Race for the Whitehouse ’08
Still More Lamentations From Jeremiah
Washington Post – 4/29/08
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, explaining why he had waited so long before breaking his silence about his incendiary sermons, offered a paraphrase from Proverbs yesterday: “It is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” Barack Obama’s former pastor should have stuck with the wisdom of the prophets. Instead, Wright has gone on a media tour, climaxing with his appearance yesterday morning at the National Press Club. There, he reignited a controversy about race that Obama had only recently extinguished — and added lighter fuel. From the moment he entered the room, Wright seemed to be looking to stir controversy; he was escorted by Jamil Muhammad, a leader of the Nation of Islam, which contributed to the minister’s prominent security detail. Speaking before an audience that included Marion Barry, Cornel West, the New Black Panther Party’s Malik Zulu Shabazz and Nation of Islam protocol director Claudette Muhammad, Wright praised Louis Farrakhan, defended the view that Zionism is racism, accused the United States of terrorism, repeated his belief that the government created AIDS to extinguish racial minorities, and stood by his suggestion that “God damn America.” Far from softening his provocative words, he held himself out as a spokesman for millions of churchgoing African Americans. “This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright,” he argued. “It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African American religious tradition.” He added: “If you think I’m going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition . . . you got another thing coming.”
As Minister Repeats Comments, Obama Tries to Quiet Fray
Washington Post – 4/29/08
Sen. Barack Obama again sought to distance himself from the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. yesterday after his former pastor capped a weekend media offensive with an appearance in Washington in which he revisited many of his most controversial comments. “He does not speak for me,” the Democratic presidential candidate said as he campaigned across North Carolina. “He does not speak for the campaign.” Obama aides said Wright had rebuffed their recent offers of public relations assistance. They stressed that they had no warning about a media blitz that included an appearance with Bill Moyers on PBS on Friday night, a nationally televised speech to the NAACP in Detroit on Sunday evening and yesterday’s appearance at the National Press Club. Wright, the former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago who officiated at Obama’s wedding and baptized his two daughters, became the center of controversy after clips from some of his most inflammatory sermons hit the airwaves earlier this year. In one sermon, delivered the Sunday after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Wright said that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost” for its own acts of “terrorism.” In another, he said blacks should sing “God damn America” instead of “God Bless America” to protest centuries of mistreatment. Speaking before a sold-out gathering that was broadcast live on cable news networks yesterday, Wright told a mostly African American audience that his preaching has been misconstrued by journalists and political pundits who do not understand black religious tradition, which he said was founded amid slavery and racial intolerance and “still is invisible to the dominant culture.” “Maybe now we can begin to take steps to move the black religious tradition from the status of invisible to the status of invaluable, not just for some black people in this country but for all the people in this country.”
Obama Adds to Distance From Pastor and Opinions
New York Times – 4/29/08
If it was not clear before Monday, Senator Barack Obama said, it should be clear now: His presidential campaign has no control over what the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., his former pastor, says or what he does. “He does not speak for me,” Mr. Obama said. “He does not speak for the campaign. He may make statements in the future that don’t reflect my values or concerns.” “I think certainly what the last three days indicate is that we’re not coordinating with him, right?” Mr. Obama said. Mr. Obama made his remarks at a hastily called news conference on the tarmac of the airport here late in the day, with the engines of his campaign plane buzzing in the background. His decision to address the issue directly reflected the extent to which Mr. Wright has emerged once again as a problem for his campaign. And at a sensitive time: Mr. Obama has been seeking to appeal to white and blue-collar voters who voted in big numbers for Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton in Pennsylvania, and is trying to persuade uncommitted superdelegates to rally to his side. But for the third time in four days, Mr. Wright made a high-profile public appearance to discuss and repeat some of his more controversial statements, this time at the National Press Club in Washington. Mr. Wright suggested that the attacks of Sept. 11 were at least in part a response by terrorists to terrorism practiced by the United States abroad. “You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you,” he said.
