Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Outraged, Outraged I Tell You

The headlines all say Senator Barrack Obama, front runner for the Democrat presidential nomination, is “outraged.” Is his rage directed toward the occupation forces deadly assault on Sadr City? Or perhaps the hunger caused by hedge funds cornering the world’s food supply? Or maybe that the cost of health care in the USA has increased ten times faster than worker incomes?

No, these headline stories haven’t gotten much play from Obama, nor from Clinton or McCain either. The junior Senator from Illinois called a special press conference to denounce a 66-year old Chicago Black preacher, now retiring–formerly Obama’s pastor, who performed the Obama wedding ceremony–Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Obama has been trying to lose his one-time “spiritual adviser”ever since the Clinton camp stealthily circulated videos of some of his sermons. Tuesday Obama indignantly responded to Rev Wright’s Monday remarks at the National Press Club. “I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks, but what I do want him to be very clear that when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it. It contradicts everything that I'm about and who I am.”

The bitterness of Obama’s renunciation led me to look up the transcript of what Rev Wright actually said at the private club of the Fourth Estate. You can do the same by clicking here.

Reverend Wright began by explaining why he was in our nation’s capital,

“Over the next few days, prominent scholars of the African-American religious tradition from several different disciplines -- theologians, church historians, ethicists, professors of Hebrew bible, homiletics, hermeneutics and historians of religions -- those scholars will join in with sociologists, political analysts, local church pastors and denominational officials to examine the African-American religious experience and its historical, theological and political context. The workshops, the panel discussions and the symposia will go into much more intricate detail about this unknown phenomenon of the Black church -- (laughter) -- than I have time to go into in the few moments that we have to share together.”

Not being religious, I have little interest in the theological differences between competing religions. But the differences between Wright’s “Black church” and the mainstream white churches go far beyond appeals to faith. As the Rev reminded his audience, 11AM Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week in America.

Even more important than the role the Catholic church has played in Ireland over centuries of English subjugation, African-American churches have been the historic center of Black organization in the face of racism from slavery, through Jim Crow, down to today’s more subtle–and hypocritical--second class status. That’s why, even in an election year where all candidates piously proclaim “faith,” none of the movers and shakers even want to acknowledge the existence of a Black church–much less embrace it.

Rev Wright has been called “anti-American” because of his views on the War On Terrorism. Here is how he replied at the Press Club,

“Our congregation, as you heard in the introduction, took a stand against apartheid when the government of our country was supporting the racist regime of the Afrikaner government in South Africa. (Applause.) Our congregation stood in solidarity with the peasants in El Salvador and Nicaragua while our government, through Ollie North and the Iran-Contra scandal was supporting the contras who were killing the peasant and the Miskito Indian in those two countries. (Applause.)...

“Our congregation has sent dozens of boys and girls to fight in the Vietnam War, the first Gulf War and the present two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. My goddaughter's unit just arrived in Iraq this week, while those who call me unpatriotic have used their positions of privilege to avoid military service while sending -- (cheers, applause) -- while sending over 4,000 American boys and girls of every race to die over a lie. (Boos, jeers.)”

Some have called Rev Wright an “anti-Semite.” Here’s some excerpts from a question and answer about Louis Farrakhan.

“As I said on the Bill Moyers show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago, when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion. He was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter's being vilified for and Bishop Tutu's being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I'm anti- Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

“I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we're going to be build a future for our children...My position on Israel is that Israel has a right to exist; that Israelis have a right to exist, as I said, reconciled one to another...

“Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan any more than Mandela will put down Fidel Castro. You remember that Ted Koppel show where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro is our enemy, and he said, ‘You don't tell me who my enemies are; you don't tell me who my friends are.’”

Senator Obama said, “The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago. His comments were not only divisive and destructive but I believe that they end up giving comfort to those who prey on hate.”

By all accounts, Reverend Wright has been making such “divisive and destructive” comments all of his life. He has never been one to pull punches as he built a congregation that numbered 87 when he took it over in 1972 to more than 8,000 at the time of his retirement. Perhaps it is the Senator who is a different person today. The man who would be President, groomed by Oprah and Ted Kennedy, surrounded by Establishment advisors telling him who his friends and enemies are, showered with record breaking cash donations, finds the preaching against war and racism of his former “spiritual adviser” to be embarrassing.

Obama’s censure of his one time mentor demonstrates audacity. It should also signify the end of hope held by so many “progressives” that this Senator represents some sea change in American politics and race relations.