Shuck and Jive

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama Speaks Truth

Barack Obama showed his stuff, his cool, and his fitness for office in his speech today. He stuck by his pastor even as he criticized his inflammatory language:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

As such, Reverend 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 to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS...."I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can disown my white grandmother.

And he gave the American people the opportunity to take the high road.
"We have a choice in this country . . .," Obama said. "We can tackle race only as spectacle – as we did in the OJ trial – or in the wake of tragedy . . . We can play Reverend Wright’s sermons on every channel, every day and talk about them from now until the election, and make the only question in this campaign whether or not the American people think that I somehow believe or sympathize with his most offensive words. We can pounce on some gaffe by a Hillary supporter as evidence that she’s playing the race card . . .Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, “Not this time." (read more)
I like this guy. It was inane to lay his pastor's words at his feet and make him either claim ownership for all of them or to deny his church and his heritage. Anyone who is a member of a congregation knows this. Every preacher knows this. Every person who has feelings for other people know this.

This speech was a history lesson. A lesson we need to learn, white and black.
This whole business may hurt Obama. It could cost him the votes of the shallow. Regardless, he is a better man than all those who want to attack him for what his preacher says. He spoke the truth today. The truth with eloquence and heart.

He may not win this election. But for what it is worth, he gained an admirer.

h/t Witherspoon


  1. My thought is that most people just don't "get" black preaching - at all. White folks do not preach power, and when we do, it's still not the same because we are not coming at it after years of oppression. So was Wright a bit over the top? To while folks he was down right offensive. But to his flock, I am sure he spoke truth to power. SO this is a book more Christians on the complaint circuit need to read:

    And then we can talk more about why black preaching speaks of justice in such powerful and unadulterated language.

  2. I liked the speech too, Pastor Shuck. I think it was mature and well-thought-out. Did you know Obama is a fan of Emerson?

  3. Oops... Here is the link to the book again. It's by Cleo LaRue.

  4. As in Ralph Waldo Chris? I am not surprised after having read Cornel West's take on Emerson in The American Evasion of Philosophy!

  5. Thanks for the link, Drew. I remember Cleo at PTS. I think you are correct about getting it.

    Chris, I didn't know that, but I like him better already!

  6. Drew,

    What do you mean by speaking truth to power? C'mon, brother. Is the US govt. responsible for introducing HIV/AIDS to the black community as a part of some racist plot.

    Did we deserve 9/ll? I could not believe the number of folks laughing and cheering in Rev. Wright's church after the death of thousands of innocent people in N.Y. city.

    As far as I'm concerned this hateful man should not even be preaching from the pulpit of any Christian church.

    God have mercy! What is wrong with the UCC?

    BTW, my husband, and I for sometime were part of a racially mixed congregation that was involved in tons of inner-city ministry, and social outreach.

    We never heard this type of racist, and hateful preaching from the pulpit. If we had, our family would have been out of there yesterday.

  7. Grace, the United Church of Christ is a mostly-white Protestant church that traces its roots to the Congregational churches of the northeastern US. There are some theological differences and governmental differences between the UCC and the PC(USA) or ELCA, but worship styles are similar (the UCC is probably closer to the ELCA than to the PC(USA)).

    That having been said, it is a remarkably diverse denomination by design. There are UCC churches like Trinity that are mostly black and have a history of traditional black preaching styles. It's a beautiful history that calls on both the traditional Christian and African elements.

    What we've been seeing replayed endlessly on TV is less than 60 seconds of preaching from over 30 years worth of material from Rev. Wright. Any pastor would be horrified to have a couple of heated remarks played in this way. However, Wright was still wrong to say them from the pulpit.

    Obama's speech was brilliant and answered a lot of questions (as well as asking some very good new ones). No, he didn't throw his pastor under the bus, just as most of us wouldn't. He didn't leave the church his faith was born in for political expediency, just as most of us wouldn't.

    I hope we can put this sorry affair behind us and REALLY get to tackling the tough questions about racism in America.

  8. "What we've been seeing replayed endlessly on TV is less than 60 seconds of preaching from over 30 years worth of material from Rev. Wright. Any pastor would be horrified to have a couple of heated remarks played in this way. However, Wright was still wrong to say them from the pulpit."

    It's been said elsewhere, but I don't remember where. What we're *really* seeing here is that the far right couldn't adequately play the race card against Obama. He's not scary enough. So, they found a way to link him to what they've decided is a much more effective "scary black man" so they can more effectively make race an issue.

    They probably were looking for links between Obama and some gangsta-rapper, but figured this was good enough. Plus, now they get to play the "He's not Christian enough" card too.

    Don't get sucked in by that kinda crap, Grace.

    BTW, the Pulpit is not the Holy of Holies. People can and should say what they're moved to say there, even if it's wrong. Our God has a pretty wide-open free speech policy. :)

    And of course the very folks who are making this an issue are hypocrites. I've heard much worse about LGBT people coming from their pulpits. Where is the outrage about John Hagee's endorsement of McCain?

    Race is indeed a real issue, but I'm not about to listen to a bunch of old, straight, white guys tell me how I should think about it, which black people I'm allowed to talk with about it, and how those people are allowed to feel about it. Since when did a bunch of old, straight, white guys become the experts on race and what is and is not acceptable dialogue about it?

  9. Alan,

    Do you know think that the Rev. Wright and Pastor Hagee have tons in common?

    To my mind, they are the opposite sides of the same intolerant coin.

    But, I can agree that I wouldn't hold Barack Obama, or John McCain responsible for the teaching of either.

    Pray for the church.

  10. One important difference (among many):

    Jeremiah Wright, for all his faults, is a deeply spiritual man. He brought Barack Obama to the Christian faith, married him to Michelle, and baptized his children. They have a long relationship, and the pastoral love that Wright showed Obama was crucial to the young man who never knew his father.

    I hate it, but there are some pretty rabid racists in my extended family. I still love them. I may want to throttle them sometimes, but I still love them. I think Obama made the right choice in not disowning a veritable family member in his time of trial.

    On the other hand, John McCain has no prior relationship with John Hagee or Rod Parsley, but actively sought out their support, knowing ahead of time their, well, "interesting" records.

    There's a difference there.