An Angry Obama Renounces Ties to His Ex-Pastor
New York Times – 4/30/08
Senator Barack Obama broke forcefully on Tuesday with his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., in an effort to curtail a drama of race, values, patriotism and betrayal that has enveloped his presidential candidacy at a critical juncture. At a news conference here, Mr. Obama denounced remarks Mr. Wright made in a series of televised appearances over the last several days. In the appearances, Mr. Wright has suggested that the United States was attacked because it engaged in terrorism on other people and that the government was capable of having used the AIDS virus to commit genocide against minorities. His remarks also cast Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam, in a positive light. In tones sharply different from those Mr. Obama used on Monday, when he blamed the news media and his rivals for focusing on Mr. Wright, and far harsher than those he used in his speech on race in Philadelphia last month, Mr. Obama tried to cut all his ties to — and to discredit — Mr. Wright, the man who presided at Mr. Obama’s wedding and baptized his two daughters. “His comments were not only divisive and destructive, but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate, and I believe that they do not portray accurately the perspective of the black church,” Mr. Obama said, his voice welling with anger. “They certainly don’t portray accurately my values and beliefs.” One week before Democratic primaries in Indiana and North Carolina, contests that party officials are watching as they try to gauge whether Mr. Obama or Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton would be the stronger nominee, the controversy surrounding Mr. Wright again erupted into a threat to Mr. Obama’s ability to show that he could unify the Democratic Party and bring the nominating contest to a quick and clean end. With Mrs. Clinton having shown particular strength among working-class white voters in recent big-state primaries, the racial overtones of Mr. Obama’s links with Mr. Wright have been especially troublesome for the Obama campaign.
Obama Calls Minister’s Comments ‘Outrageous’
Washington Post – 4/30/08
Using his sharpest language yet, Sen. Barack Obama strived to distance himself further from his former longtime pastor on Tuesday, calling the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s comments about the United States “outrageous” and “destructive.” Laboring to contain damage to his presidential candidacy, Obama said Wright’s recent appearances had left him angry and sad. He accused his spiritual mentor of exploiting racism and “giving comfort to those who prey on hate” at a time when the Illinois Democrat is vowing to bring the nation together. And he strongly took issue with some of the pastor’s more controversial remarks. “When he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests Minister Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st centuries, when he equates the United States’ wartime efforts with terrorism — there are no excuses,” Obama said. “They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans.” Obama’s comments, delivered at a news conference here, were his firmest effort to shake the negative reaction to Wright’s statements, particularly among Democratic superdelegates and white working-class voters, two constituencies he needs in his battle with Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) for the party’s nomination. He spoke just seven days before important primaries in North Carolina and Indiana.
A Strained Wright-Obama Bond Finally Snaps
New York Times – 5/1/08
Late Monday night, in the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C., Barack Obama’s long, slow fuse burned to an end. Earlier that day he had thumbed through his BlackBerry, reading accounts of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s latest explosive comments on race and America. But his remarks to the press this day had amounted to a shrug of frustration. Only in this hotel room, confronted with the televised replay of the combustible pastor, did the candidate realize the full import of the remarks, his aides say. At the same time, aides fielded phone calls and e-mail from uncommitted superdelegates, several demanding that the candidate speak out more forcefully. As Mr. Obama told close friends after watching the replay, he felt dumbfounded, even betrayed, particularly by Mr. Wright’s implication that Mr. Obama was being hypocritical. He could not tolerate that. The next afternoon, Mr. Obama held a news conference and denounced his former pastor’s views as “divisive and destructive,” giving “comfort to those who prey on hate.” And so, with those remarks, a tightly knit relationship finally came apart — Mr. Wright had married Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle, and baptized their children. Theirs was a long and painful falling out, marked by a degree of mutual incomprehension, friends and aides say. It began at the moment Mr. Obama declared his candidacy, when he abruptly uninvited his pastor from delivering an invocation, injuring the older man’s pride and fueling his anger.
