Commentary Magazine


Topic: Trinity United Church of Christ

Oprah for President

Newsweek reveals the history of Oprah Winfrey and the Trinity United Church of Christ, a story that demonstrates the talk show host’s superior judgment relative to the man she endorsed for president.

In the early 1980’s, Oprah, like Obama, was an ambitious Chicago professional “eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown’s black community.” She joined Trinity in 1984. But she didn’t last long. Winfrey was a member of the Church for just two years, then began attending services “off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped.” Newsweek reports that it was Wright’s sermonizing which dissuaded her.

That Oprah is a savvy operator isn’t news: she has made herself into one of the most successful and powerful women in the world. What it more importantly tells us is that at least one prominent Church member had a problem with Wright as early as the mid-1980’s, right at around the time Obama’s relationship with Wright was forming. What did Winfrey see in Wright that so disturbed her but that Obama somehow missed or wasn’t bothered by?

“According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright’s more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America’s favorite daytime talk-show host,” Newsweek reports. This explanation makes Winfrey’s discomfort with Wright sound purely cynical, motivated by a brutal calculation that determined an affiliation with the preacher wasn’t worth the potential cost to her image as a daytime diva.

Maybe so. Yet from my (admittedly limited) knowledge of Oprah, there isn’t much in common with her feel-good, non-sectarian, multicultural positivism and the angry, racist, conspiratorial rantings of Wright. Yes, it was in her interest to dissociate herself from Wright. But, judging by her own stated philosophy, they have very different views of the world. Indeed, Winfrey’s self-transformation into the most popular woman in America (especially with the sort of middle-class, white housewives Obama is having so much trouble attracting) puts a rather large dent into the Jeremiah Wright History of the United States.

Given his thin legislative record, Barack Obama is running on his reputed judgment and personal story. Oprah Winfrey has a personal story to match (not to mention peerless skill in private-sector management, something Obama lacks entirely). Plus, she abandoned Jeremiah Wright long before it was fashionable. If there’s a case for Obama, I don’t see why there isn’t one for Oprah as well. Oprah for President!

Newsweek reveals the history of Oprah Winfrey and the Trinity United Church of Christ, a story that demonstrates the talk show host’s superior judgment relative to the man she endorsed for president.

In the early 1980’s, Oprah, like Obama, was an ambitious Chicago professional “eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown’s black community.” She joined Trinity in 1984. But she didn’t last long. Winfrey was a member of the Church for just two years, then began attending services “off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped.” Newsweek reports that it was Wright’s sermonizing which dissuaded her.

That Oprah is a savvy operator isn’t news: she has made herself into one of the most successful and powerful women in the world. What it more importantly tells us is that at least one prominent Church member had a problem with Wright as early as the mid-1980’s, right at around the time Obama’s relationship with Wright was forming. What did Winfrey see in Wright that so disturbed her but that Obama somehow missed or wasn’t bothered by?

“According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright’s more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America’s favorite daytime talk-show host,” Newsweek reports. This explanation makes Winfrey’s discomfort with Wright sound purely cynical, motivated by a brutal calculation that determined an affiliation with the preacher wasn’t worth the potential cost to her image as a daytime diva.

Maybe so. Yet from my (admittedly limited) knowledge of Oprah, there isn’t much in common with her feel-good, non-sectarian, multicultural positivism and the angry, racist, conspiratorial rantings of Wright. Yes, it was in her interest to dissociate herself from Wright. But, judging by her own stated philosophy, they have very different views of the world. Indeed, Winfrey’s self-transformation into the most popular woman in America (especially with the sort of middle-class, white housewives Obama is having so much trouble attracting) puts a rather large dent into the Jeremiah Wright History of the United States.

Given his thin legislative record, Barack Obama is running on his reputed judgment and personal story. Oprah Winfrey has a personal story to match (not to mention peerless skill in private-sector management, something Obama lacks entirely). Plus, she abandoned Jeremiah Wright long before it was fashionable. If there’s a case for Obama, I don’t see why there isn’t one for Oprah as well. Oprah for President!

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No Help At All

The New York Times today does Barack Obama no favors on the ongoing Reverend Wright fiasco. First, it seems to confirm that a sense of personal pique rather than any “new information” on Wright caused Obama to finally denouce his former pastor. Recounting how Obama read the National Press Club remarks on his blackberry, the Times explains:

As Mr. Obama told close friends after watching the replay, he felt dumbfounded, even betrayed, particularly by Mr. Wright’s implication that Mr. Obama was being hypocritical. He could not tolerate that.

