Is Any Church Better Than No Church?

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was interviewed by FOXNews’ Greta van Susteren recently.

During the exchange, the host brought up the Reverend Wright controversy and how Barack Obama handled it. To which Pelosi responded:

Look, I am just glad he went to church. All these people talk about their faith and their religion, and I do not think any of them should be held accountable for everything that their pastors say in their church…

It may seem trivial, but the hidden meaning of that first sentence was not lost on Secular Coalition for America director Lori Lipman Brown, who wrote this letter to Pelosi:

… In response to a question raising concerns about the church Senator Obama had attended until recently, you replied, “No. Look, I am just glad he went to church.” The clear implication of your words is that any church is better than no church. Unfortunate comments such as this reinforce the negative stereotypes that attending church should, in fact, be a prerequisite for becoming President and Americans who do not are less fit for office.

Millions of Americans who do not attend church, and/or who do not believe in god(s), hear such words as an indictment of their choice to live differently than you and Sen. Obama. Among those Americans is Rep. Pete Stark, your colleague from the state of California who has proudly served in the Congress for twenty five years.

As the Speaker of the House of Representatives, you serve and represent this entire country in all its diversity and are one of our most visible leaders. We hope that in the future, you will be more inclusive in your public statements and more consistently represent our tradition supporting freedom of conscience for people of all faiths and none.

Who knows if a response or apology is forthcoming (I would guess “no”), but the question is interesting:

Is any church better than no church — in the public eye — even when the church might have problems of its own?

Obviously, as atheists, we would argue “no church” is perfectly fine, if not better than going to church at all. But I ask the question from the viewpoint of a religious voter.

At what point does going to church become a liability for a person running for office?


[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

  • greenishblue

    This is particularly odd given that, if I’m not mistaken, Nancy Pelosi’s daughter, the filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, is an outspoken and public atheist*. Hmm…

    * = If I recall correctly, in her documentary “Friends of God,” Alexandra asked a question of an evang. x-ian something to the effect of “what do you think of people like me who don’t believe.” Could be wrong on the content of the question, of course.

  • yogamama7

    Speaking from my conservative Christian family’s perspective, it is worse that my husband, children and I attend the most liberal mainline denomination (United Church of Christ) than if we did not go to church at all. Our pastor uses lots of the “right” words and even cites Bible verses, but we are just as “lost” as an atheist on the street.

    Keep in mind, though, that my parents are in the small percentage of people (evangelical, fundamentalist, literal 7 day Creation, global warming isn’t actually happening, Vietnam was a defensible war, voted for Bush TWICE and still think he’s doing a good job, gay-hating, etc.) for whom this would be true. I think most Americans would think any church is better than no church.

  • Skylar

    I highly doubt Americans will vote in a snake-handler anytime soon. Or a polygamous Mormon. Possibly any Mormon, just from fear that’s he’s crazy.

    I think there are definitely still limits, standards of what is “acceptable” and what isn’t. Even fundie Southerners think snake handlers are 9 ways crazy.

  • Aj

    Of course people should be accountable for what their pastor says. Obama quickly went on Fox news to and wrote a speech clearly stating he didn’t know that Wright had said the things he did. If you’re a member of a club, and the leadership starts making comments that offensive or harmful, then at some point you’ve got to use your influence to stop it, or get out.

    Obama gets it, political relationships make people accountable to what others say. It was a political relationship, Obama picked the church for votes, he praised Wright in his speeches, he mentioned he went to that church for political reasons. Obama’s membership also benefits the church.

    Obama said he would have had to have a talk with Wright had he heard those statements. It would reflect terribly on Obama if he let his pastor use his position in the church to propagate conspiracy theories that are highly damaging. Obama’s excuse was that the pastor was leaving anyway, a good one, differing from Pelosi who has made it clear that she is an amoral politician that apparantly would let her pastor say anything.

    I don’t think a candidate gets elected without a church. Going to church has an enormous cultural value in the United States. Even if they don’t go as regularly as they say, or go at all, Americans seem to put value on it. As long as the candidate says they don’t endorse the views of the church I think the church leadership can say almost anything. I think Obama could have stayed at his church and still get elected, and what Wright said was pretty bad. I think McCain could join all of the churches that he has accepted endorsements from, with preachers who say even worse things, and he would still get elected.

