So now the forces of white-wing intolerance are decrying the Afrocentric intolerance of Jeremiah Wright, the pastor at Barack Obama’s church. And the old guy (one of those crazy-charismatic preachers in the call-and-response improv tradition of the black church) has gotten the boot from Obama’s campaign.
It’s about time. It was almost a year ago that I read in the NYT about Obama’s connection to Wright. Why has it taken so long for this to blow up? From what I can gather, the messages that have created the uproar are these:
1. America is a terrorist, racist state.
2. Islamic terrorism against the U.S. is thereby justified (“chickens coming home to roost”) even if it’s wrong.
3. White American oppression of blacks and other minorities is the root of all evil.
4. Hillary is just another rich, white person and can’t understand the African-American experience any better than McCain can.
5. “Not God BLESS America--God DAMN America.”
That last one, of course, is the one that has right-wingers foaming at the mouth.
Obama was on all the cable news shows last night, doing damage control, and I also saw Wright himself on Sham Hannity & All-Bland Colmes. Here’s what I took away from those interviews:
1. Wright is a scholar (he deftly, articulately dismantled criticisms of liberation theology) and a pretty sharp guy, considering how stupid the stuff is that he’s been saying to wind people up over the last five years or so.
2. Obama repudiates these particular messages but not Wright himself. He says that would be like kicking an uncle out of your family because you disagree with him.
3. Obama says Wright is the guy who “brought me to Jesus, brought me to church,” and that he married the Obamas and baptized their daughters. He also says Wright was about to retire when Obama first caught wind of some of these statements. Apparently, this is why Obama hasn't left the congregation.
4. Obama claims that he’s never been present in the church when this kind of message has been delivered by Wright or anyone else, and that if he had, he’d have expressed his disagreement then and there. He says it’s a social justice ministry, and that all he’s heard coming from the pulpit is talk about “Jesus, faith, and helping the poor.”
5. This won’t end here.
If Obama gets the nomination, I bet there'll be 527 groups all over this issue, and at least one of them will land a Swift Boat punch. I really think this crap could be the undoing of the most amazing political moment since 1968. If not, if he survives this, it’s yet another stunning accomplishment by the calmest, fastest-learning man in politics.
Part of me thinks: See how stupid religion is? Look what happens when people stop doubting and get too sure of their own sense of what’s righteous and what’s not. And part of me thinks, isn't religion great, that it can so infatuate people with the noise of their own passionate truths, they don't even pay attention to how stupid they sound? And part of me thinks it could be worse. The preacher could’ve been Fred Phelps.
In his first book, Obama eloquently describes the moment when Wright won him over, with the “Audacity of Hope” sermon (which gave Obama the title for his second book), making a connection between the struggle of the poor with Biblical stories of faith, perseverance, and salvation. As profound and defining as that moment may have been for Obama, the truth is, I wish he’d remained a skeptic.