Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Jeremiah Wright Can Be a Problem or Opportunity for Obama…

March 20, 2008 by  
Filed under News, Politics, Weekly Columns

(Akiit.com) There is an adage that the most segregated hour in America is at 11:00 a.m. on Sunday morning. Therein lies the difference in reaction to the recently released videos featuring provocative statements by Sen. Barack Obama’s pastor for the past 20 years, Dr. Jeremiah Wright.

Most African Americans who view these video snippets know that they are taken out of context and can be taken with a grain of salt. Sermons by Black pastors are often filled with hyperbole, colorful language and cultural cadences. In an average year, Wright probably delivered at least 50 sermons on a variety of topics.

Meanwhile, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which Wright pastored for 35 years until he retired in February, continued to be a beacon of light to people in the surrounding community, providing drug and alcohol recovery, marriage counseling, prison outreach and other community services. As in most Black churches, the members of Trinity engage in the Christian rituals of baptism and communion, as well as baby dedications and rites of passage ceremonies. The church’s Afrocentric focus, which teaches the principles of self-reliance and self-determination that conservatives claim to embrace, is designed to build its members’ self-esteem and solve some of the intractable problems within the African-American community.

Wright himself spent six years in the military, has four earned degrees and has been the recipient of eight honorary doctorates. He is the author of several books, including two titled What Can Happen When We Pray? and Good News!: Sermons of Hope for Today’s Families. He was born in 1941, came of age during the crucible of the Civil Rights Movement and, as do many Black pastors, speaks to the pain and suffering many African Americans feel from the nation’s legacy of slavery, Jim Crow and discrimination.

Unfortunately, because few non-Black people have spent any time in Black churches, the recent video clips of Wright shown on cable news channels conjure up fears and anxieties that are, quite frankly, unwarranted but understandable. These video clips were first promulgated several weeks ago on Fox News by commentators Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly. One can only guess at their motivations, but it appears that they want to sully Obama’s image by tying him to Wright and implying that Obama shares the same attitudes that the videos portray. If successful, this could be enough to frighten the bejesus out of enough White voters to deny Obama the nomination and/or the presidency.

Among the remaining presidential contenders, all have had challenges with religious leaders who have made shocking statements. Texas televangelist John Hagee, who endorsed John McCain last month, has described Catholicism as a contributor to Hitler’s anti-Semitism and a “false cult.” On Feb. 26, McCain appeared at a rally with the Rev. Rod Parsley, an Ohio minister who is notable for suggesting that the United States should be at war with Islam. Hillary Clinton, for her part, belongs to a Methodist church that has decided to perform ceremonies joining homosexual couples.

However, since race is one of the most powerful motivators in American society, the image of a Black minister who makes inflammatory racial statements is more intoxicating than the others. For Obama, this is not an issue that will go away, nor can it be ignored.

It would be in Obama’s interest to hold a national press conference regarding his views about his pastor, his faith and his American identity. Similar to the speeches made by John Kennedy in 1960 regarding his Catholicism, and Mitt Romney about his Mormon faith, Obama must tackle this issue head on. He must be open and honest about his background, his motivations and his vision, as transparent as he was in his memoir, Dreams of My Father.

Obama’s supporters, and those who would like to support him but have questions about how influential Wright has been regarding his spiritual journey, want to hear directly from the candidate, not campaign spokespersons. We know that Obama is biracial and the product of a White mother and African father, but how did this influence his American identity? What led him to Wright’s church and what has been his experience there over the past 20 years? What are his views regarding 9/11 and the connection, if any, to American foreign policy? What are his views regarding America’s racial divide and how it can be healed?

Because of Obama’s parentage, he is not a product of generations of American slavery. He is identified as Black because American society operates by the one-drop rule: If a person has one drop of Black blood, he or she is considered Black by American standards. But because of Obama’s heritage, he is in a unique position to talk to the nation from both sides of the divide. He can actually share the points of view of both Blacks and Whites.

Going on the offensive regarding Wright’s remarks is the best way for Obama to put this issue to rest. Otherwise, it will simmer beneath the surface for the remainder of the campaign, rearing its ugly head and diminishing his message of hope, change and unity.

Written By Gwen Richardson

Gwen Richardson
13533 Bammel N. Houston Rd
Houston, TX 77066
E-Mail: grichardson@cushcity.com

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