Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Um, excuse me, Senator Obama, your halo is slipping...

Of course I find myself incredibly busy when the news starts getting interesting. I apologize for the staleness of this analysis, but I think it still warrants being said.

The big story recently -- other than Hillary's Bosnia 'misspeaking' -- has been Barack Obama's inflammatory pastor. Obama's response to this has been unusually, shall we say, spinning. Originally, Barack Obama said that his minister was his spiritual adviser -- some much so that he named his best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope" after one of Rev. Wright's sermons. When it was suggested that his church might rub some voters the wrong way, Obama said that he didn't believe his church was all that controversial. When it surfaced that his pastor had said -- among other things -- that AIDS was created by the U.S. government to oppress minorities, that "America's chickens came home to roost" on 9/11, that God should "damn America, etc., Obama claimed that he had never heard such things from his pastor and that those clips had been taken out of context. When it became widely known that Obama had been a member of the church for some 20 years, that Rev. Wright had performed Obama's wedding ceremony and baptized his two daughters, Obama said that Rev. Wright was like 'a crazy uncle who says things I disagree with.' When calls still persisted for Obama to distance himself from Wright, Obama's last refuge was moral relativism. During his recent speech on racial issues, he said "I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed." He even went so far as to compare his own grandmother to his racist reverend, equivocating her privately expressed fear of strange black men with his pastor's public, illicit hatred.

Precious few media outlets seem eager to call Sen. Obama on his evasiveness, perhaps even lies. Obama has gone from calling Rev. Wright his spiritual adviser, to saying that he hadn't heard him say anything controversial, to saying that he was a crazy uncle with whom he disagreed occasionally, to saying that he had, in fact, heard him say controversial things that he condemned. Sen. Obama's positions have been inconsistent to say the least. According to the New York Times, Obama knew as early as April of 2007 that Jeremiah Wright could become a political liability to his campaign. Why would this be, if he didn't think his church was "controversial?"

As for the claim that the more controversial clips are merely taken out of context -- what context? What context is there to "God damn America" that would make most people say "Oh, ok, that seems reasonable." What context is there to "AIDS is a man-made virus designed by the U.S. government to oppress minorities" that doesn't make that statement completely devoid of logic and reason?

As for the "crazy uncle" justification -- guess what, Sen. Obama? You can't pick your uncles, but you can pick your pastors. So to say that "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother" is absolute bunk. To paraphrase your campaign slogan -- yes, you can. You have every ability to disown anyone you choose, particularly if they say verifiably insane things.

The fact that Obama was then willing to compare the woman who lovingly raised him to a man that spews racist bile, I think, raises serious questions about Obama's concept of decency. Also, to think that "many of us" have had religious leaders with which we strongly disagreed is a total cop-out. Many people likely have had disagreements with their respective leaders, but I don't imagine many would continue attending a church that was so opposed to their sensibilities.

Granted, this whole argument is essentially pointless because it can easily be assumed that Obama's handling of this has been wholly political. I just hope his supporters that see him as some sort of Messiah can recognize this. That's right, Obamaniacs -- your dear leader is a run-of-the-mill politician from the southside of Chicago. Yes, he gives a good speech. But he is apparently also willing to sell out his own grandmother for votes.

One of Obama's main attractions was that he was a post-racial candidate. Associating himself with such hate-mongering race-baiters robs him of that distinction. If the media was half as diligent about exposing this point as they've been with pointing out Hillary Clinton's Bosnia lies, they might have a sliver of integrity left. And really, since when is it news that a Clinton told a lie?


Anonymous Michelle said...

I'll never vote for Obama because I disagree with him politically. In this particular case, I think that there is a correlation between his pastor's statements and Obama's beliefs; however, it does not follow that every person that's a member of a church believes in everything their church or their pastor says. In fact, I can't think of a single person that agrees with absolutely everything their church or pastor says. It's a matter of agreeing with a majority of things and trying to ignore the rest.
I would also point out that there's a lot of folks that go to church for social reasons, the country club contingent, and not for the sermons. I can't say that's a good thing, but it's very much a reality. I was formerly part of a church in which members of the church counsel who had been lifelong members of the church stated that they didn't really think of the Bible as a book more important to them than any other book of literature. They believed in God but they didn't believe in the Bible as the Word of God despite the church's teachings, nor did they believe in the Creed we recite every Sunday. There's plenty of folks that don't agree with their church about religious doctrines that are discussed often, let alone for a few comments slipped into a sermon they probably weren't listening to.
In another example, I know people that believe in abortion and get offended when sermons are about abortion, yet they've gone to the same church for many years because the topic comes up so rarely and they like everything else.
I think this line of attack is abhorrent and discourages people from going to church for fear that statements from their pastor could be used against them. I see this as an indirect attack on churches and I can not agree with that.
It's fine to point out that Obama isn't as post-racial as he seems, but use examples like through his wife's writings and not through the church.

8:26 AM  
Blogger Charles said...

An indirect attack on churches? Hardly. It's much less about what his minister said and much more about how Obama handled it.

He changed his story several times and tried to make the statements of his pastor morally equivalent with the statements of other pastors.

