Friday, March 21, 2008

Confessions: Freedom and Authority

The scripture for Good Friday is quite lengthy and would take up more space than I want to give it. You may look it up here: John 18:1-19:42

This scripture is the story of Jesus's being accosted by the Roman soldiers in the Garden of Gethsemane and his subsequent trial before Pilate. It includes Peter's denial that he is a disciple of Jesus.

In our nation's presidential campaign, we have a vivid example of the conflict between freedom of speech and freedom to disagree with that speech. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has exercised his freedom of the pulpit and has preached blazingly about the injustices of racism; in the Free Church tradition (which includes the United Church of Christ, the Baptists, and us Unitarian Universalists), this is normative. Our preachers have the right to say anything they feel needs to be said from the pulpit.

At the same time, the Free Church tradition honors the freedom of the pew. People listening to the words from the pulpit have the freedom to disagree, even strongly, with what is being said. If a congregation feels that the preacher is in error, it has the right to remove him/her from the position, but it cannot tell him/her what to say from the pulpit.

Religious people who are not familiar with the Free Church denominations often misunderstand this freedom and think that the people in the pew should leave the church if they disagree with the preacher. This is, of course, an option. But most choose to express their disagreement directly to the preacher and will stay with the congregation as long as it meets other spiritual needs. This is an even better option, "the loyal opposition" as it is called.

Barack Obama is in the position of disagreeing with the tone of some of Rev. Wright's words, distancing himself from Wright's positions in an effort to keep the issues raised in conversation, but unwilling to sacrifice his integrity by pandering to those who think he ought to reject his faith community, Trinity UCC.

In the Garden of Gethsemane, we read of Peter, one of Jesus' lead disciples, and how he, in fear for his life, rejected Jesus outright, denying any association. This is more the position other candidates have taken, in trying to appease critics.

In Jerusalem in those days, there was no such thing as freedom of speech; there was only the sharp sword of authority and authority could be manipulated. In this case, a man of integrity spoke his truth and those who disagreed and who feared his truth manipulated authority so that he would be silenced---by death.

This is what we commemorate on Good Friday. A man of integrity, a hero in his day, has been sacrificed for his words and ideals.


Lizard Eater said...


Jan said...

Thank you. Good words.