You see, any suggestion that Obama had tolerated, solicited and embraced Wright for political aims and then dumped him when whites got wind of Wright’s hateful radicalism was intolerable. But wasn’t it also true? There are plenty of facts suggesting that this is exactly what occurred. The Times provides additional evidence.

Obama tried to suggest at his press conference that he and Wright weren’t all that close. But that of course is poppycock. The Times recollects:

Only a few years ago, the tightness of the bond between Mr. Obama and Mr. Wright was difficult to overstate. Mr. Obama titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and his pastor was the first one he thanked when he gained election as a United States senator in 2004. “Let me thank my pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Mr. Obama said that night, before going on to mention his family and friends.

In this learned and radical pastor, Mr. Obama found a guide who could explain Jesus and faith in terms intellectual no less than emotional, and who helped a man of mixed racial parentage come to understand himself as an African-American. “Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black,” Mr. Obama wrote in his autobiography “Dreams From My Father.”

At the same time, as Mr. Obama’s friends and aides now acknowledge, he was aware that, shorn of their South Side Chicago context, the words and cadences of a politically left-wing black minister could have a very problematic echo. So Mr. Obama haltingly distanced himself from his pastor.

And of course, Obama himself had constructed an autobiography with Wright at the center, the Times, reminds us:

Mr. Obama faced practical political considerations as well. He had made Mr. Wright a central figure in his personal narrative. His embrace of Mr. Wright’s church and its congregants, wealthy and working class and impoverished, formed the climax of his book. It was the moment, in his telling, when Mr. Obama finally pulled every disparate strand of his background together and found his faith.

Bottom line: the liberal media paper of record leaves little doubt that Obama’s claim of ignorance about Wright’s incendiary views is fraudulent. For a candidate running on virtue and as the Agent of Change this is deadly stuff. (Is it any wonder the Times‘ sister paper the Boston Globe finds the whole thing “depressing”?)

The New York Times today does Barack Obama no favors on the ongoing Reverend Wright fiasco. First, it seems to confirm that a sense of personal pique rather than any “new information” on Wright caused Obama to finally denouce his former pastor. Recounting how Obama read the National Press Club remarks on his blackberry, the Times explains:

As Mr. Obama told close friends after watching the replay, he felt dumbfounded, even betrayed, particularly by Mr. Wright’s implication that Mr. Obama was being hypocritical. He could not tolerate that.

You see, any suggestion that Obama had tolerated, solicited and embraced Wright for political aims and then dumped him when whites got wind of Wright’s hateful radicalism was intolerable. But wasn’t it also true? There are plenty of facts suggesting that this is exactly what occurred. The Times provides additional evidence.

Obama tried to suggest at his press conference that he and Wright weren’t all that close. But that of course is poppycock. The Times recollects:

Only a few years ago, the tightness of the bond between Mr. Obama and Mr. Wright was difficult to overstate. Mr. Obama titled his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” after one of Mr. Wright’s sermons, and his pastor was the first one he thanked when he gained election as a United States senator in 2004. “Let me thank my pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ,” Mr. Obama said that night, before going on to mention his family and friends.

In this learned and radical pastor, Mr. Obama found a guide who could explain Jesus and faith in terms intellectual no less than emotional, and who helped a man of mixed racial parentage come to understand himself as an African-American. “Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black,” Mr. Obama wrote in his autobiography “Dreams From My Father.”

At the same time, as Mr. Obama’s friends and aides now acknowledge, he was aware that, shorn of their South Side Chicago context, the words and cadences of a politically left-wing black minister could have a very problematic echo. So Mr. Obama haltingly distanced himself from his pastor.

And of course, Obama himself had constructed an autobiography with Wright at the center, the Times, reminds us:

Mr. Obama faced practical political considerations as well. He had made Mr. Wright a central figure in his personal narrative. His embrace of Mr. Wright’s church and its congregants, wealthy and working class and impoverished, formed the climax of his book. It was the moment, in his telling, when Mr. Obama finally pulled every disparate strand of his background together and found his faith.

Bottom line: the liberal media paper of record leaves little doubt that Obama’s claim of ignorance about Wright’s incendiary views is fraudulent. For a candidate running on virtue and as the Agent of Change this is deadly stuff. (Is it any wonder the Times‘ sister paper the Boston Globe finds the whole thing “depressing”?)