Clinton Talks to Fox TV About Obama and Wright
Washington Post – 5/1/08
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, appearing on Fox’s “The O’Reilly Factor,” called the recent comments on race by Sen. Barack Obama’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., “offensive and outrageous” and said she was glad Obama had “finally” distanced himself from Wright. “Well, I take offense” at Wright’s comments, she told the show’s conservative host, Bill O’Reilly, who flew to South Bend, Ind., for the interview. “I think it’s offensive and outrageous,” she added. “And, you know, I’m going to express my opinion — others can express theirs. . . . And people have to, you know, decide what they believe. And I sure don’t believe the United States government was behind AIDS.” Of Obama, she said: “I think that he made his views clear, finally, that he disagreed. And I think that’s what he had to do.” It was the second interview in four days by one of the Democratic presidential candidates on a television network that many liberals say is biased against them; Obama appeared on “Fox News Sunday.” O’Reilly is a frequent critic of Hillary Clinton and former president Bill Clinton, but his audience includes some of the working-class voters Clinton is trying to woo in Indiana and North Carolina.
A Clinton Religion Aide Is Careful Not to Preach
New York Times – 5/3/08
For Burns Strider, this was something close to heaven on earth. The smoke from the roasting pig was wafting over him, the Carolina sunshine was pouring down and he had a small-town preacher in his grasp. Propped against a white Chevy pickup truck with a plastic-foam plate of barbeque in his hand, he leaned in. “Brother, let me ask you this,” he said to the Rev. Ron Spears, pastor of the 150-member Faith and Power Christian Center in Dunn, a town astride Interstate 95 in southeast North Carolina. “In the black community here, is there a meth problem? I know it’s eating these towns up. My brother is a sheriff over in Mississippi, and when they get on this stuff, they can’t get off.” “Oh yeah,” replied Mr. Spears, an African-American who refers to himself as Apostle Ron. “We’re just struggling with this.” The visit went on in this vein for 20 minutes, while former President Bill Clinton addressed a small crowd 30 yards away. Mr. Strider, an aide to Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton who was touring rural North Carolina with Mr. Clinton this week, wanted to know if the pastor’s church could afford to provide him health care (it cannot), if he was bi-vocational (no, he did not have another job), if he had ties to the military (his father was a Green Beret). He did not ask whom Mr. Spears was supporting in the Democratic presidential contest. Mr. Strider is a political operator, no doubt, but this is the soft sell, the only kind he knows. Mr. Strider carries the title of senior adviser and director of faith-based operations for the Clinton campaign, but that only begins to describe his mission. A native of Grenada, Miss., he is the emissary from and to rural and religious voters, particularly in the South. His job is to close the God Gap and the Bubba Gap, helping Mrs. Clinton connect with evangelicals and veterans and Nascar fans, the kind of voters that Senator Barack Obama clumsily referred to as bitter small-towners who cling to their God and their guns in times of economic hardship.
How Inclusive is the National Day of Prayer?
Christian Science Monitor – 4/30/08
On Thursday, several million Americans will gather in special observances across the country to mark the National Day of Prayer, first inaugurated by Congress in 1952. Under the energetic sponsorship of a national task force, the events have mushroomed into the thousands in recent years. They are held at houses of worship but also schools, courthouses, city halls, state houses, and at the White House and on Capitol Hill. This year, however, voices are being raised to challenge the religiously exclusive nature of the task-force effort, which is coordinated by conservative Christians who have encouraged government leaders’ involvement in their events but rejected direct participation by other faith leaders. Jews on First, an online watchdog group on the First Amendment, has initiated a campaign for an “inclusive prayer day” that has attracted the support of interfaith and civil rights groups, Muslim organizations, and various churches, including the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles. Such groups are holding alternative services, staging protests near task force events in cities such as Fresno, Calif., and Camp Hill, Pa., or are lobbying governors in support of inclusive observances. The National Day of Prayer “has been hijacked,” says Jane Hunter, codirector of Jews on First. “Only Christian clergy are invited to participate…. And they encourage their coordinators to enlist elected officials or stage their observances on public property.” This undermines the First Amendment’s prohibition against any establishment of religion, she says. On the National Day of Prayer Official Website, the task force requires that volunteer coordinators agree to a lengthy belief statement that begins: “I believe that the Holy Bible is the inerrant Word of the Living God. I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the only One by which I can obtain salvation….” The coordinators are to ensure that only Christians conduct the events, although anyone may attend them.
