Faith and Politics
by kid oakland, Thu Mar 13, 2008 at 12:57:54 PM EDT
I am writing this diary in response to a question posed by a reader here about whether there are Obama supporters who disagree with the rhetoric and tone of the clips going around of Rev. Wright.
I support and continue to support Barack Obama, and I do disagree with the rhetoric and the tone expressed in those clips.
I think there's a danger that people will get a false impression of Senator Obama's political views and his private faith life from them.
Let me explain...
Wright doesn't speak for me and he does not speak for Obama. In my view, he is a minster speaking at a church. That's an important point in American politics.
Now, yes, I do think his use of this kind of rhetoric during a campaign season has a real potential to hurt a man he clearly supports and loves and also to be fundamentally misunderstood.
That being said, I'm not going to "denounce" Wright or demand that Obama do so, but I am going to stand as an Obama supporter stating disagreement with some of Wright's rhetoric and views.
What I'd like to share here is that I grew up in a multi-racial community, close neighbors of mine went to African-American Churches and, though I'm white and I'm Catholic, we would visit sometimes. 99% of the preaching was about Jesus and Holy scripture. That gets lost in these selected, edited, inflammatory video clips, and that's a shame.
In my experience, African American Christian Churches talk about Jesus from the point of view of the African American experience of history. That's how it has been, over a long and complex history, for almost 400 years.
I studied African American history with Eric Foner at Columbia University. He was quite clear. The role of the African American Church during slavery and segregation was profound. It was the only safe place, the only safe harbor, for Blacks to talk and share fellowship as African Americans. That tradition, of speech, of music, of rhetoric is a part of all of our heritage as Americans. And it's an old part. It goes way back. I think most Americans don't realize how much of our culture is influenced by Black Churches. But it is.
There's nothing "shocking" about a Black preacher talking about racism in a predominantly African American church unless you choose to make it shocking. The more you watch that video, in fact, the less shocking that video gets. Though there are still parts I disagree with and find hurtful and counter productive.
Personally, when someone comes to me and tries to take the words of a pastor talking in a sermon and make them out to be damning of a candidate and a campaign. I have to step back a bit.
We could do the exact same thing with so many preachers and religions. To sow fear. To foment resentment. People did this to Mitt Romeny on his Mormonism. People did this to JFK and Al Smith on their Catholicism. People routinely use this kind of bigotry against Jews and Muslims. Fact is, this nation and its media may well find it easier to accept Episcopalian or Presbyterian faith in a president because our presidents have often professed those views. But would YouTube clips of the most edited and extreme moments of certain Methodist preachers or Baptist preachers or Catholic priests be "comfortable" for everyone in the U.S.A.? No, of course not. That's why we have freedom of religion and the separation of Church and State.
What I'm saying is that preachers saying things that would not come off well on YouTube should not be a surprising thing given our American Tradition. Most pastors are going to be saying things that are matters of faith and culture and don't work well in our public political discourse.
Yes, I am not a fan of Rev. Wright's rhetoric in this instance because I think, as it comes off in these clips, it has the danger of conveying a message directly opposite to that of the Obama campaign and how Obama's book...the Audacity of Hope...characterized Barack and Michelle's deep and abiding faith in Jesus Christ and the moral values that entails. It also is a horrible way for people to be introduced to Rev. Wright and that congregation.
But, yes, Barack Obama is African American and a Christian. He and his wife attend a predominantly African American church where preachers do talk about Jesus in the context of racism and African American identity and history. If you make YouTube clips of some of those sermons there will be things that some people will find uncomfortable or even divisive. And perhaps rightly so.
However, I think we should judge a candidate in America by what they say in public and what they do. That's our political tradition in regards to religion and religious faith.
Barack Obama's overarching message has been about what we can do when we come together to work on the problems that face us as Americans, about what brings us together and not what tears us apart.
That's why I support and continue to support him, even as I state that I'm not a fan of the tone of this rhetoric from Rev. Wright.
Hopefully, you can understand the level of personal effort I made in this diary, and respect my views even if you disagree with my choice of candidate.