Theologian Marty's "Pew-Game"

In the Christian Century of 06 May is an article entitled Pewless by Martin Marty, with this as the opening statement, "This spring a certain Christian layperson has been criticized for not exiting his local church when he disagreed with something his pastor preached." Obviously, Marty was referring to Barack Obama, 20-year congregant at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, pastored until this year by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, whose shrill denunciation of this country, complete with vivid exposures of his rants in the media, especially on all major TV channels, have been much in public view this year.

On his personal Web-site, Marty is described thusly, "Marty is one of the most prominent interpreters of religion and culture today. Author of more than 50 books, he is also a speaker, columnist, pastor, and teacher, having been a professor of religious history for 35 years at the University of Chicago." Also on the Web-site, along with a listing of his earned Ph.D, is a list of 75 honorary doctorates he has received, an average of one per year since his was five years old. Octogenarian Marty suggested an imaginary board-game for congregants (using pews instead of icons) to play with respect to the way they react to a given preacher's sermons. He posited 10 situations and then noted the reactions and consequent moves among the pews, including exiting, to be expected/executed…or not.

Marty's intent was to purge Wright and Obama of the baggage they carry, the former for claims so outrageous as to be exponentially racist and on the fringe of lunacy, and the latter for apparently at least not disagreeing by his constant presence rather than finding another church. Marty has made the claim, as well as Obama, that in his attendance at Wright's sermons he never heard the stuff Marty calls "sound-bites" that have been presented over and over everywhere, including the Internet. Indeed, in an hour-long interview on PBS with Wright on 25 April, Bill Moyers, while himself trying to purge Wright using powder-puff conversation, made the monstrous mistake of reproducing the preacher's remarks "in context," meaning that his screaming performances were lengthened and enhanced to the point of disbelief. Moyers must have been on something…not milk, either.

Marty mentioned or touched on such subjects as preaching about the prosperity gospel; the preacher "not wearing a United States flag over her robe;" avoiding controversy; the scriptural justness of wars fought by the U.S.; good news to the poor; "secular humanists, Islamofascists, rappers and anyone other than standard-brand heterosexuals;" "gospel-rooted living;" few seconds of strident, edgy language; sinners throwing the first stone; and letting a few angry words trump clergy acts of kindness. It was a kind of slap at Wright's detractors that was less tongue-in-cheek than accusatory toward those who have also heard Wright but heard something Marty didn't. The subjects speak for themselves, favorites when valuing the liberal positions of each over those of conservatives.

It's probable that in academia Wright's railings are far more widely accepted than in the general public. This is true, also, in some religious denominations, those that are liberal in both religious and social matters, caught up more in political correctness than anything else. Even at that, it's hard to understand why someone as highly esteemed as Marty in the religious area would persistently attempt to make Wright credible, notwithstanding his connection with Wright as his one time pupil and his recent statement in The Chronicle Review of 11 April 2008 condemning the Wright-approved award to Louis Farrakhan and the charge that the government invented AIDS and then plagued the black community with it. Apparently, even Wright-admirer Marty was compelled to say something.

Wright's church is a part of the United Church of Christ denomination, with Bill Moyers a fellow adherent. In its national synod in 2005 in Atlanta, the United Church of Christ became the first mainline Christian denomination to support same-sex marriage officially when its general synod passed a resolution on affirming "equal marriage rights for couples regardless of gender." Since same-sex marriage is outlawed either constitutionally or by legislative fiat, or both, in nearly all the states, not to mention the Congressional passage of the same thing in 1996, one wonders how Wright, Moyers, and Marty approach this subject legally but, more importantly, as a religious matter.

According to CNSNEWS.COM of 03 March, Obama approves of same-sex unions (not called marriages) as in line with Christ's Sermon on the Mount, though Christ didn't mention it. Hillary Clinton takes the same position, though probably not for the same reason. In both cases, the practice of homosexual behavior is condoned, even encouraged, though the scriptures vehemently condemn this behavior in both Testaments. In 2004, according to the National Council of Churches Yearbook, the UCC was comprised of 5,850 churches; by 2007, that figure had dwindled to5,567, a drop of 5% in just three years, with an 8% loss of total membership. Apparently, a lot of UCC folks walked out (though not Wright's church), individually and by congregations. Just as a common-sense, practical matter, homosexual behavior is aberrant, abhorrent, filthy, and unnatural. To condone it in any was is to flout both law and scripture.

In what pew does this leave Marty, if any? Obama, after being forced to make a speech after the blanket airing of the so-called "sound-bites" and an awkward, stumbling press conference following Wright's weird, racist address to the National Press Club, has finally roundly condemned the rants of Wright. Marty hasn't, at least across the board, so he's in limbo with the lib elitists, especially in academia, not where a theologian of his stature should be.