Unrepentant Minister Fans the Flames

Posted: Apr 29, 2008 12:01 AM
Unrepentant Minister Fans the Flames

WASHINGTON -- Barack Obama's fiery former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is back in the public spotlight, just when the Illinois senator hoped he would fade away.

There is no question that Wright's hateful, racially charged, disturbingly conspiratorial rhetoric from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago has hurt the Democratic front-runner. But whether the damage would derail Obama's historic bid for the presidency remains an open question.

Wright's reappearance at a time when Obama is creeping closer to the 2,025 delegates he needs to defeat Hillary Clinton for the nomination has less to do with his specious claim that his incendiary words were taken out of context and more to do with his bitterness and anger over Obama's rebuke and condemnation of his outrageous remarks.

He had laid low when his inflammatory sermons exploded into public view last month, creating a crisis for Obama's campaign which the senator dealt with in a carefully crafted address that distanced himself from the minister who preached "God damn America" and in effect blamed this great country for the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people.

But now he has returned, unrepentant, to inflict further damage on the man who has been a member of his church for 20 years, whose political prominence and success is a testament to America's enduring promise as a land of everlasting opportunity. Why?

Wright claims that video clips of his sermons were taken out of context and were unfair, unjust and untrue. "I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech" and that the sound bites were used to "paint me as some sort of fanatic," he said on "Bill Moyers Journal" over the weekend.

In fact, while the sound bites constantly shown on TV news programs often used snippets of his most outrageous remarks, his fuller statements were often broadcast as well, or were published in full in newspapers, periodicals and on numerous Web sites at the height of the controversy they sparked in March.

Obama called those statements "a profoundly distorted view of this country," saying that Wright's comments "were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity, racially charged at a time when we need to come together." Wright's statements reveal a terribly mixed-up mind harboring a hate-filled take on the fabric of America. Among his remarks:

-- "Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God," he said from the pulpit in 2006.

-- "The government gives (black men) drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," he said in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

-- "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," he said in a sermon five days after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. "We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost."

To say this is a man of contradictions is putting it mildly. In his remarks Monday at the National Press Club, he said, paraphrasing Proverbs, "It is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt."

However, "From the moment he entered the room, Wright seemed to be looking to stir controversy," wrote Dana Milbank in the Washington Post. Nation of Islam and New Black Panther Party officials accompanied him. He defended Louis Farrakhan, saying, "Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism -- not Judaism -- was a gutter religion," and he called Farrakhan "one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century."

In his own defense, he noted the good his church has done with its programs to feed the poor and his service to his country as a young man who became a Marine. But it is his words that speak for him now -- hateful, racist, unforgiving.

In Wright's world, there are no inspiring examples of black advancement that have overcome prejudice and bigotry, people such as Jackie Robinson, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Arthur Ashe and Douglas Wilder, or more recently, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice.

In the 1990s, polls showed that 70 percent of voters said they could support Powell for president. And now one of Wright's own parishioners, Barack Obama -- whose political views I do not subscribe to -- is on the precipice of being nominated for the presidency.

That says a lot about Americans and America that Jeremiah Wright refuses to recognize.