The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has taken Barack Obama's critically acclaimed race speech in Philadelphia, ripped it into bits and tossed it in the air to serve as confetti for his parade through the media.
In that speech, Obama said Wright had been taken out of context, a defense the pastor has made himself. If only we knew the true Wright, Obama complained, instead of just "the snippets of those sermons that have run on an endless loop on the television and YouTube." In his interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, Wright said the playing of his sound bites was "unfair," "unjust" and "untrue."
Then cometh the good reverend to step all over the out-of-context defense in a speech at the National Press Club. He defended his "chickens come home to roost" statement about 9/11 in exactly the same terms as in his original sermon: "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you." He stood by his damnation of America and his contention that the U.S. government had created AIDS: "I believe our government is capable of doing anything."
For good measure, he dishonestly denied Louis Farrakhan's infamous denunciation of Judaism as a "gutter religion" and called him "one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century." The more Wright talked, the more he sounded like a Christian Farrakhan.
Near the end of his majestically awful performance, he corrected reporters, telling them that Obama "did not denounce me. He distanced himself from some of my remarks." About this at least, Wright was sober and precise. "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community," Obama said in Philadelphia. At the Press Club, Wright similarly insisted that the attacks on him were an attack on the "black church."
Obama and Wright thus slander both the black community and black church. As Stanley Kurtz of the Ethics and Public Policy Center reports in the latest National Review, Trinity United Church of Christ "is arguably the most radical black church in the country." Its black liberation theology has been rejected by mainstream black churches, a source of frustration for its adherents. This theology is at the root of all that Wright says, so the "context" is as radical as his highly publicized fulminations.
James Cone, the founder of black liberation theology, forged a worldview mingling Malcolm X-style revolutionary black nationalism and Third World Marxism with prophetic Christianity. He calls it "a theology which confronts white society as the racist anti-Christ." In a war against "white values," black pastors must -- as Wright has -- reject "white seminaries with their middle-class white ideas about God, Christ and the church."
When Wright came to Trinity Church in Chicago in the 1970s -- invited to give the worship a more black inflection and foster stronger ties to the community -- the middle-class parishioners who had beckoned him left when they got a dose of his radicalism. The national United Church of Christ denomination considered distancing itself from the Wright-led church. Yet Obama came -- and stayed.
In search of an identity and a community, Obama found it in Trinity, where he was converted by Wright's signature "Audacity to Hope" sermon and its black-liberation themes of the suffering of blacks merging with that of the ancient Israelites (not to be confused with today's condemnable Israelites). Obama can't be begrudged his youthful initiation, but remaining at the church for two decades? Wright is a canker on his candidacy, raising questions about who he really is and about his honesty.
In a slippery dance, Obama maintains that he was thoroughly shocked by Wright's original radioactive statements and hadn't heard him say such things, although he did hear other (always carefully unspecified) "controversial" things. The threat to Obama as the paladin of the "new politics" is that, as he dodges and distances on Wright, people will come to agree with his former pastor's newly dismissive evaluation: "He says what he has to say as a politician."