Denomination Wrestles With Pastor’s Statements
New York Times – 5/3/08
Just as Senator Barack Obama has spent this week trying to stem the damage to his campaign from statements by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the small, theologically liberal Protestant denomination both men belong to, the United Church of Christ, has been grappling with the impact of the controversy upon its members. On Thursday, the Rev. John H. Thomas, the denomination’s president, posted an open letter on the United Church of Christ’s Web site acknowledging that members have been dealing with “the same broad set of emotions and frustrations that have been expressed nationwide in recent days and weeks.” Mr. Thomas said he had heard concern from members about the well-being of the church and its congregations. “While there is high regard for Reverend Wright’s ministry and leadership at Trinity U.C.C. in Chicago during the past 36 years, and for his prophetic, scriptural preaching,” Mr. Thomas wrote, “many of us today are troubled by some of his controversial comments and the substance and manner in which they have been communicated, both by him and as characterized by the media.” The letter responds, in part, to e-mail and calls to the denomination’s main office in Cleveland about Mr. Wright’s comments, a flow that has picked up since his talk at the National Press Club on Monday, said the Rev. J. Bennett Guess, a spokesman for the denomination. Other United Church of Christ ministers said Mr. Thomas, who is in South America, had no choice but to issue a statement, given how the continuing controversy has thrust the denomination of 1.4 million members into the spotlight.
The Tomah School District has agreed to permit religious expression in student artwork in response to a federal lawsuit. The Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian legal advocacy group, sued the district in March on behalf of a Tomah High School student. ADF alleged an art teacher gave the student a zero on an assigned drawing of a landscape because the student included a cross and the words “John 3:16 A sign of love.” The teacher cited a class policy that prohibited any expressions of violence, blood, sex or religious beliefs in artwork. The lawsuit alleged the student was treated unfairly because of his religion. Lori M. Lubinsky, the district’s attorney, said in a statement the policy has been in place for more than a decade. It was meant to keep gang symbols and other “negative expression” out of student artwork. “Tomah art teachers had the best of intentions when they put the original policy in place,” Lubinsky said. “They implemented the policy to keep students from being exposed to potentially offensive satanic or gang-related beliefs … the art teachers did not receive any complaints from students who appreciated the policy.” Students still will be barred from including gang symbols, violence, blood and sex in their work. But they will be allowed to express their religious beliefs as long as it satisfies the assignment criteria.
Roving Defender of Evolution, and of Room for God
New York Times – 4/29/08
For a university professor, Francisco J. Ayala spends a lot of time on the road. An evolutionary biologist and geneticist at the University of California, Irvine, he speaks often at universities, in churches, for social groups and elsewhere, usually in defense of the theory of evolution and against the arguments of creationism and its ideological cousin, intelligent design. Usually he preaches to the converted. But not always. As challenges to the teaching of evolution continue to emerge, legislators debate measures equating the teaching of creationism with academic freedom and a new movie links Darwin to evils ranging from the suppression of free speech to the Holocaust, “I get a lot of people who don’t know what to think,” Dr. Ayala said. “Or they believe in intelligent design but they want to hear.” Dr. Ayala, a former Dominican priest, said he told his audiences not just that evolution is a well-corroborated scientific theory, but also that belief in evolution does not rule out belief in God. In fact, he said, evolution “is more consistent with belief in a personal god than intelligent design. If God has designed organisms, he has a lot to account for.” Consider, he said, that at least 20 percent of pregnancies are known to end in spontaneous abortion. If that results from divinely inspired anatomy, Dr. Ayala said, “God is the greatest abortionist of them all.” Or consider, he said, the “sadism” in parasites that live by devouring their hosts, or the mating habits of insects like female midges, tiny flies that fertilize their eggs by consuming their mates’ genitals, along with all their other parts. For the midges, Dr. Ayala said, “it makes evolutionary sense. If you are a male and you have mated, the best thing you can do for your genes is to be eaten.” But if God or some other intelligent agent made things this way on purpose, he said, “then he is a sadist, he certainly does odd things and he is a lousy engineer.”