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Obama Got His Dander Up When Wright Came After Him

I am not alone in recognizing that what seems to have gotten Barack Obama particularly peeved is that Reverand Wright made a spectacle of himself and questioned Obama’s sincerity as non-politician. Obama explained: “I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people.”

In response to a question Obama said:

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that — that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the — the commonality in all people.

Again Obama made clear how personal this is, how much he feels slighted:

Well, the — I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. I don’t — more importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people and with the American people. . .But at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough. That’s — that’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s a — it is also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.

So what is “particularly” noteworthy is what got Obama angry: Wright’s lack of loyalty and concern for him. Now ,that’s natural, I suppose, but it also shows a strange ranking of priorities. Insulting his country, spouting bizarre conspiracy theories, voicing racism and much more — none of that is what “particularly” triggered a repudiation. That, as much as the intellectual inconsistency (“I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother”), should provoke concern among people looking for a selfless leader for the new era in American politics.

And one final note: Obama denied that Wright was his “spiritual mentor.” I have yet to find an instance in which that exact phrase came from Obama’s lips, but it has been use incessently by the media without a hint of objection by the Obama team. Obama came close to saying the same thing many times including in this interview in March:

You know, I guess — keep in mind that, just to provide more context, this is somebody who I had known for 20 years. Pastor Wright has been a pastor for 30 years. He’s an ex-Marine. He is somebody who is a biblical scholar, has spoken at theological seminaries all across the country, from the University of Chicago to Hampton. And so he is a well- regarded preacher. And somebody who is known for talking about the social gospel. . . . I mean, obviously, understand that — understand that, you know, this is somebody who is like an uncle. If you have — to me. He’s somebody who helped me find Christ. And somebody who always talked to me in very powerful ways about relationship to God and our obligations to the poor. If somebody makes a mistake, then obviously, you recognize — I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If I thought that that was the repeated tenor of the church, then I wouldn’t feel comfortable there. But, frankly, that has not been my experience at Trinity United Church of Christ.

But that inconsistency seems to be the least of his worries. (Among his bigger concerns: the latest poll numbers. Yikes.)

I am not alone in recognizing that what seems to have gotten Barack Obama particularly peeved is that Reverand Wright made a spectacle of himself and questioned Obama’s sincerity as non-politician. Obama explained: “I’m particularly distressed that this has caused such a distraction from what this campaign should be about, which is the American people.”

In response to a question Obama said:

And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I’m about knows that — that I am about trying to bridge gaps and that I see the — the commonality in all people.

Again Obama made clear how personal this is, how much he feels slighted:

Well, the — I want to use this press conference to make people absolutely clear that obviously whatever relationship I had with Reverend Wright has changed as a consequence of this. I don’t think that he showed much concern for me. I don’t — more importantly, I don’t think he showed much concern for what we are trying to do in this campaign and what we’re trying to do for the American people and with the American people. . .But at a certain point, if what somebody says contradicts what you believe so fundamentally, and then he questions whether or not you believe it in front of the National Press Club, then that’s enough. That’s — that’s a show of disrespect to me. It’s a — it is also, I think, an insult to what we’ve been trying to do in this campaign.

So what is “particularly” noteworthy is what got Obama angry: Wright’s lack of loyalty and concern for him. Now ,that’s natural, I suppose, but it also shows a strange ranking of priorities. Insulting his country, spouting bizarre conspiracy theories, voicing racism and much more — none of that is what “particularly” triggered a repudiation. That, as much as the intellectual inconsistency (“I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother”), should provoke concern among people looking for a selfless leader for the new era in American politics.

And one final note: Obama denied that Wright was his “spiritual mentor.” I have yet to find an instance in which that exact phrase came from Obama’s lips, but it has been use incessently by the media without a hint of objection by the Obama team. Obama came close to saying the same thing many times including in this interview in March:

You know, I guess — keep in mind that, just to provide more context, this is somebody who I had known for 20 years. Pastor Wright has been a pastor for 30 years. He’s an ex-Marine. He is somebody who is a biblical scholar, has spoken at theological seminaries all across the country, from the University of Chicago to Hampton. And so he is a well- regarded preacher. And somebody who is known for talking about the social gospel. . . . I mean, obviously, understand that — understand that, you know, this is somebody who is like an uncle. If you have — to me. He’s somebody who helped me find Christ. And somebody who always talked to me in very powerful ways about relationship to God and our obligations to the poor. If somebody makes a mistake, then obviously, you recognize — I make mistakes. We all make mistakes. If I thought that that was the repeated tenor of the church, then I wouldn’t feel comfortable there. But, frankly, that has not been my experience at Trinity United Church of Christ.

