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Monday, March 17. 2008
Best essay I have read on the subject, and it goes far beyond the story of the day. A quote:
Read the whole thing.
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Wonder what it's gonna take for 'progressives' to focus on Content of Character? That's the oldest con in the book -- the one that separates children from adulthood, damnation from salvation -- blaming someone else or outer conditions for one's current condition.
I strongly reject the idea of preaching politics from a Christian pulpit, but, IMO, it would be jumping the gun to, from afar, characterize Wright's theology as constricted and monotone. Naturally, it looks this way if we cherry pick sermons. Look narrowly, search for the inflammatory sermon, cite it, ignoring all the others, and his theology looks narrow. But Wright has been a preacher for 36 years. No one has shown that these inflammatory sermons were typical of his preaching. The fact is we don't know. People at his church may have some idea, but from what I saw on the local news, they may be circling the wagons at this point.
A couple of weeks ago, I decided I would attend one of their services even though they've installed a new pastor. I thought I'd meet a few people and get a better sense of the place and the theology. But since all of this hit the news, I doubt I'd glean much with confidence about what is going on there and people there might, understandably, view me with skepticism right now. I had wanted to attend as a Christian, not a white tourist or someone seen as having an agenda to tank, for political gain, the reputation of a beloved pastor emeritus.
If Wright's theology is narrowly political, I do wonder why quite a few more sermons like the one being cited widely aren't turning up given the Clinton campaign's obvious incentive to produce them. Maybe they're holding something back for when the convention nears, but if this sermon is representative of Wright's preaching and theology, I'd expect we'd know about more than one or two sermons like the one in the news. After all, Wright has preached over 2000 sermons in 36 years.
So, how can we evaluate Wright's theology based on a single sermon? I've only read two Wright sermons. One is the anachronistic crackpot rant of a black man who reached his adulthood over 40 years ago before the passage of civil rights legislation -- in a time when the humiliation of black people was commonplace and acceptable.
The other is Wright's "Audacity of Hope Sermon, the one Obama says influenced him 17 years ago, when Wright preached it. In this sermon you hear a wiser man talking about illusions related to people being in up and down positions in life. The material up and down are not what counts, he contends. He talks about the sufferings of people in both positions with reference scripture. He also talks about the destructiveness of jealousy, both for the jealous as well as the target of jealous; he talks about accepting one's position, theologically drawing from Paul to discuss glorying in our afflictions along with the importance of spiritual rather than material position.
Of course, no one, other than his congregation, would care about Wright's theology except for his relationship with Obama. We are, after all, supposedly looking at Wright's theology and preaching as if they will give us some clue to the mind of Obama. Obama himself cites Wright as an important influence in his life. The question is: What were are the effects of Wright's influence on Obama?
Which puts me in mind of another Hyde Park Chicago icon -- the famous child psychologist, Bruno Bettelheim. In his day, Bettelheim was regarded as a brilliant clinician with deep, empathic insights into the minds of the seriously disturbed children who were in treatment at the University of Chicago Orthogenic School. I've known many people who were trained by him. One was my professional mentor.
From everything I gather, my mentor learned an enormous amount about children and psychic life from Bettelheim. Everyone I've known who was professionally associated with him also admits that Bettleheim could be an extremely unpleasant man, some would even say cruel. His reputation has been further tarnished in recent years because emerging insights into autism suggest that Bettelheim inflicted a great deal of unwarranted hurt on people arising from the arrogance of some of his central assumptions.
Yet, my own experience with my mentor -- what he absorbed and shared of his experience with Bettelheim's deeper, more enduring insights --- has had a profoundly a positive influence on me. How do I judge my mentor and how do I judge myself now, given that I know about some of the deep flaws and weakness of Bettelheim?
So, what you're really saying is, human nature is flawed, but not completely irredeemable, insofar as the individaul is concerned.
Fair comments, and I agree. I think Dr. Bob was using the Rev. Wright issue to make a larger point.
The post is ostensibly about liberation theology -- if we divvy up and count words devoted to Wright versus words devoted to the discussion of liberation theology. It's an interesting subject and I don't accept liberation theology, but I don't think Wright was randomly selected simply to give Dr. Bob an opportunity to express his views on liberation theology. If Dr. Bob wanted to discuss liberation theology without raising suspicion about his motives, he could have done so without framing the discussion, at the outset, with reference to Wright.
