Herb Brasher sent us a note about a recent story in The State (Columbia, S.C.) about Barack Obama's visit to two local churches. The article does a quality job raising the racial issues at play -- one of the churches is predominantly black and the other predominantly white -- but the religious issues are unfortunately nearly absent from the pieces. It's important to note that these are not stories about religion per se. For the Obama campaign, the church visits are all about politics. But a reporter's job is to note all relevant issues in a story. Here's some of what Herb had to say:
I had to ask myself, if I were the pastor, would I want to give him special greetings? I think I have too much Lutheran in me to want to give special greetings to anyone, because that is not what worship services are for. The Lutheran worship service is concentrated forward on God, not on who is around me ...
That's a great question for reporters to ask: What would they think or do if they were the pastor of the church?
Here's the opening of the story. Let me be clear that I don't have a problem with the story's focus -- it's probably the most significant political issue -- but I can't help but wonder how some of the religious aspects play into the scene:
"The senator from Illinois, Barack Obama, is with us today."
Such is the greeting likely received several times a day by the junior senator from the land of Lincoln.
That Obama is considered a top contender for the Democratic Party's 2008 nomination for president rarely needs explaining.
For some perspective, I am familiar with some congregations that don't want applause in a church even after a well-performed musical performance during, say, the offertory. The theological idea behind this is that a worship service is about people focusing on and, not surprisingly, worshipping God. Applauding for a fellow human takes the focus off of God.
With that in mind, consider a pastor's introduction of a politician. Politely greeting a prominent individual who visits a church is probably just good manners on the part of the preacher, but there are theological issues to consider when congregations applaud that person.