But that inconsistency seems to be the least of his worries. (Among his bigger concerns: the latest poll numbers. Yikes.)

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He Is No Prophet

In an effort to help Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., some people are not only defending Wright but portraying him as a “prophet.” The Reverend James Forbes, who recently retired as the longtime pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, said, “Some of us wish we had the nerve that Jeremiah had. We praise God that he’s saying it, so the rest of us don’t have to.” When asked if Wright ever crossed a line, Forbes answered this way: “I think if a person is a prophet and he’s not seen as ever crossing a line, then he has not told the truth as it ought to be told.”

The former minister and author Anthony B. Robinson said of Wright’s words:

Sounds like what the Bible calls a prophet. Biblical prophets weren’t crystal-ball gazers. They were … preachers who “regularly exposed the failures of a society in savage rhetoric.” Prophets afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. And they use language and images that pretty much guarantee that they won’t get invited to cocktail parties.

We can add to this list the distinguished religious historian Martin Marty, a former professor, congregant, and friend of Jeremiah Wright. In “Prophet and Pastor,” published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marty recounts what he admires in Wright and the work of his church. He admits, though, that we ought not gloss over the “abrasive edges” of Wright. Marty finds some of his comments “distracting and harmful” and the honoring of Minister Louis Farrakhan “abhorrent and indefensible.” Marty also writes this:

Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright’s sermons were pastoral – my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives – they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet.

Though Jeremiah of old did not “curse” his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses – what biblical scholars call “imprecatory topoi” – that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called “the jeremiad,” a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.

Jeremiah, however, was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon . . . Those who were part of [Wright’s] ministry for years . . . are not going to turn their backs on their pastor and prophet.

“Prophet.” That’s quite an appellation to bestow on Wright. It’s worth considering, then, precisely what a prophet is. Far more than just a provocative exhorter, a prophet, for those of the Christian and Jewish faiths, is a person who proclaims divine revelation. He is an oracle of Yahweh, one who speaks for the Holy Ruler of History. Prophecy involves a human messenger communicating a divine message. It is a rare and special calling, one that should not be recklessly bandied about.

With that in mind, let’s quickly rehearse some of the comments by the former senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. He refers to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” The attacks on September 11th is something America had coming; in Wright’s words (borrowed from Malcolm X) “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Rather than bless America, Wright–insisting it is in the Bible–wants God to damn her. The government, he says, lied about having advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Israel is a “dirty word.” Wright also took to reprinting op-eds by supporters of Hamas in his “Pastor’s Page.” He praised Louis Farrakhan as a man of “honesty and integrity” and favored bestowing a lifetime achievement award on the Nation of Islam leader. And the list goes on from there.

For liberals and those on the Left to lift up Jeremiah Wright–a man whose words can be fairly judged to be anti-Israel and anti-American–and attempt to turn him into a prophet is a grave error. I have spoken out before regarding my concern for what politics can do to people of faith on both the left and the right, and how easy it is to subordinate the latter to the former. I don’t pretend that the above remarks are the sum total of Wright’s decades-long preaching or actions, and Marty’s account is worth reading. But to insist that a man who utters hateful and bitter words against his country is a prophet is (to be charitable) intellectually sloppy. “Afflicting the comfortable” is not enough to qualify one as a prophet. Do we really want to propose the idea that Wright’s vitriolic proclamations proceed from direct divine inspiration, that Wright speaks for God? That would be completely irresponsible.

In an effort to help Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., some people are not only defending Wright but portraying him as a “prophet.” The Reverend James Forbes, who recently retired as the longtime pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, said, “Some of us wish we had the nerve that Jeremiah had. We praise God that he’s saying it, so the rest of us don’t have to.” When asked if Wright ever crossed a line, Forbes answered this way: “I think if a person is a prophet and he’s not seen as ever crossing a line, then he has not told the truth as it ought to be told.”