Saving ‘God’s Creation’ Unites Scientist, Evangelical Leader
Boston Globe – 5/1/08
A Nobel laureate scientist and a leader of the evangelical Christian movement walk into a restaurant. It sounds like the setup for a joke, a scenario that is screaming for a punch line that plays off the seemingly endless disagreements between faith and science. But this is a true story, and Dr. Eric Chivian and the Rev. Richard Cizik have come up with a zinger no one could expect. They went to lunch together to agree on something – the need to curb negative human impact on the Earth. And the partnership they formed that afternoon in 2005 has led this odd couple of the environmental movement to be named, today, to Time Magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people in the world. “I must admit I approached that meeting with some anxiety,” said Chivian (pronounced chih-vee-an), director of the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School, “I’m involved in evolutionary biology. I support stem cell research. I have gay friends who are married. I felt I had positions that would be at odds with his.” Cizik (pronounced sigh-zik), vice president for governmental affairs for the 45,000-church National Association of Evangelicals in Washington, D.C,, had similar reservations. But, as they point out, they were not there to discuss their differences. What brought them together is what Chivian calls “a deep, fundamental commitment to life on earth.” Together, they formed the Scientists and Evangelicals Initiative, which aims to unite the two communities to help bring an environmental message into the large and powerful evangelical movement.
U.S. Among Most Bible-literate Nations: Poll
Reuters – 4/28/08
Americans are among the world’s most ‘Bible-literate’ people and Spaniards, French and Italians are among the most ignorant about what the “good book” says, according to a new study released on Monday. A poll carried out in nine countries — the United States, Britain, Germany, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, Spain and Poland — also showed Americans were most willing to donate money to spread the message of the Bible. The poll for the Catholic Biblical Federation interviewed Christians and non-Christians ahead of a synod of Roman Catholic Bishops on the Bible due to be held at the Vatican in October. Most respondents in the poll, which was presented at the Vatican, were Christian. Except for in the United States, Britain and Russia, most of the Christians respondents were Catholic. Asked if they had read a phrase from the Bible in the past 12 months, 75 percents of American respondents said yes, while between 20 percent and 38 percent of respondents in the other eight countries said yes. The lowest were Spain with 20 percent, France with 21 percent, Italy with 27 percent, and Germany with 28 percent. Results were similar when respondents were asked if they had read a book with a religious theme in the past 12 months. Fifty-eight percent of Americans said yes. Poland was second with 50 percent and the other countries came in between 22 and 35 percent. The poll, taken by the GFK-Eurisko research group, showed Americans prayed the most (87 percent) and the French the least (49 percent).
Religion a Figment of Human Imagination
ABS News – 4/28/08
Humans alone practice religion because they’re the only creatures to have evolved imagination. That’s the argument of anthropologist Maurice Bloch of the London School of Economics. Bloch challenges the popular notion that religion evolved and spread because it promoted social bonding, as has been argued by some anthropologists. Instead, he argues that first, we had to evolve the necessary brain architecture to imagine things and beings that don’t physically exist, and the possibility that people somehow live on after they’ve died. Once we’d done that, we had access to a form of social interaction unavailable to any other creatures on the planet. Uniquely, humans could use what Bloch calls the “transcendental social” to unify with groups, such as nations and clans, or even with imaginary groups such as the dead. The transcendental social also allows humans to follow the idealised codes of conduct associated with religion. “What the transcendental social requires is the ability to live very largely in the imagination,” Bloch writes. “One can be a member of a transcendental group, or a nation, even though one never comes in contact with the other members of it,” says Bloch. Moreover, the composition of such groups, “whether they are clans or nations, may equally include the living and the dead.” Modern-day religions still embrace this idea of communities bound with the living and the dead, such as the Christian notion of followers being “one body with Christ”, or the Islamic “Ummah” uniting Muslims.
California: Decision Against Minister Overturned
Associated Press – 4/30/08
The highest court of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) has found that a Northern California minister did not violate denominational law when she officiated at the weddings of two lesbian couples. The ruling by the court, based in Louisville, Ky., overturns a decision against the minister, the Rev. Jane Spahr. A regional judicial committee found Ms. Spahr guilty of misconduct last year and gave her a rebuke, the lightest possible punishment. The church’s high court found that the ceremonies Ms. Spahr performed were not marriages, so she did not violate the church’s constitution. Ms. Spahr, 65, retired last year.
