Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wild And Crazy Wright

I was going to write again about the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Obama's pastor in case you haven't heard (How could you not have heard, since there have been more than 3000 stories about him?) , but Rmj at Adventus has done such a masterful job of following the story, that I won't even try. I know certain of my readers want it all here, but I must send you over there for the story. He covers all the bases that I would, plus some I'd never have thought of.

From Adventus:
Indeed, I was going to start out saying I think they're actually jealous of Wright, because he refuses to acknowledge the the status quo is "okay," and that politics alone will cure whatever else might ail us. That is certainly not consistent with the stance of a Jerry Falwell or a Pat Robertson, a James Dobson or a John Hagee. As radically right wing as those public preachers might be, they understand one thing that the pundits understand too: the real power is in politics, not the pulpit. Richard Wolffe pointed out on Countdown last night that there is "real tension" between Obama and Wright, tension Wolffe attributed to jealousy on Wright's part. It's a daring leap of psychoanalysis, but a leap of faith TeeVee pundits are quite comfortable with and accustomed to making. After all, everything in politics is about the pursuit of power, and everything that matters in America is political. Right? (My emphasis)

Yes, that's the conventional wisdom. Wright wants to be the main black man, the new Al Sharpton, but Obama is in the way, so Wright is deliberately sabotaging Obama's campaign. Obviously, I'm not joking.

I recommend that you read Rmj's latest post on the subject, too. He writes long, but he writes good. Even the black commentators and columnists are outraged by Wright. Sadly, Obama joins the crowd:
But after watching three days of Mr. Wright’s commentary in televised speeches and interviews, Mr. Obama said, “there are no excuses.”

“They offend me, they rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced,” he said. “That’s what I am doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.”

Now, Wright is Obama's "former pastor". Excuses for what? This distancing from Wright will not help Obama with those who believe Wright is wild and crazy, and those of us who believe that Wright is one of the sanest men around think less of Obama for it. I know I do.

Here's a little something that Rmj doesn't have. It's from "The Talk of the Town" in the April 28, 2008, issue of The New Yorker (no online link):
Surely she [Hillary Clinton] must remember that when her husband's sex scandals threatened the survival of his Presidency and their marriage, the Clintons summoned the clergy (including, by the way, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright).

If you care to read Wright's wild and crazy speech to the NAACP National Press Club, here's the link at The Atlantic.com

UPDATE: Rmj at Adventus strikes again! Another long post, but another good one. I'll quote the final question from the talk at the National Press Club:
MODERATOR: OK, we are almost out of time.

.... And we’ve got one more question for you.


We’re going to end with a joke. Chris Rock joked, “Of course Reverend Wright’s an angry 75-year-old black man. All 75-year-old black men are angry.” Is that funny? Is that true? Is it unfortunate? What do you think?

WRIGHT: I think it’s just like the media. I’m not 75.



[RMJ:] Yeah, nobody made a soundbite out of that, either. Why am I not surprised?


  1. I think the Adventus post summed up the entire issue in their last statement: "Politics really is all that matters; to some people."
    When you are running for president, you are one of those people.

  2. Jim, I am truly perplexed by all the fuss in the media. Do I inhabit another planet? I suppose I do.

  3. Mimi -- I have thought ever since all the to-do over Michelle Obama's comment (that she was "finally proud .. ") that many white Americans (both liberals and conservatives) are profoundly uncomfortable to be confronted with the very real facts that:

    1. Black Americans do not think every thing is hunkey dorey, and

    2. Black Americans are not deeply grateful to White Americans for the progress that has been made. (And that should read HAD been made since the Supreme Court today effectively reauthorized poll tax).

    The current mess about Rev. Wright is part of that discomfort. Exacerbated, I must confess, by AIDs conspiracy theories -- which are weird but understandable given an American history that included the Tuskegee "study" wherein black men were (unknowingly) infected with syphilis.

  4. John McCain actively sought John Hagee's endorsement - and got it. This is the same Hagee who calls the Catholic Church the 'great whore' and calls for us to bomb Iran in order to satisfy his thirst for the 'end times'. There has been precious little comment about this from the media.
    It is all about race, and a lot of 'progessive' whites just found their excuse not to vote for a black man.

  5. Mimi, you already know I have a very different opinion of Wright.
    He made a lot of valid points in his history of the black church, but then he said this: "I call our faith tradition, however, the prophetic tradition of the black church, because I take its origins back past Jim Cone, past the sermons and songs of Africans in bondage in the transatlantic slave trade." Taking it back that far means taking it back to Africa, to a time when there black pagans and black Moslems but no black church.

    And his affirmation of Cone is also telling: Cone's theology is essentially the Nation of Islam written with a Christian vocabulary. There's a reason Wright admires Farrakhan: the two of them believe the same things. And Cone's theology is not a theology of hope and reconciliation. It's the very reverse: it's a refusal to be reconciled and refusal to hope. And it's based on an idea that is poison to the American idea--namely, that because blacks are born black, they are born victims of white racism, and therefore born inferior with no real chance of escaping their fate. For all its pretence at 'liberating' blacks this sort of theology is only interested in keeping them as victims--because if they stop being victims they won't need liberation any more. It's got nothing to do with the gospel of Isaiah 61, or anyting that Jesus told the apostles to preach.

