Paul Greenberg

And yet for all the stirring sermons and songs I've heard at such churches, at little AME chapels in the heart of Dixie or in the majestic halls where famous gospel singers perform, not once, never, have I ever heard anyone demand that God Damn America a la the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Or try to deflect criticism by saying it's really his church that is being attacked.

How brave of the Rev. Wright to hide behind his church. As if it were responsible for his offenses. And what a slander to blame the black church for his own cheap provocations, his base entertainments offered in the guise of spiritual nourishment like stones in place of bread.

At the National Press Club, the reverend said he would "try to respond in a non-bombastic way," but of course he failed. He could no more stop being bombastic than he could stop being the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Faith? Hope? Charity? Love? His bombast obscures them all. But not till his performance at the press club had I realized the extent of his blind rancor, his addiction to empty polemics above all, his spiritual bankruptcy.

Barack Obama was quick to respond this time. He's learning. The senator said he was "outraged" by his former pastor's attempt to blame his own failings on the black church.

Not just Barack Obama should be outraged, but all Americans who understand that the black church, like the black family, is an institution and inspiration that all of us should support, for on its health depends so much of this country's. Jeremiah Wright has defamed his church, not glorified it by identifying his hateful views with his church's invaluable and eternal teachings.

In short, when Dr. Johnson famously noted that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, he may have overlooked the rich possibilities of the church.

Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.