US Jewish Leaders Call for Boycott of Beijing Olympics
Associated Press – 4/29/08
A wide-ranging group of U.S. Jewish leaders plans to release a statement Wednesday urging Jews worldwide to boycott the Summer Olympics in Beijing, citing China’s troubling record on human rights and Tibet. The statement also notes China’s close relationships with Iran, Syria and the militant group Hamas. So far, 175 rabbis, seminary officials and other prominent Jews have signed the declaration, which comes shortly before Holocaust Remembrance Day on Friday, organizers said. “We are deeply troubled by China’s support for the genocidal government of Sudan; its mistreatment of the people of Tibet; its denial of basic rights to its own citizens; and its provision of missiles to Iran and Syria, and friendship for Hamas,” the statement reads. “Having endured the bitter experience of abandonment by our presumed allies during the Holocaust, we feel a particular obligation to speak out against injustice and persecution today.” Rabbi Yitz Greenberg, past chairman of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, said signers are not alleging that the Chinese government is the equivalent of the Nazi regime, but that China, like Germany in 1936, is trying to use the Olympics as a public relations tool to deflect attention from its record. The declaration was organized by Greenberg and Rabbi Haskel Lookstein of New York _ both Orthodox Jews _ and the Washington-based David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.
U.S. Trip Helped Pope, Catholic Church Image: Poll
Reuters – 4/30/08
Americans have a more favorable view of Pope Benedict and the Catholic Church after his U.S. trip but many believe more must be done to avoid a repetition of a sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Church, a poll showed on Wednesday. The poll, taken among Catholics and non-Catholics, showed that 61 percent felt the trip met or exceeded their expectations but that only 35 percent said they were more in touch with their own spiritual values as a result of the trip. The poll, called “The Papal Visit: Americans Reflect,” was carried out last week in the United States by the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion and commissioned by the Knights of Columbus, the international Catholic fraternal benefit society. It was released simultaneously in the United States and Rome. Benedict made his first visit to the United States April 15-20, visiting Washington, the United Nations and New York. One of the emotional high points was his surprise meeting with victims who had been sexually abused by priests in Boston archdiocese, the epicenter of the scandal. Fifty-eight percent of those polled said they were satisfied with Benedict’s apologies for the scandal, which he said had left the Church “deeply ashamed.” He vowed to exclude pedophile priests from the Church.
Where Wright Goes Wrong
Washington Post Op-Ed – Eugene Robinson, 4/29/08
We all have our crosses to bear. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has become Barack Obama’s. I’m sorry, but I’ve had it with Wright. I would never try to diminish the service he performed as pastor of his Chicago megachurch, and it’s obvious that he’s a man of great charisma and faith. But this media tour he’s conducting is doing a disservice that goes beyond any impact it might have on Obama’s presidential campaign. The problem is that Wright insists on being seen as something he’s not: an archetypal representative of the African American church. In fact, he represents one twig of one branch of a very large tree. It’s understandable, given how Wright has been treated, that he would want to attempt to set the record straight. No one would enjoy seeing his 36-year career reduced to a couple of radioactive sound bites. No preacher would want his entire philosophy to be assessed on the basis of a few rhetorical excesses committed in the heat of a passionate sermon. No former Marine would stomach having his love of country questioned by armchair patriots who have done far less to protect the United States from its enemies. Given Wright’s long silence, I thought he had taken to heart Jesus’s admonition to turn the other cheek. Obviously, I was wrong. I’m through with Wright not because he responded — in similar circumstances, I certainly couldn’t have kept silent — but because his response was so egocentric. We get it, Rev. Wright: You’re ready for your close-up.