    His "different is not deficient" is not wrong in principle. In a slightly different form it's one of my personal mottoes,and it's a favorite idea in among us neurodiverse people. But he applies it wrong. (His idea that oral tradition is especially linked to Africa is completely wrong, for instance, which is what I was trying to point out in my blogpost.) People do have inborn learning styles, but it's not linked to race or culture or gender. I'd bet that if you examined yourself, Grandpere, your children and grandkids, you'd find two or three different "learning styles" in your own family.

    Of course, a lot of the fuss is created by the media and the Republicans. The Republicans know that on the issues they can't present any decent alternatives to the American people, so to win they have to make up fake issues, like they've done in almost every election since they slimed Dukakis with Willie Horton. But I think that if Wright truly cared about electing the first African-American president of the US, he'd understand the need to keep himself out of the limelight for the next few months, and say nothing that could be taken out of context while he bided his time. He can do all the defending he needs to do for himself starting the first Wednesday in November. Instead he chose to do it now, when it would do the most harm to Obama.

    [BTW, that link is to the National Press Club speech on Monday morning, not the NAACP speech on Sunday night.]

  6. The Wright business shows up the Clintons and, after today's press-conference, Obama, for the ruthless power-junkies and whores they are. What the hell do the politics of a candidate's ex-minister have to do with anything? If I were black, I'd have a whole lot more to say about white folks than Jeremiah Wright - a man who, unlike many, did not chicken out of Vietman - has said, at least publicly.

  7. And his affirmation of Cone is also telling: Cone's theology is essentially the Nation of Islam written with a Christian vocabulary.

    Kishnevi, I'm sorry, but this is so inaccurate I can't let it stand. I've read almost everything Cone has written, I teach his theology, I've heard him speak, and first of all, he is a Christian not a Muslim, and serious Christian with roots in the A.M.E. church (the oldest of the historically Black denominations), and second, what he does is not a Christian version of the Nation of Islam, which has an entirely different theology not only from Christianity but from mainstream Islam. Cone's work is heir in many ways to that of Howard Thurman, author (among other things) of Jesus and the Disinherited who talk about viewing Jesus --and thus formulating a theology-- from the perspective of those who have "their backs against the wall."

    Read Cone, I beg you, with some care, and also in context.

    Cone is also helpful in helping us understand some of his predecessors --read his Malcolm and Martin in America-- and the older traditions of African American spirituality --see his The Spirituals and the Blues. This in addition to his early book (which angered a lot of people) Black Theology and Black Power and many others. He is one of the major Christian theologians today. Black Theology is our own (U.S.) homegrown Liberation Theology, and it emerged in fact exactly at the same time as Latin American liberation theology and has since entered into dialogue with this theology.

    Cone has also been instrumental in dialogue among theologians from around the Third World, particularly in the context of EATWOT, the Ecumenical Association of Third World Theologians, and in dialogue between theologians of the Northern and Southern Hemisphere.

    Cone is worth a careful read and a careful listen. Did you see his interview on Moyers last fall re: the cross and the lynching tree, at the time of the Jena episode? I posted the link to my blog back then.

    Is it his anger that makes you respond to him as you do?

  8. Kishnevi, have you heard of Christianity aculturated to a particular society? Have you heard of Celtic Christianity? The Celts were pagans, but many aspects of the Celtic culture were adapted into Christianity.

    Did you know that there were Christians in Africa from the earliest history of the church?

    Surely you know that there were Christians in the Middle East from the earliest times. The ME is the cradle of Christianity.

    There are folks who want to make Obama a Muslim. Have at it. He has said over and over that he is a Christian. Why not take him at his word?

    Why are you fixated on those two sentences in Wright's speech on learning styles? Wright is an ordained minister the United Church of Christ and has been for 30 years. Is he a Muslim, too?

    Wright is not a politician. His message is that of a pastor. He says what he chooses to say when he chooses to say it, perhaps without regard to politics. Don't believe everything you see on the tee vee.

    Did you note that the Clintons called Wright in for help, and yet in the campaign, she said she would not have him for her pastor? Something is not right there.

    Thank you for the correction on the location of the speech. I fixed the post.

  9. SusanKay, it's the fear of the angry black man that spooks even the "good" and "not angry" black men in the media.

    The Tuskeegee experiment would tend to make African-Americans suspicious. Think about the sorry state of sex education in the US. That could be thought of as a conspiracy. Also, the government's persistence in calling HIV and AIDS a gay disease long after it was proved to be otherwise did nothing to reduce its spread.

    And to imply that a man who served six years in the Marines is unpatriotic is the lowest form of slime.

    Jane, thank you for your enlightening comments on Cone. I saw the interview with Bill Moyers on the cross and the lynching tree, and I thought it was powerful.

    I often think of how the story of the God's deliverance of the Isrealites from slavery in Egypt must resonate completely differently with African-American Christians.