Dr. Bob not only chose Obama's pastor as a vehicle for the discussion, he even posted a photo of Obama with Wright in that same post. What is the larger point if not to drive home the association between the two men? I think Dr. Bob's larger purpose was to contaminate our view of Obama as a man who is spiritually soiled by his relationship with Wright. I think that was the larger, more visceral, more impactful message he wanted to leave with his readers. The post was not, in my view, a purely theological inquiry. I think the post had an underlying political purpose that used a theological pretext to accomplish its aims.
Which gives rise to questions, not only about the evidence for the judgment Dr. Bob pronounces on Pastor Wright, but it raises a question about whether Obama's relationship with Wright has damaged him in some way that makes him unfit for office. If Dr. Bob is going to devote a great deal of space to condemning liberation theology while explicitly associating a presidential candidate with someone he names as an exponent of liberation theology, integrity demands that we honestly inquire into how this association might have affected Obama. The use of Wright as a vehicle for the discussion and the use of the photo simply plants an inchoate, damaging visceral association in the mind of the reader -- leaving unarticulated, some ominous implications.
What I'm advocating might be a bit unusual in the political arena, but I don't it's a radical idea. I'm suggesting that we recognize innuendo and try to elevate the discussion to the explicit level where ideas can be examined more objectively.
Yes, I do think his piece is about Liberation "theology." It doesn't rule out anybody for running for any office, but it surely rules out Dr. Bob's voting for them. That's not the same thing as "unfit."
I have made my round of churches too, and almost gave up until I found one that preached the risen Christ instead of doing what Bob refers to - half-baked politics with a Jesus frosting on top.
The discussion of Wright is about two things - liberation theology which its core is marxist/socialist and racism. I say either or both of those things would/should make a candidate UNFIT to be POTUS. Given Obama's apparent long and deep ties with Wright, it is a fair question for the American voter of how much Obama is aligned with Wright and Wright's views which are somewhat inseperable. American won't elect a hard core socialist and they won't elect a racist and they certainly won't elect a socialist racist.
I think the party is over for Obama. You can't win the POTUS nomination with a sub set of a minority of black voters and the extreme liberal block of the academy and fellow traveling moon bats.
He's done. What made good sense on the local Chicago/Illinois political scene is a non starter on the national scene that requires a black to transcend race to win. And the Reznik (sp?) slime hasn't even fully surfaced yet.
It's all over but the anger and bitterness. If Michelle Obama was not proud of American political history prior to hubby's campaign, she'll be real bitter after this.
You may be right about Obama being finished, although I hesitate to put too much faith in political crystal balls these days. I share your suspicion that Obama is more of a political pragmatist than a political ideologue. No question, he is a liberal, but I seriously doubt that he's a socialist at heart or that his worldview is fundamentally organized by liberation theology. Ideologues sift events and interpret meaning in ways that never threaten their ideology. In the end, they often ignore facts, ignore feedback and resist corrective experiences. How else does someone remain a Marxist? I don't think this characterizes Obama.
Whether Americans would elect a pragmatist is a good question. Frankly, I'm not sure any of the candidates has the deeply developed political philosophy of a Reagan driving their positions. I also suspect that, still, more than anything that can influence the non-ideological among swing voters, it is whether they like the candidate as a person.
Sorry, that was to Phil. One other thing, I've commented more extensively on Obama's politics here:
I do think that Dr. Bob was using the meme du jour to make an important point about Christianity, which is about saving souls. When Jesus said "Give all you have to the poor and follow me" he was not preaching charity - he was preaching putting the daily material world behind so that those tempting things would not interfere with a God-centered life.
Today, we all struggle to find ways to have our cake and eat it too, looking for the loopholes.
Bob is entirely correct about the core and primacy of personal deliverance and the subsequent gifts of the spirit - whatever those might turn out to be. A focus on "good" works is Pharasaical, it seems to me or, at best, a secular and civic virtue.
When God and politics mix, there is the Devil to pay.
Good works are the inevitable manifestation of an inner change when one discovers and enters into a relationship with Christ. It is the point of the second chapter of James on faith and works.