Parting With the Pastor
Washington Post – Letter to the Editor, 4/30/08
LAST MONTH, during a speech on race in Philadelphia, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) repudiated “in unequivocal terms” the explosive sound bites from his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., without denouncing him or repudiating their long relationship. In a confident address that discussed in an effective and intelligent way the impact of race on American life, Mr. Obama sought to put the rights and wrongs of the Rev. Wright into understandable historical context. Yesterday was a different story. A downbeat Mr. Obama announced at a hastily convened news conference in North Carolina: “The person I saw [Monday] was not the person that I met 20 years ago.” Forcefully breaking from the Rev. Wright, Mr. Obama said: “The insensitivity and the outrageousness of the statements shocked me and surprised me.” He added that they contradict “everything that I’m about and who I am.” We didn’t join the renewed and growing chorus calling on Mr. Obama to renounce the Rev. Wright after the minister’s all-about-me rant at the National Press Club on Monday, but the candidate’s motivation is pretty obvious. The Rev. Wright praised Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, said it was plausible that AIDS was a genocidal tool of the U.S. government to kill African Americans and proclaimed that attacks on him were an attack on the black church. He also delivered a deliberate poke in the eye to his former parishioner, suggesting that Mr. Obama’s conciliatory Philadelphia speech was nothing but politics. With each defiant utterance Monday, the Rev. Wright dug a deeper political hole for Mr. Obama.
Mr. Obama and Rev. Wright
New York Times – Letter to the Editor, 4/30/08
It took more time than it should have, but on Tuesday Barack Obama firmly rejected the racism and paranoia of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., and he made it clear that the preacher does not represent him, his politics or his campaign. Senator Obama has had to struggle to explain this relationship ever since a video surfaced of Mr. Wright damning the United States from his pulpit. Last month, Mr. Obama delivered a speech in which he said he disapproved of Mr. Wright’s racially charged comments but said that the pastor still played an important role in his spiritual life. It was a distinction we were not sure would sit well with many voters. But what mattered more was the speech’s powerful commentary on the state of race relations in this country. We hoped it would open the door to a serious, healthy and much-needed discussion on race. Mr. Wright has not let that happen. In the last few days, in a series of shocking appearances, he embraced the Rev. Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism. He said the government manufactured the AIDS virus to kill blacks. He suggested that America was guilty of “terrorism” and so had brought the 9/11 attacks on itself. This could not be handled by a speech about the complexities of modern life. It required a powerful, unambiguous denunciation — and Mr. Obama gave it. He said his former pastor’s “rants” were “appalling.” “They offend me,” he said. “They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced. And that’s what I’m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.”
Praying and Preying
New York Times Op-Ed – Maureen Dowd, 4/30/08
Barack Obama has spent his life, and campaign, trying not to be the Angry Black Man. Early on, he wrote in “Dreams From My Father,” he discerned the benefits of playing against the ’60s stereotype of black militancy. “I learned to slip back and forth between my black and white worlds,” he said. “One of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved — such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn’t seem angry all the time.” Obama and his aides often brag about his Zenlike serenity. “I’ve learned that I have what I believe is the right temperament for the presidency, which is I don’t get too high when I’m high and I don’t get too low when I’m low,” he told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday.” The next morning, he was hurtled into the worst political crisis of his life. On Tuesday, the Sort Of Angry Black Man appeared, reluctantly spurred into action by The Really Angry Black Man. Speaking to reporters in the heart of tobacco country in Winston-Salem, N.C., the poor guy looked as if he were dying for a smoke. “When I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it,” Obama said. “It contradicts everything I am about and who I am.” He said that the riffs of the man he prayed with before his announcement speech give “comfort to those who prey on hate.” Obama, of course, will only ratchet up the skepticism of those who don’t understand why he stayed in the church for 20 years if his belief system is so diametrically opposed to Wright’s.
