Obama and Wright: the Best Thing Written So Far

My friend Jim Bennett is a Presbyterian minister who teaches American Religious History at Santa Clara University, here in the Silicon Valley. Jim’s area of expertise is race and religion in America, which makes him uniquely qualified to comment on the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s former pastor.

This morning the San Jose Mercury News ran an opinion piece written by Jim that is, in my opinion, the very best bit of writing on the issues surrounding Barack Obama and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. If you read nothing else on the subject, read this essay.

Yesterday, Jim and I had lunch together in downtown San Jose at a Vietnamese hole in the wall called (and I’m not making this up) Duc Phuc. Hearing Jim talk about Jeremiah Wright and about Obama’s recent speech on race has left me convinced that we are living in momentous times, witnessing what may prove to be a pivotal point in the history of race in America. Never before has so prominent a politician spoken so candidly and forcefully about race in so public a manner. Thanks to YouTube, Obama’s speech is being watched by millions of viewers. What Barack Obama said on Tuesday may not get him elected President, but it certainly has to potential to change American forever.

Jim and I were classmates at Princeton Theological Seminary. After seminary, Jim went on to earn a PhD at Yale. Having Jim as a friend has instilled within me the conviction that everyone should be friends with an historian. Historians are able to frame current events within historical context in a way that provides us with the wisdom of ages.

Click here to read Jim’s piece in the Mercury News. Then come back and leave a comment on this website.

3 thoughts on “Obama and Wright: the Best Thing Written So Far

  1. Those who think this is the best thing written thus far about the Obama-Wright matter need to read rather more widely.

    Bennett writes about the historic traditions of black churches. OK. But “historical amnesia” on Obama’s part and a “racial double standard” at work in questioning Obama’s continued association with Wright? Prove it.

    “John McCain’s religious supporters have received little scrutiny…” So what? Has McCain’s pastor, for instance, said incendiary things from the pulpit? Has he or she referred in any very derogatory way to a Supreme Court justice, or to the Secretary of State? If the answer is yes, then McCain should be questioned about that. But given the liberal bent of most of the mainstream media, I doubt such is the case. If it were, I have no doubt such would have long-since surfaced during McCain’s 18-year tenure in the senate and his presidential run in the primaries four years ago.

    Then there’s totally irrelevant and erroneous Jerry Falwell/Pat Robertson canard. Irrelevant, because neither man is, or was, McCain’s pastor. Erroneous, because the views of both have been thoroughly wrung out in the media in past years, and Robertson’s views were held up to scrutiny when he was running for the GOP nomination a few years back. Note also that Mike Huckabee was thoroughly grilled on his conservative theological views earlier in the primary season and before he withdrew.

    Finally, we have this astonishing closer: “…like his forebears, Wright’s preaching is an affirmation of relgious and democratic ideals and a call to uphold them. The uproar over Wright’s preaching is not because he is wrong, but rather the uncomfortable realization that he is right.”

    Amazing. What, exactly, are the religious and democratic ideals that are being upheld by Wright’s assertions — from the pulpit, and repeatedly — that HIV/AIDS are a white conspiracy against black America? Ditto, his comments about Clarence Thomas and Condoleeza Rice, and his sexual crudities about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky?

  2. Bill,

    Perhaps the biggest problem I have with those who would use Wright as a political club against Obama (and I’m guessing it’s OK to include you here) is that I see no attempt to understand the African American Church context. It’s all reactionary. There’s no honest, thoughtful inquiry into what was going on or into back story.

    That’s what I appreciate about Jim’s piece. Even if you don’t agree with his final conclusion (that Wright may be right), you must appreciate his knowledge. Who else is reminding us that the words of Jeremiah Wright fall within a venerable tradition that includes Fredric Douglass and Martin Luther King.

    And as for the rude bastardization of Condoleezza Rice and Clarence Thomas’ names, or the gesticulation after mentioning Bill and Monica, let’s be honest. This sophomoric, rude behavior, but must it be so great a political liability? Does this behavior raise to such a level of ugliness that a man must leave a church whose pastor engage in it?

    I’m willing to bet that Obama has encountered greater immorality in the Senate, yet no one expected him to resign!

    Regarding Wright’s belief that AIDS was given to African Americans by the US Government, etc, I still haven’t see original source material, but he was wrong about that. He bought into a conspiracy theory. So he was wrong. Does that make him evil? Is it hateful to be wrong? I don’t think so, and there is no evidence to suggest that Obama shares this incorrect views. None.

    And Bill, there is a double standard here. Bottom line: white Americans tolerated Jerry Falwell even though he blamed 9/11 on abortionists and homosexuals, and they tolerate Pat Robertson even though he said Hurricane Katrina was God’s way of punishing the Crecent City’s tolerance of Gays and Lesbians. But when Wright suggests that 9/11 came as a result of America’s long history of violence (he was speaking of human retribution, mind you, not divine) conservative White people have a fit. This is a double standard.

    True, neither Pat Robinson, nor Jerry Falwell is or ever was John McCain’s pastor, but he has been glad to have their endorsements. And while it now would be political suicide for any politician to preach at Trinity UCC in Chicago—even though Wright retired more than a month before this scandal broke—Republican presidential candidates regularly speak at Bob Jones University, despite the fact that African Americans were not allowed to attend that bastion of Jim Crow until the eighties, and as far as I know interracial dating is still against the rules at BJU. White Americans seem to be very comfortable with racism so long

    Furthermore, it was considered unfair and unkind for his rivals to ask questions about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, regardless of the fact that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints didn’t accept Blacks into full membership until 1979, this based on a theological belief that they were Ham’s cursed descendants and were not, therefore, fully human.

    What I see happening here is that Obama’s political opponents are making way too much political hay of this. They are pandering to the racism that still lives on strong among American Whites. And they are willing to sacrifice “our more perfect union” in the process.

  3. Hey Ben!

    Thanks for all the positive feedback on the blog! Its nice to see your friendly face on the internets….

    Good post, it has been crazy how much attention this whole pastor-Obama issue has gotten! Your friend’s article was a needful reminder for me of history…. he preached at Foothill once when I was home visiting I think, btw.

    Oh.. one more thing. I tagged you on my blog. Don’t thank me, thank Bruce Reyes-Chow. He started it. It’s up to you to finish though 🙂 Enjoy!

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