Obama's former pastor, so what?

Campaign 2008

Last week, Barack Obama released a statement condemning the controversial comments of his retiring pastor, Jeremiah Wright. On Tuesday he gave a speech on race in light of the controversy. My question is: What does Barack Obama have to do with the comments of an independent, fully grown pastor 20 years his senior? Who cares about Rev. Wright? Why is Barack Obama accountable for another man's words? Obama is not his clone. This is a classic case of political scare tactics intended to frighten white voters.

But this mode of political attack begs the question: What is so scary about Wright in the first place? Why are people shocked by Wright's comments? I guess most whites (liberal or conservative) have not been in many black mainline churches during Black History Month and heard the preachers of the Jim Crow generation offer reflection. If they did they might notice what should be obvious-given the context-Wright's comments are not unusual or extreme for the religious left.

Consider the generation from which Wright hails. As one of America's Jim Crow generation, Wright grew up in a legally segregated, racist America. He has witnessed and was shaped by the turmoil of the civil-rights movement. The fact of the matter is that Rev. Wright sounds exactly like many, many other black pastors of his era. And while I do not support Wright's comments, I understand why he feels the way he does.

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The new pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ, the Rev. Otis Moss III, defended his predecessor in The New York Times: "It is an indictment on Dr. Wright's ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30-second sound bite." We should not consider Wright's words apart from what they are born of. Nor should we consider it the sum of his ministry. Rev. Moss continued in his statement, highlighting the focus of Wright's ministry over the past 30 years, which included:

... places for senior citizens, day care for children, pastoral care and counseling, health care, ministries for persons living with H.I.V./AIDS, hospice training, prison ministry, scholarships for thousands of students to attend historically black colleges, youth ministries, tutorial and computer programs, a church library, domestic violence programs, and scholarships and fellowships for women and men attending seminary.

But that is Jeremiah Wright. And Wright is not running for president; Barack Obama is. Should we not be more concerned about $800 billion in new spending Obama has proposed? An exploding welfare state seems to be more of a threat to our republic than the isolated views of a retired pastor.

Anthony Bradley
Anthony Bradley

Anthony is associate professor of religious studies at The King's College in New York and serves as a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty. He is author of The Political Economy of Liberation and Black and Tired. Follow Anthony on Twitter @drantbradley.


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