  10. Mimi, I don't think that Obama is anything but a Christian. I'm a libertarian, so there is plenty I don't like about his ideas of how things should go, but I hope he does become POTUS, if only because that's the only chance we have of returning to a sane relationship with the rest of the world. Madame Clinton certainly wouldn't, and not just because of the sort of duplicity you noted in this post.

    I'm fixated, as you word it, on that point about learning styles because Wright is so wrong there, and wrong on a point that anyone who's taken more than one semester of literature in college should realize is wrong. And a message that is wrong on a simple fact is almost alays wrong in other ways. If it wasn't wrong in deeper ways, it would be right about the facts, too. By the facts ye shall know them, so to speak. (And on a less consequential fact: the early Church in Ethiopia and Nubia, and North Africa, had no impact on West Africa, where the ancestors of American slaves came from. Christianity came to West Africa mainly through Anglican and Nonconformist missionaries in the 19th century.)

    Wright mentioned that how we see God filters how we see everything else. Apparently however he sees God, it makes a filter in which blacks must always be the victim, and that's poison. Obama offers reconciliation precisely because Obama recognizes that you can't always be the victim if you want to succeed.

    I don't intend to belabor the point any more. This is really just a side issue on something that we agree on the fundamental points.

    But I'll remind you that clergy can be politicians by a very prominent example of someone who is (or thinks he is), a certain person generally known as the Archbiship of Canterbury.

  11. Apparently however he sees God, it makes a filter in which blacks must always be the victim, and that's poison.

    Kishnevi, I just don't see Wright doing that. I see him preaching a message of hope and reconciliation. I also see his church doing a great deal to help those in his congregation and those in the neighborhood lift themselves up from hopelessness and poverty. We shall agree to disagree on this issue.

    If Rowan Williams is a politician, then he is most inept. I doubt that he thinks of himself in that role.

  12. I watched the Q&A session at the National Press Club and was amazed. If Wright had set up to harm Obama, he could not have picked a better way to do it. The floor tables were packed with Wright supporters, who continually yelled and interjected comments. The press was relegated to the balcony. The real question is who arranged this appearance. Answer that, and you will discover how political power was played.

  13. Ormonde, I did not watch, I only read the transcript. Wright surely seems to be making political trouble for Obama, that's for sure, but I still don't get it. I guess I'm the one from another planet. I honestly don't get it.

  14. I watched the Q&A session at the National Press Club and was amazed. If Wright had set up to harm Obama, he could not have picked a better way to do it.

    I've watched pieces of it, and read the transcripts. If Wright is perceived as trying to hurt Obama, I guess that's what he was doing.

    However, if Wright is perceived as defending his position (and we must recall he didn't seek this spotlight by promoting his sermons on YouTube; that was done to him, not for him), then his comments take on a different tone altogether.

    All a matter of the framing.....

  15. A correspondent for the Los Angeles Times writes that "an ardent longtime booster" of Hillary Clinton set up the Wright show at the National Press Club. She was also seated next to him. See http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/04/wrightsetup.html. As a longtime observer of Louisiana politics, I am naturally suspicious, and I'll bet James Carver was somewhere in the background.

  16. The link didn't print. It's http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/washington/2008/04/wrightsetup.html.

  17. I'll try again, breaking it into three lines:

  18. Ormonde, perhaps Wright's appearance could be part of a vast Clinton conspiracy to bring Obama down. Why does no one in the media mention that the Clintons brought Wright in to counsel them in their time of trouble? The media must be in on the conspiracy, which would not surprise me one bit.

    What we see here is not really about Wright or even about Obama, but it's about the sick, sick state of the media in the US.

    Your second link doesn't work, either. Here's another try that appears to work.

  19. Here's my very brief take: I wouldn't have chosen Obama or Hillary myself, because of the very things that are going on now. If we'd had Al Gore in the White House the past eight years, fine, let's have a little fun. But things are too dire.

    Regardless of whom is fomenting the Wright media blitz, Obama is going to have withstand more than this if he gets the nomination. I wish he'd stick to his guns. (Sigh.)

  20. PJ, neither Clinton nor Obama was my first or my second choice.

  21. Oh, I know. My comment was directed at the whole wide world. :)

  22. This definitely has Clinton fingerprints. One of the guests on Chris Matthews tried to broach the subject yesterday, claiming that it was a Clinton supporter who arranged the thing. I was only half listening - I will try to get more info.
    Interestingly enough, I talked to two friends this morning who are McCain supporters and they believe that it is a non-issue. Both made the comment that he should not have to answer for what someone else said. Politics is indeed a dirty business.

  23. Jim, if Obama is the candidate, it will be an issue. The Republican machine will throw everything at him. Anything more you find out, let me know.

  24. If Wright is an issue for Obama then james Hagee (gays are responsible for Hurricane Katrina) should be an issue for John McCain.

    Hilary is trying to destroy Obama and doesn't care if she takes the party with her. She sounds more and more like McCain. Scary.


  25. IT, absolutely. But it seems that what we have here is a double standard, one for Democrats and another for Republicans. And perhaps even a further division of standards among the Democrats, one for Obama and one for Clinton. The media are out to get Obama.


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