These works are the responsibility of the individual and not a government. Government has taken us from equality in the intrinsic value of each person and equality to pursue life, liberty and happiness (our framers view) to equality of opportunity to equality of outcome - which will ultimately mean the loss of freedom that was the foundation of our great republic. Pretty sad.
Let's start with the Biblical truth that if a teaching does not promote Jesus' love for His people, all His people, the teaching is not in accordance with Scripture. This applues to TUCC and to those kooks who disgracefully disrupt the funerals of our war-dead.
Gwynnie has read many comments for and against Obama and Mr. Wright, but hates excerpts. Here's the Vision Statement of TUCC - in its entirety:
"We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian... Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain "true to our native land," the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
"The Pastor as well as the membership of Trinity United Church of Christ is committed to a 10-point Vision:
"A congregation committed to ADORATION.
"A congregation preaching SALVATION.
"A congregation actively seeking RECONCILIATION.
"A congregation with a non-negotiable COMMITMENT TO AFRICA.
"A congregation committed to BIBLICAL EDUCATION.
"A congregation committed to CULTURAL EDUCATION.
"A congregation committed to the HISTORICAL EDUCATION OF AFRICAN PEOPLE IN DIASPORA.
"A congregation committed to LIBERATION.
"A congregation committed to RESTORATION.
"A congregation working towards ECONOMIC PARITY."
Not all is bad, and TUCC pushes education in a community that desperately needs it. However, we are not sure that in electing a President of ALL THE PEOPLE of the United States we want a man whose 20-year congregation (that means Barack & Michelle) has a non-negotiable commitment to Africa, and commitments to liberation, restoration (whatever that is) and economic parity.
Now of course we all know that advocating specific legislation or election of an individual from the pulpit will terminate a church's 501(c)(3) election, and Mr. Wright may have pushed the limits there, but so have preachers in mailline and evangelical churches, and all should be made to comply with that standard.
The philosophy of TUCC is important, because that's where Barack & Michelle chose to go -- that's the environment they love. That shows the serious flaw in their characters.
The problem is more than half of these objectives are political, cultural or economic. I am not sure Jesus would agree. Do you?
Adoration, salvation, reconciliation, and Biblical education are Christian. There is only One who stands in judgment, but it seems to me that is about 40% scriptual. The remaining 60% are political. Smells about right. 4 parts religion, 6 parts politics.
Well, since all the fun discussion is over here, I might as well join in.
Keep in mind that the essay was written in May 2007, at which time Obama was perceived by me as a handsome, inexperienced, fairly charismatic politician, probably fairly liberal, who seemed likely to end up as electoral road kill under the tires of the Clinton machine.
The essay was triggered by the NYT article on Obama and Wright (hence the photo), and hooked into longstanding observations I have regarding liberal Christian denominations and churches, who wrap pure political activism in Bible-talk. My problem is less with their liberalism (God is neither liberal or conservative, I suspect -- although I doubt he's libertarian :^) ), but with their deviance from historical orthodox Christianity. That -- and not any desire to tar Obama with association with Wright -- prompted my little screed.
I also tried not to "cherry-pick" a few controversial sermons, but made an effort (not exhaustive, but reasonable) to determine what the guy believed and the basis of those beliefs.
I have no idea whether Obama's beliefs and faith are identical, similar, or wildly different from his pastor's. But his attitudes about racism, the role of the US in foreign policy, his attitude toward white Americans, are very relevant to his qualifications for president.
Politicians never tell us what they really believe or think, so we must infer such things from their personal and political histories.
If John McCain had attended a church which preached white supremacy for 20 years, don't you think that would impact your decision to vote for him, in spite of any denials? It sure as hell would for me.
It is inconceivable to me that a person could be a member of a congregation, look to Wright as a pastor and mentor, be part of the fabric of a church by being a longstanding member and listening to Wright's views and not be influenced.
BHO is either more superficial than I imagined (if I am wrong) or is a bald-faced liar (if I am correct). My bet is on the later.
The following was posted on Roger Simon's blog by the Fat Man on March 16. I think it speaks to the point that BHO is being disingenuous at best about Wright.
