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Blog // Thoughts
March 25, 2008

The Obama And Pastor Wright Thing

The controversy surrounding Barak Obama and his “controversial” pastor Jeremiah Wright has been one of the biggest stories of this current US presidential campaign. I would urge every thinking Christian to take the time to read Obama’s speech in response to his critics. It’s a thoughtful exploration not just of US class and racial division, […]

The controversy surrounding Barak Obama and his “controversial” pastor Jeremiah Wright has been one of the biggest stories of this current US presidential campaign. I would urge every thinking Christian to take the time to read Obama’s speech in response to his critics. It’s a thoughtful exploration not just of US class and racial division, but also a challenging exegesis of the nature of church in the context of personal spiritual biography.

In lieu of an extended comment on this controversy, I gathered some thoughtful quotes from a few of the many excellent blogposts on Obama’s response.

I do want to say that this searing, nuanced, gut-wrenching, loyal, and deeply, deeply Christian speech is the most honest speech on race in America in my adult lifetime. It is a speech we have all been waiting for for a generation. Its ability to embrace both the legitimate fears and resentments of whites and the understandable anger and dashed hopes of many blacks was, in my view, unique in recent American history.
from The Speech

“On one level, this is a statement of racial solidarity. But on another, it’s an argument that the church is the embodiment of the community it serves, with all its imperfections, which Obama bluntly describes. This is a very old, very “Catholic” idea of the church as an organic expression of “the people” as they happen to exist. It is likely to be baffling to those white Protestant Americans who think of church membership as more of a matter of consumer preference, doctrinal agreement or family heritage (none of which seem to have been major factors in Obama’s original “conversion” at Trinity UCC) and who also probably don’t understand why Obama didn’t just choose a different congregation the first time he heard something objectionable from Wright’s pulpit.”
from Obama and His Church

“…what’s wrong with afro-centric? Especially when much of Christian theology for the past 500 year or so has been ”euro-centric”. Of course we haven’t called it “euro-centric” Christian theology. We’ve just called it “Christian”. Kind of like “person” meant “white person” for many centuries. Or like “rational”, “pure”, “normal”, “clean”, “articulate”, etc. meant “white”.”
from Thoughts on Obama and Wright

“Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers (following in my father’s footsteps) rail against America’s sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the “murder of the unborn,” has become “Sodom” by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children. They say, as my dad often did, that we are, “under the judgment of God.” They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama’s minister’s shouted “controversial” comments were mild.”
from Frank Schaeffer Likens Jeremiah Wright to His Dad>

“If Obama knew of Wright’s controversial nature, why didn’t he leave the church?

This question reveals a pretty sad understanding of church: an organization one joins or leaves solely because of one preacher (or one sermon). The church is not a social club to boycott if the Word raises hackles. The church is a community of believers–the body of Christ–called together by God and seeking to worship and serve.

Membership in a particular congregation should be about that congregation as a whole–the relationships with other members, service in the community, opportunities for spiritual growth and discipleship, proclamation of the gospel in word and deeds–and overall, focused on worship and serving the Triune God.”
from Two silly questions surrounding the Rev. Wright furor

“Senator Obama’s favorite theologian is… Reinhold Neibuhr, whose long and influential career at Union Theological Seminary in New York cast a web of influence that caught up preachers and presidents alike, including perhaps most famously Martin Luther King Jr. Asked by David Brooks of the New York Times what he took away from Neibuhr’s writings, Obama said “”I take away the compelling idea that there’s serious evil in the world, and hardship and pain. And we should be humble and modest in our belief we can eliminate those things. But we shouldn’t use that as an excuse for cynicism and inaction. I take away the sense we have to make these efforts knowing they are hard, and not swinging from naïve idealism to bitter realism.” Such a perspective embodies what Niebuhr called Christian realism, a counterpoint to what he called America’s tendency to embrace a belief in the doctrine of ‘special providence,’ that is, the idea that we are a redeemer nation called to spread our light to others who struggle in darkness…

Why is this sort of perspective hard for many Americans to accept? At present, one of the overwhelming reasons is the hyper-patriotic reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001… When people buy into the rhetoric of America as innocent, as guardian of the moral high ground, as somehow beyond the pale of critique, then a Niebuhrian perspective sounds unpatriotic at best.

If someone has the view of America as innocent, and of patriotism as upholding glory of our nation’s ideals at any cost, then there is little room for a prophetic critique of the sins of the nation—slavery and the legacy of racism as a major case in point.”

from On Declaring ‘God Damn America’: Obama and Wright, Neibuhr and Cone

[tags] Obama, Jeremiah Wright, Theological Ethics, Ecclesiology [/tags]

Toni 16 years ago

One of the comments that seemed to be repeated elsewhere was that in Christ there is neither black nor white – so wright, and by association Obama – are trying to cause schism. The fundamental problem I see with this is that America is not a Christian country and regardless of wright and his opinions, Obama wishes to be elected by a people that are primarily not Christian.

Thanks for the quotes Fern – interesting reading. I am reminded again how different the US is to Europe.

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

In part I like the US, because a politician can give such a theological speech as part of a campaign. But, the flipside is that a campaign can be derailed by some pretty poor theology driving a mass reaction.

Paul 16 years ago

the whole “dam” america thang really struck a nerve – maybe it was the close ringing to islamic fundametalism etc or maybe just a media storm in a teacup?

Maybe what they need is punk? 🙂

Fernando Gros 16 years ago

Clearly the issue is not that you can’t criticise America. So it has to be something about “how” you criticise America and “who” is entitled to do it.

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