I'm also fully aware that most people don't agree with everything their particular minister says. Nor do I believe for a second that Barack Obama shares his pastor's more racist views.

However, any reasonable person isn't going to sit around and listen to such demonstrably false, racist propaganda. AIDS is man-made? God should damn America? Jesus was a poor black man oppressed by white Europeans? Those aren't trivial disagreements over doctrine. Those are major philosophical differences, and in come cases go against reality.

Again, this isn't an attack on either Obama's church or churches in general. If you want to talk about religion being used unfairly, talk to Mitt Romney.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Michelle said...

Mutual friends of ours that don't have a single racist bone in their bodies have attended churches similar to Obama's because most of their extended family attended the church so it was like having a family reunion every Sunday. Our friends are reasonable people that sat through those sermons because they valued their families and their relationships. I won't condemn our friends for going to churches like that even though I strongly condemn what the pastor said.

While I realize that you weren't calling for the curtailing of free speech in America, my concern is what this scrutiny of church sermons could lead to. Some people over the course of this whole debate about Obama's pastor seem to be saying that the pastor shouldn't be allowed to make hate speech from the pulpit. There's a lot of offensive things that should be said in churches though and I want the freedom of speech for religious figures to be retained. If one reads from passages of the Bible condemning homosexuality during a church service, one could be put in jail for hate speech in some parts of Europe. I don't want to see America come to that point.

Of course Rev. Wright is wrong, but he has the right to be wrong and if people want to listen to him, so be it. Of course I'm offended by his statements; however, I thank God that I don't have a right not to be offended. I'd rather people be able to go to Rev. Wright's church for whatever reason they feel compelled to, rather than have people live in fear of going to church because some "hateful" statements of their pastor will prevent them from getting jobs or affecting their future negatively. In this case the hate speech is racist and unpatriotic, but if we open the door to condemning people for the statements of the pastors, then the members of any church out there that condemns homosexuality may be next for their "hate" speech followed by churches out there that condemn drug usage, adultery, and sin in general.

Prior to this incident, I think people's churches have been considered part of their private lives and not a matter for public discourse. I think that's how it should be but I don't think things are going to remain that way. I think the door has been opened and I think we'll be hearing more about public figures and their churches in the future.

9:32 PM  
Blogger Charles said...

A couple of points. First, I think churches -- or at least religious beliefs -- of candidates are fair game. Second, I don't think this is as slippery of a slope as you make it sound.

On the first point, religious beliefs -- and by extension, churches -- of political candidates are absolutely relevant. I'm not talking about the specific doctrinal issues -- such as Mitt Romney's quirky Mormon beliefs about Jesus coming to America -- but more so the philosophy of the religion itself. That is to say, I'm not particularly bothered by Romney's belief that Jesus came to America, or for that matter, McCain's (presumed) belief that Jesus was crucified on Good Friday and resurrected on Easter Sunday. So long as they believe in the general principles of unity and decency, etc., I'm fine. I do have a problem, however, when churches preach racism and other inherently non-righteous principles. The fact that Obama attended for 20 years a church that essentially preaches racial separatism, even racial superiority, I believe, is totally relevant. Much in the way that it WOULD be relevant if John McCain were to have been a member of Westboro Baptist church -- where they preach that soldiers die in Iraq because of gays in America. Which brings me to your point about people jumping on conservative candidates' ministers. I think that's fair game, as well. If a minister is preaching death-to-gays, and a candidate -- conservative or otherwise -- sits there willingly, is an active member of the church, has a close relationship with the minister, etc. it's totally relevant to their candidacy.

I don't think, however, that that is as likely as you seem to think. If ministers can't stand up to a little scrutiny, that's their own problem. I think voters are smart enough to understand when someone is quoting a Biblical principle and when someone is distorting it for political gain. Plus, I think the VAST majority of religious leaders, particuarly those of politicians, are saying quite non-controversial things. So to take this mess with Jerimiah Wright and extrapolate it onto every politician is a bit apples-and-oranges to me. If John McCain's minister had said the same things are Rev. Wright, but the races were reversed, I would be equally indignant. In fact, I'd likely be MORE indignant because I don't think such non-sense has any place in conservatism. But the point is, it is WHAT Wright said, not THAT he said it. Calling religion part of someone's private life is a cop-out. People say the same thing about politicians propensity for extra-marital affairs, etc. That, too, may be part of their 'personal life' but it speaks to their character and judgment. The same can, and I believe should, be said for churches.

I also agree that Rev. Wright, or any minister for that matter, has every right to say whatever they want. But that right does not guarantee freedom from criticism. He has every right to say that white people invented AIDS to hurt minorities, just as I have every right to call him insane for believing it. I don't agree, however, that we're on the verge of free speech limitation, particularly in churches. That said, if pastors start censoring themselves due to fear of backlash, that's their prerogative. If they choose to abandon their principles for the sake of public acceptance, it's their decision.

As for our mutual friends, that's all well and good, but that's not why Obama went to that church, as far as I can tell. I think you're missing the point that this is case-by-case basis, not a blanket statement.

6:06 PM  

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