The former minister and author Anthony B. Robinson said of Wright’s words:

Sounds like what the Bible calls a prophet. Biblical prophets weren’t crystal-ball gazers. They were … preachers who “regularly exposed the failures of a society in savage rhetoric.” Prophets afflict the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. And they use language and images that pretty much guarantee that they won’t get invited to cocktail parties.

We can add to this list the distinguished religious historian Martin Marty, a former professor, congregant, and friend of Jeremiah Wright. In “Prophet and Pastor,” published last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Marty recounts what he admires in Wright and the work of his church. He admits, though, that we ought not gloss over the “abrasive edges” of Wright. Marty finds some of his comments “distracting and harmful” and the honoring of Minister Louis Farrakhan “abhorrent and indefensible.” Marty also writes this:

Now, for the hard business: the sermons, which have been mercilessly chipped into for wearying television clips. While Wright’s sermons were pastoral – my wife and I have always been awed to hear the Christian Gospel parsed for our personal lives – they were also prophetic. At the university, we used to remark, half lightheartedly, that this Jeremiah was trying to live up to his namesake, the seventh-century B.C. prophet.

Though Jeremiah of old did not “curse” his people of Israel, Wright, as a biblical scholar, could point out that the prophets Hosea and Micah did. But the Book of Jeremiah, written by numbers of authors, is so full of blasts and quasi curses – what biblical scholars call “imprecatory topoi” – that New England preachers invented a sermonic form called “the jeremiad,” a style revived in some Wrightian shouts.

Jeremiah, however, was the prophet of hope, and that note of hope is what attracts the multiclass membership at Trinity and significant television audiences. Both Jeremiahs gave the people work to do: to advance the missions of social justice and mercy that improve the lot of the suffering. For a sample, read Jeremiah 29, where the prophet’s letter to the exiles in Babylon exhorts them to settle down and “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile.” Or listen to many a Jeremiah Wright sermon . . . Those who were part of [Wright’s] ministry for years . . . are not going to turn their backs on their pastor and prophet.

“Prophet.” That’s quite an appellation to bestow on Wright. It’s worth considering, then, precisely what a prophet is. Far more than just a provocative exhorter, a prophet, for those of the Christian and Jewish faiths, is a person who proclaims divine revelation. He is an oracle of Yahweh, one who speaks for the Holy Ruler of History. Prophecy involves a human messenger communicating a divine message. It is a rare and special calling, one that should not be recklessly bandied about.

With that in mind, let’s quickly rehearse some of the comments by the former senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. He refers to the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.” The attacks on September 11th is something America had coming; in Wright’s words (borrowed from Malcolm X) “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” Rather than bless America, Wright–insisting it is in the Bible–wants God to damn her. The government, he says, lied about having advance knowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor and “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Israel is a “dirty word.” Wright also took to reprinting op-eds by supporters of Hamas in his “Pastor’s Page.” He praised Louis Farrakhan as a man of “honesty and integrity” and favored bestowing a lifetime achievement award on the Nation of Islam leader. And the list goes on from there.

For liberals and those on the Left to lift up Jeremiah Wright–a man whose words can be fairly judged to be anti-Israel and anti-American–and attempt to turn him into a prophet is a grave error. I have spoken out before regarding my concern for what politics can do to people of faith on both the left and the right, and how easy it is to subordinate the latter to the former. I don’t pretend that the above remarks are the sum total of Wright’s decades-long preaching or actions, and Marty’s account is worth reading. But to insist that a man who utters hateful and bitter words against his country is a prophet is (to be charitable) intellectually sloppy. “Afflicting the comfortable” is not enough to qualify one as a prophet. Do we really want to propose the idea that Wright’s vitriolic proclamations proceed from direct divine inspiration, that Wright speaks for God? That would be completely irresponsible.

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In Defense of Hillary

Yesterday (as Jennifer noted) Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke for the first time about the association between the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama, saying “getting up and moving” would have been the right response to hearing Wright’s sermons. According to the Washington Post:

Wright “would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said during an interview with the conservative editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review… “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend,” she said. Obama refused to disavow Wright even as he said he disagreed with some of his sermons…. Clinton, speaking in Pittsburgh, cited her earlier condemnation of radio host Don Imus, after he insulted the Rutgers‘ women’s basketball team, as an example of how Obama should have reacted to his pastor’s words. “You know, I spoke out against Don Imus, saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that,” the paper quoted Clinton as saying. “I think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

In response Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, said this:

After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it’s disappointing to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia. The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech. The American people deserve better than tired political games that do nothing to solve the larger challenges facing this country.

