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Context and Content: Jeremiah Wright’s Letter of 9/11/05

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When the controversy over Jeremiah Wright first erupted in the spring, Barack Obama’s longtime pastor, mentor and close friend complained that he had been taken out of context, and that an endless loop of sounbytes had been played that distorted his character and his message. Senator Obama also used this defense, and “the lack of context” counterattack silenced most of the MSM and many of the critics of Wright and Obama until the National Press Club fiasco.

“Context” was also part of the defense used when Obama’s associations with unrepentant terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn were linked by Hillary and others to Obama. “I was eight at the time,” responded Obama. Actually, it was 1994 when Ayers and Dohrn helped launch Obama’s first campaign and Ayers and Obama had worked closely togther on a board, but the context defense worked again to distance Obama from his controversial associations.

When Father Phleger and then Tony Rezko took center stage, variations of the “lack of context” defense arose with the former, and about the latter Obama used the familiar refrain that this was not the Rezko he knew.

The pattern is thus established: Every close friend or mentor that Obama has had who proves to be big trouble outside of the south side of Chicago is explained away, “thrown under the bus,” disappeared, and the public is urged not to take the association out of context.

For the past few days, Duane has posted a six month series of the letters of Jeremiah Wright to his congregation –every pastoral letter we have from February through July of 2007. Though we have years and years of these letters, we wanted to begin the presentation of the most important of them with a display of context, and thought a six month slice sufficient to the task. Pastor Wright did not always write about politics, just as I doubt he always preached about politics. Some of his political letters were unsurprising, such as an appeal for aid to Sudan. Some of his non-political letters were touching, like that he wrote in praise of his daughter.

But throughout there were sudden and jarring assertions, polemics that ordinary Americans would read and reject as radical.

With sufficient context supplied –we don’t have the time and you don’t have the patience for us to post every letter from the past five years– we now begin to provide some of the key messages of Jeremiah Wright from 2004 forward. We don’t know whether the Obamas attended Trinity on any of the Sundays when these letters appeared, but it seems certain that the radical politics espoused by the pastor and by others on staff could not have been unknown to Barack Obama.

More to the point, how could the ideas they contain not have affected Obama over a 20 year period?

When, for example, Associate Pastor Reginald Williams casually notes in the bulletin of December 19, 2004 that “Palestians are excluded from their homeland due to Israeli occupation and U.S. support,” and that “our sons and daughters of the African Diaspora are excluded on so many levels from full citizenship in the country that our forebears built on our backs,” won’t the readers of the bulletin be influenced by such assertions? Especially if repeated week after week, month after month, year after year? When your church’s bulletin contains radical politics, your membership in the church endorses those politics, and it can be safely assumed that you yourself believe some if not most of those assertions.

Pastor Wright’s bulletin letter of September 11, 2005 is posted below. It concludes:

Do you want to know why Mr. Bush has no intention of pulling out of Iraq any time soon? It is because the United States is building the largest CIA station in the world in Baghdad. It is also because Haliburton (Mr. Cheney’s company) is busily constructing 1400 U.S. military bases in Iraq. As stated above, these plans were laid out in 1992 and 2000 (long before 9/11).

There is no noble cause for Cindy Sheehan’s son to have died. There is only greed. There is only a grab for money amd for oil and there is only “business as usual” on the agenda.

Barack Obama was a United States senator when his pastor wrote and his church read this missive. Given what we heard Pator Wright preach on the Sunday after 9/11 these thoughts could not have surprised Obama, and they could not have been unknown to him. It is a fair assumption that Obama did not find this sort of thought objectionable, and it is at least a rebuttable presumption that he agreed with it.

Voters will have to judge whether two decades of being led by Pastor Wright in worship and spiritual growth –and ideology?– will have deeply influenced Barack Obama and helped shaped him for the presidency, or whether nothing the pastor wrote or preached had any impact on Obama and should thus be discarded. The full letter from that Sunday:


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