(Obama sets the record straight on Race, Religion, and his Pastor)
Having absorbed all of the calumny, reprobation, and histrionics I can stand regarding Barack Obama, Trinity United Church of Christ and its former Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, I can be silent no more.
Having failed to make the manufactured Farrakhan smear stick, Obama’s tormentors have succeeded in distorting Jeremiah Wright into his horrifyingly racist doppelganger.
First, let me say that Barack Obama’s “denunciation” of some of Dr. Wright’s justifiable indignation about America’s hypocrisy regarding race, war, and Hillary Clinton, left a bad taste in my mouth, a very bad taste indeed.
Obama, the Junior Senator from Illinois, has labored mightily to run a campaign which focuses on that which unites rather than that which divides because it is a reflection of the way he has lived his life and made his career as an organizer, lawyer, state legislator, senator, and presidential candidate. He hasn’t always met that goal. His unequivocal support of Israel’s indiscriminate bombing of innocent Lebanese civilians in 2006 and his failure to adequately address the Clinton campaign’s deliberate and repeated attempts to racially polarize Democrats reflect his craven accommodations to America’s racial hypocrisy.
A sistah named Cassandra from Michigan emailed me saying, “For the first time I don’t care whether or not he wins if he must shed his spirituality and dilute his soul to neutralize the stench and sting of truth that so many White Americans refuse to acknowledge…The hypocrisy and denial of how racism is destroying the integrity of working class and poor American blacks, whites, Latinos, Arabs and Asians is the seam that is dividing and will eventually shred the Democratic Party.”
Americans talk a good game, but in the end, as Jesse Jackson before him, he is being held to a racist double standard that previous white Presidents and Presidential Candidates were not held too.
Barack Obama’s religious affiliation with Trinity United Church of Christ is an affirmation of his own bi-racial heritage as the son of a Kenyan and white Kansan. To say that his membership in the United Church of Christ, a predominantly white denomination created in 1957 from the Congregational Christian Church and the Evangelical Reform Church is somehow suspect or racist is both ludicrous and false.
Trinity United Church of Christ is both integrated and welcoming of all people-including gays and lesbians. When Hillary Clinton’s denomination, the United Methodist Church, sent conflicting signals over the issue of homosexuality and restricting the role of gay clergy and the ability of gay congregants to have their unions blessed in the Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ went in the opposite direction in affirming its covenant with gay clergy and parishioners. Years before then, Wright established an AIDS ministry and a singles ministry for gay and lesbian congregants.
Lisa Miller, writing in Newsweek said, “As a leader, Wright defied convention at every turn. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune last year, he recalled a time during the 1970s when the UCC decided to ordain gay and lesbian clergy. At its annual meeting, sensitive to the historic discomfort some blacks have with homosexuality, gay leaders reached out to black pastors.”
“At that session, Wright heard the testimony of a gay Christian and, he said, he had a conversion experience on gay rights. He started one of the first AIDS ministries on the South Side and a singles group for Trinity gays and lesbians—a subject that still rankles some of the more conservative Trinity members, says Dwight Hopkins, a theology professor at the University of Chicago and a church member.”
Given the hatred and venom spewed forth in too many black pulpits toward black gays and lesbians, Dr. Wright stands out as enlightened, inclusive, and welcoming. But he would have to be in order to grow the church from 80 to 8000 members in three decades. Dr. Wright is the opposite from the bitter, angry, and bigoted portrait the corporate media has fashioned.
Come on, people. Do you really believe that a “black racist” would choose a 90% white denomination in which to plant his flag or are you just some kind of a damn moron engaged in a typical form of racist projection. I defy anyone to name one integrated, gay-friendly, mainline, protestant, predominately African American congregation you’ve ever stepped foot in where you’ve experienced hatred. I know damn well that nobody can because there is no such thing. Are you seriously scared of a moderate, bi-racial politician who bends over backwards to be inclusive, mainstream and non-threatening? Please.
Don’t fall for the right-wing attack campaign launched by Fox News and its corporate mimics.
Obama’s rise to prominence has been swift but it is not unlike that of another little known state politician who rose to prominence over thirty years ago, Jimmy Carter. Carter, you’ll recall was a born-again Baptist layman who also made common cause with all people regardless of race, religion, or background in order to heal the nation after Watergate. During the first months of his presidency in 1977, his home congregation, the Plains Baptist Church, of Plains, GA, forced out Pastor Bruce Edwards, because he sought, with the support of the President, to integrate the church.
During the waning days of the Presidential campaign, a black minister and “publicity seeker,” Rev. Clennon King, challenged the official policy of the church forbidding “Negroes and other civil rights agitators,” from membership. I find no record of the firestorm of criticism we see regarding Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright. Nobody called on him to resign his membership or denounce the racially prejudiced people with whom he had lived his entire life.
Plotting a middle ground, the church, following Carter’s lead, denied Rev. King membership. The final straw, however, came after Pastor Edwards and his wife adopted a half-Hawaiian child. According to the President’s brother Billy, it was bad enough that the pastor was a liberal integrationist, but adopting the “tan-skinned” child was “99 per cent of the preacher’s problem,” wrote Margaret Montagno in Newsweek.
The Plains Baptist Church subsequently changed its policy in word, but not in deed. Nicholas King, writing in the New Republic said, “The ‘opening’ of the Plains Baptist Church was achieved last fall under the leadership of the Carter family…But there was opposition to the opening from the church’s old guard, and the only black face in the congregation the Sunday Jimmy Carter first returned to Plains as President belonged to a Secret Service man.” After he left the presidency, Jimmy Carter left the church and joined with former Plains Baptist Church members at Maranatha Baptist Church. The small congregation of 135 opens its doors to 12,000 visitors a year to hear the President teach Sunday School. A few years ago, Carter also left the hopelessly right-wing Southern Baptist Convention.
According to the Los Angeles Times, during the 1980 presidential campaign, in the midst of a conservative tide taking over the Southern Baptist Convention, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention, Bailey Smith, proclaimed, “God almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew.” Again, nothing was heard from the media calling on President Carter to renounce the convention of which he was a member or for then Governor Ronald Reagan, who had addressed the same gathering of evangelicals in Dallas that same day to renounce the divisive and anti-Semitic statement of a right-wing supporter. The Washington Post covered the story on page F10 on September 26, 1980. The New York Times covered the story on three occasions and A 18 was the closet it came.
Lastly, can anybody recount for me the media firestorm over Pat Robertson’s endorsement of Rudy Giuliani. Refresh my memory about how many times the clip of the Religious Broadcaster and Baptist Minister advocating the assassination of the president of Venezuela, a supplier of oil to the United States, was run on Fox News and the rest of the corporate media in denunciation of Giuliani. How many times did they run the clip of Robertson agreeing with Jerry Falwell about the proper blame for 9/11 on abortions and gays and lesbians in a manner meant to accuse Giuliani of intolerance?
Today, nothing is materially different for the Hawaiian bred Barack Obama than it was for the half-Hawaiian son of Jimmy Carter’s Pastor. America, like Plains Baptist Church, has the same problem and like Jeremiah Wright has pointed out eloquently for thirty-six years as Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, race is 99 per cent of it.