Actually, what Senator Clinton said is perfectly reasonable. You don’t choose your family but you do choose your church–and it’s reasonable to ask why Senator Obama chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s even more reasonable to ask why Obama, once he was exposed to the worldview of Reverend Wright, never confronted him over his anti-American views and never left the church. That was the obvious and right thing to do. For Obama not to have done so was, in part, a failure of courage and judgment on his part.

Nor do we know what “fierce” and “controversial” things Wright said from the pulpit that Obama now admits to having heard and with which he strongly disagreed. What did Reverend Wright say, and when did he say it? Those questions are certainly legitimate and answerable.

There is nothing “low” in what Mrs. Clinton said. What is unfolding is a transparent attempt by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with some in the media, to declare the Wright matter off-limits–to argue that (a) Obama’s Philadelphia speech put the matter to rest; (b) Obama is the victim of a smear campaign; (c) he should be left alone so he can lead our desperately important national conversation on race; and (d) those who continue to press the Wright matter are attempting to swiftboat Obama.

These complaints are not logically sustainable. Try as they might, Obama’s defenders in the campaign and the media will not succeed in putting an end to this matter. If it can be done, only Obama himself can do it. And so far, he’s failed. His long, close association with the hate-spewing Jeremiah Wright remains, and rightly so, a stain on Barack Obama.

Yesterday (as Jennifer noted) Sen. Hillary Clinton spoke for the first time about the association between the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Sen. Barack Obama, saying “getting up and moving” would have been the right response to hearing Wright’s sermons. According to the Washington Post:

Wright “would not have been my pastor,” Clinton said during an interview with the conservative editorial board of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review… “You don’t choose your family, but you choose what church you want to attend,” she said. Obama refused to disavow Wright even as he said he disagreed with some of his sermons…. Clinton, speaking in Pittsburgh, cited her earlier condemnation of radio host Don Imus, after he insulted the Rutgers‘ women’s basketball team, as an example of how Obama should have reacted to his pastor’s words. “You know, I spoke out against Don Imus, saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting, and I believe that,” the paper quoted Clinton as saying. “I think you have to speak out against that. You certainly have to do that, if not explicitly, then implicitly by getting up and moving.”

In response Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman, said this:

After originally refusing to play politics with this issue, it’s disappointing to see Hillary Clinton’s campaign sink to this low in a transparent effort to distract attention away from the story she made up about dodging sniper fire in Bosnia. The truth is, Barack Obama has already spoken out against his pastor’s offensive comments and addressed the issue of race in America with a deeply personal and uncommonly honest speech. The American people deserve better than tired political games that do nothing to solve the larger challenges facing this country.

Actually, what Senator Clinton said is perfectly reasonable. You don’t choose your family but you do choose your church–and it’s reasonable to ask why Senator Obama chose to attend Trinity United Church of Christ. It’s even more reasonable to ask why Obama, once he was exposed to the worldview of Reverend Wright, never confronted him over his anti-American views and never left the church. That was the obvious and right thing to do. For Obama not to have done so was, in part, a failure of courage and judgment on his part.

Nor do we know what “fierce” and “controversial” things Wright said from the pulpit that Obama now admits to having heard and with which he strongly disagreed. What did Reverend Wright say, and when did he say it? Those questions are certainly legitimate and answerable.

There is nothing “low” in what Mrs. Clinton said. What is unfolding is a transparent attempt by the Obama campaign, in conjunction with some in the media, to declare the Wright matter off-limits–to argue that (a) Obama’s Philadelphia speech put the matter to rest; (b) Obama is the victim of a smear campaign; (c) he should be left alone so he can lead our desperately important national conversation on race; and (d) those who continue to press the Wright matter are attempting to swiftboat Obama.

These complaints are not logically sustainable. Try as they might, Obama’s defenders in the campaign and the media will not succeed in putting an end to this matter. If it can be done, only Obama himself can do it. And so far, he’s failed. His long, close association with the hate-spewing Jeremiah Wright remains, and rightly so, a stain on Barack Obama.

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Obama’s Church and Israel’s “Ethnic Bomb”

It is becoming clear that the Trinity United Church of Christ’s anti-Israel stance represents a significant aspect of its political agenda. The blog Sweetness & Light dug up a June 2007 missive published in the church’s newsletter accusing Israel of developing an “ethnic bomb” that kills only blacks and Arabs.

