Like every other talk show host, I will play the Jeremiah Wright clips on today’s program.
Barack Obama provides an account of his meeting Rev. Wright in Dreams from my Father, as well as this brief bio on p. 282:
He had grown up in Philadelphia, the son of a Baptist minister. he had resisted his father’s vocation at first, joining the Marines out of college, dabbling with liquor, Islam, and black nationalism in the sixties. But the call of his faith had apparently remained, a steady tug on his heart, and eventually he’d entered Howard, then the University of Chicago, where he spent six years studying for a Ph.D. in the history of religion. He learned Hebrew and Greek, read the literature of Tillich and Niebuhr and the black liberation theologians. Th anger and humor of the streets, the book learning and occasional twenty-five cent word, all this he had brought with him to Trinity almost two decades ago. And although it was only later that I would learn much of his biography, it became clear in that very first meeting that, despite the reverand’s frequent disclaimers, it was this capacious talent of his –this ability to hold together, if not reconcile, the conflicting strains of black experience– upon which Trinity’s success had ultimately been built.
Obama writes that the Reverand Wright warned him that association with him “isn’t necessarily a feather in your cap,” because “‘[s]ome of my fellow clergy don’t appreciatewhat we’re about. they feel like we’re too radical. Others, we ain’t radical enough. Too emotional. Not emotional enough. Our emphasis on African history, on scholarship–“
“Some people say,” I interrupted, “that the church is too upwardly mobile.”
The reverand’s smile faded. “That’s a lot of bull,” he said sharply. “People who talk that mess reflect their own confusion. They’ve bought into the whole business of class that keeps us from working together. half of ’em think that the former gang-banger or the former Muslim got no business in a Christian church. Other half think that any black man with an education or a job, or any church that respects scholarship, is somehow suspect.”
“We don’t buy into these false divisions here. It’s not about income, Barack. Cops don’t check my bank account when they pull me over and make me spread-eagle against the car. These miseducated brothers, like the sociologists at the University of Chicago, talking about ‘the declining significance of race.’ Now, what country is he living in?”
A pastor’s influence on a member of a congregation can be large or small, but Wright’s impact on Obama has clearly been significant, and the pastor’s ideas ought to be the subject of an extended public conversation with the candidate.
As I pointed out to Michael Gerson on today’s program, when a candidate is discovered to belong to a club or organization that discriminates against women or minorities, he has to leave the club or the campaign. He doesn’t get to say that he disagrees with this policy or that rule and stay in the membership. Senator Obama’s church leadership has expressed very controversial positions, and he stayed a member through all those sermons on politics. Isn’t that like remaining a member of a whites-only golf club?
This is not, by the way, at all inconsistent with my strongly held and often expressed that a candidate’s religious views ought not to be subject of political debate, like Romney’s Mormon beliefs. I have no idea what Pastor Wright’s theology is, but his politics are very radical, and they are legitimately an issue for the Obama campaign.
Wright’s sermons are full of political positions that, if held by Senator Obama, will have an impact on the policies that President Obama