Church Can Be Model for Obama Team, McCurry Says

January 23, 2009

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

Jan. 22, 2009 | WASHINGTON (UMNS)


President Barack Obama is ushering in a time of "great awakening," and faith will play a big role in his presidency, said former White House press secretary Mike McCurry.


"We are rediscovering a prophetic big-based voice on the left, on the center left, to match what I think has been common on the religious right for some time," he said in an interview with United Methodist News Service. "The Democratic Party and the progressive side of our political movement moved away from religion and politics during the 1970s and 80s."


McCurry served as press secretary under President Bill Clinton and is a member of St. Paul's United Methodist Church in Kensington, Maryland.


The United Methodist Church can be a resource for the new administration and serve as a role model for creating an environment in which people from different perspectives can work together, he said. The church is in a position to help as the country faces difficult problems.


"We are about making disciples for the transformation of the world, and you can't transform the world unless you get in the middle of it and roll up your sleeves," he said. "I think The United Methodist Church is prepared to do that."


Testing faith

Obama knowingly took on controversy from both the right and the left when he chose the Rev. Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, a United Methodist pastor and civil rights leader, and Bishop Eugene Robinson, the first gay pastor in the Episcopal Church, to take part in his inauguration.


"I think that shows that Barack Obama is willing to test his faith and test the faith of his supporters and ask people to really reflect and bring new questions into the public dialogue. I think that is very, very encouraging," McCurry said.


The United States has had a partisan, polarized political culture because of a breakdown in trust between the right and left, he said. Obama understands that and is pleading for people to set aside some of their traditional differences.


Offering hospitality

McCurry led a Jan. 19 workshop at Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church on "the risky territory of politics and religion." It was the holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., which came one day before Obama's inauguration.


Workshops, learning experiences and service projects were sponsored by 40 United Methodist churches in the Baltimore-Washington Annual (regional) Conference as part of the "Be the Change You Want to See" initiative to mark the inauguration.


Professors from Wesley Theological Seminary led other workshops, which covered such topics as addressing racism and creating a color-blind church; how Christians should respond to the new administration; and environmental justice.


During his workshop, McCurry quoted from King's "Letter from Birmingham Jail," written in 1963 to white moderate church leaders. In the letter, King remembered a time "when the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion: it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.'


Often today, as in King's time, church leaders are consoled by the church's silence, rather than shaken up by the "God-intoxicated" Christians who disturb the peace and speak truth to power, McCurry said.


Profound challenges

As a senior statesman, McCurry said he has been helping "from the sidelines." He said his advice to Robert Gibbs, the new press secretary for Obama, is "don't take yourself too seriously. Don't forget your sense of humor.


"These are very profound challenges our country faces, but you've got to enjoy the job that you're in and make this a time of joyful and humble servitude to our country,' he continued. He added people around Obama seem to be enjoying themselves so far.


One dimension of the inauguration is the "palpable excitement of young people," McCurry said. Young people are excited about the promise of change. They don't consider themselves strongly liberal, strongly Democrat, they are just pro-Obama, he said.


"I think they are very excited by the get-it-done, yes-we-can attitude that they think Obama has brought. I think they will draw a lot on that type of generational change as they tackle some of these problems."


*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tennessee. Melissa Lauber, editor of UM Connection, the newspaper for the United Methodist Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference, contributed to this story.