Did Obama's speech help him or hurt him?
In my opinion it helped him at the expense of
throwing his pastor under the bus, feeding into the media's
portrayal of Rev. Wright as a demagogue, and exonerating himself
of any culpability of being associated with Wright that makes
Obama look like the good guy and Wright the bad one.
Let me explain why...
If religion did not play such an important role
in a presidential candidate's bid for the White House, this
conversation would not be happening. But given the collapsing
of church and state since Bush came into office, the lines of
private and personal barely exist. And with the collapsing of
these two spheres, how and where and why a presidential candidate
worships or not, unfortunately, speaks to his or her electability
- which brings us to my recent piece about Obama. (see
* below for that text)
There is a particular strand of black theology
that Rev. Wright preaches. Both Obama and Wright got caught
up in a pernicious game of race-baiting instigated, no doubt,
by the right-wing media. And the game has drawn both Obama and
Rev. Wright in where neither of them wins. If one is perceived
to have won it, it's done at the destruction and denigration
and denouncement of the other.
speech on race was brilliant not only in his elocution of it,
but also in the difficult topic he had to address. He spoke
about race from a much wider lens than we hear in our everyday
discourse. And he's one of the few people of color who gets
it that white people, too, are pained by our country's legacy
of racism. However, where he fell short in his speech is that
he did it at the expense of feeding into the media's portrayal
of Rev. Wright as a demagogue. And while he denounced Rev. Wright's
statements, with attempts to contextualize their origins, he
played into the race-baiting nonetheless, at the expense of
exonerating himself of any culpability of being associated with
Wright and that make Obama look like the good guy and Wright
the bad one.
While it is true that Obama may have missed some
of Wright's sermons, it is impossible for him to have missed
them all. And even if he did, when he joined the church and
was baptized and married in it, Obama attended classes that
explained the church's mission, its theology, and its set black
Black Theology is a liberation theology in that
it looks at black suffering from the lens of the Exodus narrative
where Moses leads the Israelites out of Egyptian oppression.
Black Theology also looks at the prophets in the Bible and their
jeremiads about injustice. One jeremiad many of us know is the
Amos text we heard Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. utter when he
said, "Let justice roll down like a mighty stream."
And with biblical prophets such as Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, they
all speak about God's wrath, God cursing or damning a people
or a nation as we see in the Exodus narrative, where God cursed
with several plagues. Wright's homilies follow the tradition
of the biblical prophets that were woefully misunderstood. But
I am not saying that all that is Black Theology is good. It's
myopia around gender issues and LGBTQ civil rights is just some
of the reasons why I am not a proponent of it, which is why
my recent essay is below and why my book How the Black Church
Endangers the African American LGBTQ Community will soon
Rev. Wright is problematic on the above mentioned
issues, which is why I lifted up the voices of two of his LGBTQ
parishioners in this piece. However, in this media frenzy to
discredit Obama's electability, Wright has been the sacrificial
lamb for our country's needed public discourse on race while
excusing Obama of his active involvement with Trinity, until
he ran for office. And like any politician - black or white
- they know in order to win the black Christian vote, you go
to the black church.
In explaining his relation with Wright to the
media, Obama described him as a crazed uncle we all have in
our family. And in his address, Obama stated that he "can
no more disown him than I can my white grandmother." However,
I beg to differ. There is a distinct difference between the
biological family you are born into and the church family with
whom you choose to worship.
And so too is there a distinct difference between
telling the truth to the American public and telling us a lie.
Where Obama got caught is that he didn't think
his involvement with a supposedly Afrocentric church would weigh
in so heavily on his electability. And because it does, he has
moved forward at the expense of throwing Wright under the bus.
* If Obama Can
Throw His Pastor Under the Bus, What Will He Do to Us?
When the religious narrative you tell about your
life to the American public is revealed to be vastly different
than the one you actually lived, you have more than a credibility
problem - you have a dilemma, as Obama is finding out.
And the dilemma is not just that Obama’s religious
narrative is fictitious, but so too is the media spin on his
the moral high ground to address the public’s shock with Rev.
Jeremiah Wright’s condemnations on America’s foreign and domestic
polices appeared to be Obama’s address on race, Obama actually
ran aground with many African American Christians by anchoring
the public’s outrage and his fear of losing the presidential
bid on the back of one of this nation’s most revered African
“He’s used Jeremiah, and Trinity is his strongest
base. He handled the media abysmally, and the uncle reference
was demeaning. Many of us said we saw it coming,” a member from Trinity told
me in anonymity to not have the press come after him.
Rev. Wright was the man who brought Obama to
Christ, presided over his nuptials, baptized him and his daughters,
and was the inspiration for his bestseller, “The Audacity of
Hope.” And while Obama has now denounced Rev. Wrights’ incendiary
remarks, after twenty years of hearing them, suspicion nonetheless
still surfaces about his professed faith as a Christian.
Although religion came to Obama late in life,
and he was reared in a non-religious household, his religious
convictions, - “he say?” - were formed during his 20s at Trinity,
while a community organizer working with local churches on the
South Side of Chicago.
