparaiso, IN