Barack Obama continues to face controversy over his association with Rev. Jeremiah Wright because his comments about the provocative pastor have been contradictory, evasive, misleading and unsatisfying. The issue will begin to dissipate only when the Senator gives better answers to better questions.
Here are some of the Wright (and right) questions for Obama to address:
1. You’ve recently suggested that Pastor Wright has already acknowledged that he spoke inappropriately from the pulpit, and this acknowledgment allowed you to continue as a member of his church. On ABC’s “The View” (March 28, 2008) you commented: “Had the Reverend not retired, and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people, and were inappropriate, and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn’t have felt comfortable staying at the church.” Since Wright’s made no public statements of apology or regret concerning his controversial sermons and articles, does your comment indicate that he’s apologized privately to you? Would you urge him to make a public apology or correction or clarification? If not, is it because you believe his misstatements weren’t serious enough to demand it?
2. You’ve repeatedly spoken of Wright’s “outrageous” or “offensive” remarks, but never specified which specific comments you had in mind. Where, precisely, did Wright go wrong?
3. Do you agree with Pastor Wright (and with many other leaders in the African-American community) that black people suffer disproportionately from drugs and AIDS because of a government conspiracy? If not the government, who is responsible for the vastly higher rates of HIV and serious drug abuse in the black community? Does it help empower the Black community to blame the government for self-destructive choices and behavior?
4. For at least ten years during your membership at Trinity United Church of Christ, official church policy emphasized a “Black Value System.” The Church website declared: “These Black Ethics must be taught and exemplified in homes, churches, nurseries and schools, wherever Blacks are gathered.” As the child of a bi-racial couple, and a candidate who promises to unify the country, did you ever feel uncomfortable by the insistent and prominent emphasis on “Black Values” and “Black Ethics” – rather than values and ethics that were American, universal, or even Christian? How would you characterize “black ethics” as different from the ethics that your white neighbors follow? What aspect of “black values” did you receive in your entirely white upbringing – raised by your WASP mother and grandparents? Would you feel at all uncomfortable if a potential running mate affiliated with a church that pledged undying loyalty to “white values”?
5. In the teaching of Reverend Wright and his adult education classes, as well as the Sunday school of his church, there’s a major emphasis on the Black identity of Jesus Christ. The stained glass windows at the church identify Jesus with the dark skin tone of sub-Saharan Africa. To your church, the racial identity of Jesus matters a great deal. Does it matter to you? Do you personally believe that Jesus was black?
6. If you don’t think he was black, have you done anything to correct the misimpression your little girls would have received in church?
7. If you think it’s true that Jesus was black, then you obviously believe that most Jews of First Century Judea also looked like today’s Africans. If that’s true, do you agree with Minister Farrakhan that Twenty-First Century Jews and Israelis are imposters and interlopers with no ancestral connection to the Holy Land, and that black Africans represent the true Israelites and Chosen People? Do you believe that your many Jewish supporters would feel comfortable with this religious vision?
8. You have commented elsewhere that you consider Hamas a terrorist organization (as does our government) and wouldn’t negotiate with these Islamic thugs and killers. In this context, are you comfortable with Reverend Wright featuring a pro-Hamas manifesto on “The Pastor’s Page” of the church newsletter (July 22,2007)? This anti-Israel diatribe was written by Hamas official Mousa Abu Marzook, an indicted terrorist conspirator currently believed to be a fugitive in Syria. Do you agree with Reverend Wright’s positive labeling of Marzook’s column as “A Fresh View of the Palestinian Struggle”? Do you also agree with Dr. Wright’s practice in the church bulletin (July 8, 2007) of using quotation marks to identify “the ‘state’ of Israel”?
9. Given your recognition that some of the statements and positions of Reverend Wright count as “offensive” and “outrageous,” aren’t you surprised that none of your fellow church members alerted you to those explosive declarations until recently? If you heard nothing about discomfort and indignation over Wright’s extremist views doesn’t it suggest that the entire church – not just its former pastor – is actually on the political and religious fringe?
10. When did you first become aware of the radical and anti-American views of your pastor? If you knew nothing about them, then why did you cancel plans for Wright to participate in your announcement of candidacy more than a year ago – in January, 2007?
11. On “The View” you suggested that people have received the wrong idea about Pastor Wright. “What you have seen is a snippet of a man,” you said. “Imagine if somebody compiled the five stupidest things you ever said and put them in a 30 second loop that was played every day for two weeks.” Obviously, Pastor Wright doesn’t agree that the now notorious sound bites are among the “five stupidest things he ever said” – otherwise, he wouldn’t have proudly sold DVD’s of such comments, and he would have promptly apologized for them. Have you explored your obvious divergence in viewpoint with Pastor Wright – explaining why you consider his remarks “stupid” and inquiring why he won’t acknowledge them as such?
12. You have said repeatedly that you are a “devout Christian,” and pray every day. How has your faith evolved – particularly regarding the Black Liberation Theology endorsed by Trinity – since you joined the church two decades ago? As President, would you continue to worship at Afro-Centric churches which promote this theology, and would you invite your pastor to participate in the Inauguration and other state occasions?
Questions like those listed above could help Obama come to terms with the core of the controversy he continues to face. The dispute involves far more than a few random, out-of-context by an eccentric clergyman. It centers, rather, on questions of world-view, of philosophy, of core values. The American people have a right to wonder whether the world-view and “black ethics” of a flamboyantly radical church reflect the personal philosophy of a potential president.
If not, then the long-term association of that candidate with the church in question raises profoundly disturbing questions about his authenticity and character.