  • http://www.thoughtcounts.net/ thoughtcounts Z

    My guess is that Pelosi wasn’t really intending to criticize nonreligious people or members of religions that don’t worship in “churches”, so much as she was underhandedly pointing out that McCain, in spite of all of his endorsements from various religious leaders, attends church infrequently enough that it makes news when he does.

    Pretty awkward, though….

  • I like tea

    McCain, in spite of all of his endorsements from various religious leaders, attends church infrequently enough that it makes news when he does.

    I’m constantly amazed that the cognitive dissonance going on in the average Republican voter’s brain doesn’t tear it apart.

  • maria

    this seems like a bit much to me…..

  • sabrina

    My guess is that Pelosi wasn’t really intending to criticize nonreligious people or members of religions that don’t worship in “churches”, so much as she was underhandedly pointing out that McCain

    I agree. I don’t think it was an indictment against atheists, I think she was making a comment about seemingly pious Republicans, like McCain, who don’t even attend church, unless they’re in the middle of a tough election. If you read the rest of her quote, she follows it with, “all these people talk about their fatih…”. I think she was pointing out the hypocrisy of people who use religion as a political issue.

  • Beowulff

    At what point does going to church become a liability for a person running for office?

    In the current US political climate, I’d say when the church in question is a mosque.

  • http://www.coulterlewkowitz.cmo CV

    I have to agree with others that her comment was not an indictment against athiests…clearly a jab at McCain and the Repooplicans.

  • http://liberalfaith.blogspot.com/ Steve Caldwell

    For the Republicans — if the “church” is a Mosque, Mormon Temple, liberal Protestant church (e.g. UCC, Quaker, etc), or a Unitarian Universalist congregation, it would probably hurt the candidate’s chances for party nomination.

    Ethical Culture Society would hurt a GOP candidate.

    The gay-friendly evangelical Christian Metropolitan Community Church would probably hurt a GOP candidate as well.

    I don’t know what would hurt a Democratic candidate in terms of getting the nomination — perhaps attending a church that’s deeply conservative, anti-semitic, anti-gay, etc.

    The funny thing is the Republican candidates who don’t attend church,

    When I mention that to conservative friends that folks like McCain and Dubya don’t attend church but the Clintons, Al Gore, and Obama do (or did until recently in Obama’s case), the standard refrain is the GOP candidate have more authentic religious beliefs.

    My conservative friends think that the Democrats only attend church for political public appearance reasons and not out of any deep religious conviction.

  • http://mollishka.blogspot.com mollishka

    A couple of people have already mentioned this, but I don’t think she was saying that any church is better than no church; she was just pointing out that there is a difference between lip service “faith” and actually living it by dedicating time to it by e.g., going to church, which clearly many many politicians do not do. I think it was more of a statement of Obama’s honesty than anything else.

  • Graham

    At what point does going to church become a liability for a person running for office?

    When it’s the Church of Scientology!

  • cipher

    Guys – The Democrats are our friends. I don’t see any point in picking on them for slips of the tongue.

  • http://heathendad.blogspot.com/ HappyNat

    The Democrats are our friends. I don’t see any point in picking on them for slips of the tongue.

    I don’t think what she said is a big deal, but Pelosi is no friend of mine.

  • Vincent

    All I know is when I stopped attending Catholic church my mom was relieved that at least I didn’t start going to some other church. For her, no church is better than the wrong church.

  • http://http://metroblog.blogspot.com Metro

    @cipher:
    Ssssssh! Your friends might be listening.

    As to when attending church is a liability for a presidential candidate, I’d say that if he’s black and a Democrat, it’s a problem.

    At least this is what I conclude based on the tremedous time lag between John McAncient’s endorsement by John Hagee and his repudiation thereof.

    Said repudiation notably came only after someone drew media attention to the media hyporcrisy in focusing on a few controversial remarks by a black liberation preacher when Hagee and friends have a long, long history of preachin’ teh crazy.

  • http://mypantstheatre.blogspot.com bullet

    I’m guessing a Branch Davidian wouldn’t be very well received.


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