From the Fat Man (my apologies in advance if you object to posting your post):
I think that He Who Must Not Be Middle Named, treated his religion as a bedrock belief, at least before the last few days. I offer the following from the NYTimes as proof. I point out that the article is almost a year old, i.e. it well pre-dates the current fuss.
A Candidate, His Minister and the Search for Faith
by Jodi Kantor in the NYTimes on April 30, 2007:
In an interview in March in his office, ... Mr. Wright recalled his first encounters with Mr. Obama in the late 1980s, when the future senator was organizing Chicago neighborhoods. ...
... Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. ...
It was a 1988 sermon called “The Audacity to Hope” that turned Mr. Obama, in his late 20s, from spiritual outsider to enthusiastic churchgoer. ...
In “Dreams From My Father,” Mr. Obama described his teary-eyed reaction to the minister’s words. ...
Mr. Obama was baptized that year, and joining Trinity helped him “embrace the African-American community in a way that was whole and profound,” said Ms. Soetoro, his half sister.
... Services at Trinity were a weekly master class in how to move an audience. When Mr. Obama arrived at Harvard Law School later that year, where he fortified himself with recordings of Mr. Wright’s sermons ...
While Mr. Obama stated his opposition to the Iraq war in conventional terms, Mr. Wright issued a “War on Iraq I.Q. Test,” with questions like, “Which country do you think poses the greatest threat to global peace: Iraq or the U.S.?”
In the 16 years since Mr. Obama returned to Chicago from Harvard, Mr. Wright has presided over his wedding ceremony, baptized his two daughters and dedicated his house, while Mr. Obama has often spoken at Trinity’s panels and debates. Though the Obamas drop in on other congregations, they treat Trinity as their spiritual home, attending services frequently. The church’s Afrocentric focus makes Mr. Obama a figure of particular authenticity there, because he has the African connections so many members have searched for.
Posted by: Fat Man
What has troubled me as I've learned more about Obama is that he seems very pragmatic but his sermans/political speeches hint of hard core socialist idealogue by America's standards and his web sight is even more suggestive of this as well. There are also little hints such as the Che poster in a Houston campaign office (inadvertantly exposed by the MSM), his wife's indiscrete comments, his mother's background and now the linkage to Wright. What if he's really a hard core socialist who has been able to mask it quite effectively until now? The problem for someone who's trying to cover their true identity is the amount of transparency forced on POTUS candidates even when the press is in their camp. The whole point of this wacky campaign is to flush out all the info. When the campaign is extended even longer as this one has been and future ones will likely be, it gets even harder to hide things. It appears to me that the real Obama is finally being exposed and a majority of Americans will not buy it. If the emerging picture is not the real Obama, then he has his work cut out to fix it. Watch for Hillary to start tacking back a bit towards the center as she works to paint Obama as the extreme leftist.
He strikes me as too polished, too smooth to the point of creepy...all my personal BS detectors are on high alert.
"The problem for someone who's trying to cover their true identity is the amount of transparency forced on POTUS candidates even when the press is in their camp."
If Obama was up to something covert that could be exposed by his association to Wright, I don't think he'd have been so public about his relationship with Wright. If you're suggesting that the man's whole life is a lie, it's an accusation I can't answer. Who could possibly prove you wrong? I tend to be a little more concerned about the meaning of relationships that politicians conceal than the those that they don't conceal.
One irony of the Obama/Wright story is that Obama's success as a candidate disproves all the America-is-intractably-racist rhetoric which Wright has been promulgating from the pulpit, and which Obama has most certainly been nodding his head to (and perhaps ascribing to more than he lets on) for 20 years.
If the country is so deeply racist, exactly how does Obama clean the clock of the wife of "America's first black president" by winning not only black votes, but a substantial number of white votes as well?
Like I said in the previous post, the relationship with Wright might have been convenient or necessary and/or even desired as part of succeeding as a black in Chicago/Illinois politics. However, when it went national he either had been so long with Wright and Wright's toxic message that he didn't think to cover his tracks or he realized he was in so deep he just hoped it would go unnoticed.
That's either sloppy or naive or cynical on his part...not sure which at this point.
"I tend to be a little more concerned about the meaning of relationships that politicians conceal than the those that they don't conceal."
Apparently has those as well as the Reznik associations are now coming to light.