Washington Post Op-Ed – Robert Novak, 5/1/08
“That is just terrible, absolutely dreadful,” a prominent supporter of Barack Obama said Monday morning after listening to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s screed at the National Press Club. He proposed to me that the presidential candidate at long last must denounce his former pastor, unequivocally and immediately. It took 28 hours after a tepid early reaction Monday, but Obama finally did it Tuesday afternoon. Did that solve Obama’s pastor problem? Leading Democrats certainly hope so, but they are not sure. His vulnerability transcends relations with a radical preacher. If Obama comes to be seen not as a presidential candidate who happens to be black but as a black candidate in the mold of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, he will face a difficult struggle in the general election against John McCain even if he bests Hillary Clinton. The problem goes back to the reaction Obama and his strategist David Axelrod crafted about two months ago, when videos of Wright’s racist sermons first circulated. Insisting that Wright’s incendiary remarks had been taken out of context, Obama took the high road in delivering a widely praised speech on race March 18 in Philadelphia. The issue surfaced again, however, at the widely criticized April 16 Democratic debate, leading Obama to rule out further debates with Clinton. The Obama campaign thought the pastor problem had been put to bed until Wright went on his little road tour. Obama’s danger is being perceived by white voters as representing a hostile, separate culture. My friend Armstrong Williams, the African American conservative, told me, “It is not unusual to hear in many black churches the same language that Reverend Wright is being criticized for.” I raised this with NPR reporter and Fox commentator Juan Williams (no relation to Armstrong). “Not at all,” replied Williams, who also is African American. “It’s ridiculous. I never have heard that in church.”
The Real Jeremiah Wright
Washington Post on Faith – Eboo Patel, 4/27/08
What if the only thing you knew about Thomas Jefferson was that he owned slaves? What if, instead of the video of the I Have a Dream speech, elementary school students were taught that Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “My government is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world …”? What if the single piece of information you possessed about Nelson Mandela was that he co-founded a terrorist organization called Umkhonto we Sizwe (abbreviated as MK), which stands for Spear of the Nation? With apologies to William Blake, if you believe you can see the world in a grain of sand, you better make sure it is the right grain. So, how well do the twelve words we know about Jeremiah Wright define the man, the nearly four-decades of ministry, the church he built, the denomination it belongs to, the black community, and whatever else we think he might represent? Are those words the right grain of sand? The Bill Moyers interview with Wright last Friday night went a long way towards illuminating other dimensions of the man. My father – no fan of lefty politics of any stripe – called me after watching the segment with some surprise in his voice. Perhaps he was expecting Wright to cite Stokely Carmichael as his most important intellectual influence instead of Martin Marty, who is probably the most distinguished scholar of religion in America and the very model of thoughtful moderation.
Obama and Wright: The Uproar
New York Times – Letters to the Editor, 5/1/08
As a mixed-race black person whose story has been read by millions (“The Color of Water”), I have watched with angst and horror the unraveling of Senator Barack Obama’s campaign by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. and the old guard of angry African-Americans who support the Clintons and would deny our country a chance to right itself behind a leader of dignity, moral strength and intelligence. Like Senator Obama, I was raised by a white woman. As a child and an adult, I have lived in many of the same places that Senator Obama has lived in — that tight space between white and black America. Luckily for me, however, I was raised in the black church. I think the senator was naïve about the black church. He came to it relatively late in life. He was betrayed by a smooth-talking preacher whose recent behavior is a clear example of how low the black church has sunk in the days after the death of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It is heartbreaking. The senator is not the first nor the last to suffer this kind of injustice. But if he loses the Democratic nomination because of it, the injustice will have been served on us all.
Fair Play for False Prophets
Washington Post Op-Ed – E.J. Dionne Jr., 5/2/08
Do white right-wing preachers have it easier than black left-wing preachers? Is there a double standard? The political explosion around the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was inevitable, given Wright’s personal closeness to Barack Obama and the outrageous rubbish the pastor has offered about AIDS, Sept. 11 and Louis Farrakhan. After Wright’s bizarre and narcissistic performance at the National Press Club on Monday, Obama would have looked weak and irresolute had he not denounced him. But if there was a moment of courage in this drama, it was not Obama’s condemnation of Wright but his earlier and now much-criticized effort to avoid a complete break with his unapologetic pastor. In March, Obama tried to explain the anger in the black community and insisted that “to condemn it without understanding its roots only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.” In light of this racial gap, it’s worth pondering why white, right-wing preachers who make ridiculous and sometimes shameful statements usually emerge with their influence intact. The catalogue goes back to Bailey Smith, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Speaking at a 1980 religious convention that was also addressed by Ronald Reagan, Smith declared that “God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.”