As a central, powerful and revered institution
within the African-American community, the Black Church captivated
Obama’s attention. He says he came to understand "the power
of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change.”
However, how much Obama really covets the power of the Black Church for his own political aggrandizement,
rather than for its religion, now raise questions in the minds
of many black Christians, since his address.
While MSNBC talk-show host, Tucker Carlson, was
the first to publicly suggest Obama's faith is "suddenly
conspicuous," suggesting that Obama has only recently begun
addressing his religious background as part of "a very
calculated plan on the part of the Democratic Party to win"
religious voters in the 2008 presidential race, the suspicion
is now looming even larger.
If Obama, however, is indeed using religion to
win votes, he unfortunately placed himself in a difficult quagmire
– not only with LGBTQ and liberal voters, but also by still
being a member of Trinity. Why? Because he worships in a conservative
black church within a liberal denomination. And Trinity is provisionally
opened to the idea of same sex marriage.
In July 2005, the UCC General Synod overwhelmingly
passed a Resolution of Marriage Equality. But in August 2005,
Wright spoke against the Synod’s position, causing many LGBTQ
parishioners to leave.
“Please tell me what is going on here? Why does
it appear we are under attack? Maybe I am reacting, but this
seems to be even from the folks we admire in the church that
black same-gender loving issues are not important. We are still
seen as gay and white,” stated a gay member of Trinity.
In the church’s magazine “The Trumpet” Rev. Wright’s
article, “Maybe I Missed Something!”, shows how LGBTQ issues
are not a priority in his present-day, prophetic social gospel,
intended to ameliorate the social conditions of all God’s African-American
“While our denomination grappled with how to
address that human problem, the denomination also, at that Synod,
voted to ordain a homosexual. Guess which item made the newspapers?
Maybe I missed something!”
And in his closing tirades on the issues, Wright
stated this: “Are 44 million Americans with no health care insurance
less important than ‘gay marriage?’ Why aren’t Black Christians
in an uproar about that? Maybe I am missing something!”
When the article came out in light of the United
Church of Christ’s stance on ordaining and marrying LGBTQ people,
it was disheartening for many to know that Pastor Wright broke
rank with his liberal denomination to stand in solidarity with
a more conservative Black Church position.
were very hurt by his remarks he made in the Trumpet article.
I wanted to know where he really stood with us on same-gender
loving issues. The chair of the same-gender family wrote
him if the church will address black heterosexism and black
homophobia. He said we have done that over the thirty years
and that his sermons should speak for his support on these issues.
In his articles he said he was not putting same-gender loving
person's down. Just showing how society only appears to be focused
on those issues and not the issues that impact Black issues.
I reminded him I am a black female out lesbian. I do not choose
to be one or the other which is all of my being,” stated a lesbian
member of Trinity
I wonder now how much Obama views on gay civil
rights are shaped by Trinity? Or, if not, does he use those
Christian views to avoid giving us our full civil right?
Or perhaps Obama is playing us as much as he
has played his pastor?!
So it is also not surprising when Obama appeared
on CNN’s “Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer, Obama stood where
his pastor does on the issue.
“Well, I think that marriage has a religious
connotation in this society, in our culture, that makes it very
difficult to disentangle from the civil aspects of marriage.
And as a consequence, it would be extraordinarily difficult
and a distraction to try to build a consensus around marriage
for gays and lesbians. What we can do is form civil union that
provide all the civil rights that marriage entails to same-sex
couples. And that is something that I have consistently been
in favor of. And I think that the vast majority of Americans
don’t want to see gay and lesbian couples discriminated against
when it comes to hospital visitation and so on.”
Many African American Christians are now suspecting
Obama of using the "race card" to win their votes,
at the expense of pitting their interests against gays.
For example, when he ran for the U.S. Senate
in 2004, Obama campaigned at the Salem
on Chicago's South
Side. It's the 22,000-member black mega-church of Rev. James
Meeks, who has called homosexuality an evil sickness. Outside
the hallowed walls of church,the Rev. James Meeks is State Senator
Obama knew to pander to his base.
news first got out about Wright's Afrocentric theology and Sunday
sermons that disparagingly speak ill of whites and Israel,
Obama began immediately to distance himself. Yet these same
sermons were not a problem for Obama when they were spiritually
nurturing him into becoming a public figure. Now Obama will
no longer continue to speak and write about the special relationship
with his pastor, because it has run afoul of his ambitions.
In explaining his relations to the media
about Wright, Obama described him as a crazed uncle we all have
in our family. And in his address Obama stated that he “can
no more disown him than I can my white grandmother.”
However, I beg to differ.
There is a distinct difference between the biological
family you are born into and the church family you choose to
And so too is there a distinct difference between
telling the truth to the American public and telling us a lie.
If Obama can throw his pastor under the bus,
what will he do to LGBTQ voters on his way to the White House?
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe is
a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. A native
of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College
and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served
as a pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard
Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. Reverend
Monroe’s Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow 365
Days a Year - Meditations on Bible Prayers will be out in June, 2008. As an African American
feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that
is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com.
here to contact the Rev. Monroe.