The piece was written by Ali Baghdadi, who was, among other things, “Middle East advisor” to Louis Farrakhan. The rant takes the form of a sappy and delusional open letter to Oprah Winfrey, in response to her accepting Elie Wiesel’s invitation to visit Israel. Baghdadi describes Israel’s “apartheid” regime and writes, “I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa.”

The real danger in Obama’s relationship to this church has barely been touched upon despite all the press the situation has received. There is a verifiable convergence of the ideas promoted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s brand of black liberation theology and the anti-American, anti-Semitic doctrine of radical Islam. America’s current enemies are crazed clerics who wail about Israeli oppression and who damn America before cheering crowds. This description also fits Barack Obama’s pastor of twenty years. That the two types of hate-filled holy men have connected, at least in print, is hardly a surprise. And the slack that liberals want to extend to Jeremiah Wright is merely the “root-cause” terrorist argument re-purposed: We have to understand their reasons, etc. This is what Obama brings with him, and it’s an implausibly generous gift to those who want to destroy us.

It is becoming clear that the Trinity United Church of Christ’s anti-Israel stance represents a significant aspect of its political agenda. The blog Sweetness & Light dug up a June 2007 missive published in the church’s newsletter accusing Israel of developing an “ethnic bomb” that kills only blacks and Arabs.

The piece was written by Ali Baghdadi, who was, among other things, “Middle East advisor” to Louis Farrakhan. The rant takes the form of a sappy and delusional open letter to Oprah Winfrey, in response to her accepting Elie Wiesel’s invitation to visit Israel. Baghdadi describes Israel’s “apartheid” regime and writes, “I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa.”

The real danger in Obama’s relationship to this church has barely been touched upon despite all the press the situation has received. There is a verifiable convergence of the ideas promoted in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s brand of black liberation theology and the anti-American, anti-Semitic doctrine of radical Islam. America’s current enemies are crazed clerics who wail about Israeli oppression and who damn America before cheering crowds. This description also fits Barack Obama’s pastor of twenty years. That the two types of hate-filled holy men have connected, at least in print, is hardly a surprise. And the slack that liberals want to extend to Jeremiah Wright is merely the “root-cause” terrorist argument re-purposed: We have to understand their reasons, etc. This is what Obama brings with him, and it’s an implausibly generous gift to those who want to destroy us.

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Obama’s Singular Speech

Barack Obama’s unusual campaign has just led to one of the most unusual speeches in American political history. The purpose of the speech is to set his own political controversy into the largest possible context — to zoom out, as it were, and make it appear as though the disgusting remarks of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, are the merest speck, a mere glancing moment in time in the centuries-long history of American race relations. He begins with the drafting of the Constitution, skips forward in time top Wright’s remarks, moves back to the legacy of segregation, and onward into the horrific populist present, with black people and white people suffering horrors untold in what he says is a great country but what he intimates is a giant piece of wreckage.

In Obama’s telling, Wright must be understood not as a standard-issue race provocateur of the Left, an entertaining spouter of vicious nonsense, but rather as a synecdoche — as someone who within himself contains the entirety of the African-American experience. We can judge him, yes, but we cannot judge him too harshly, because what he is, we all are. Within the walls of Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ is black America writ small and large: “the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger…..The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and the successes, the love, and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.”

And Wright, at the head of this flock, may speak in ways “that rightly offend black and white alike,” but that is due not to his own noxious ideas, or to his anti-American Leftism, or even to his sense of what his pulpit audience wants to hear, but is rather the voice of black America singing. “I can no more disown this man,” Obama says, “than I can disown the black community.” Just as he would not disown his white grandmother, “who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.” So a white racist grandmother and a black racist preacher “are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.”

Obama’s remarkable use of rhetoric may lead people to grade on a curve, to imagine that there has been a breakthrough in American history merely because a black politician is willing to acknowledge that things have changed for the better in this country:

The profound mistake in Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was [sic] static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country — a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black, Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen — is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope — the audacity of hope — for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

The eloquence of the speech will almost certainly mask Obama’s sophisticated effort here to condemn and not to condemn, to say something but not say anything, to sound clear while being extremely unclear. A denunciation that does not denounce, a condemnation that is full of love — as a former political speechwriter, I will acknowledge I am lost in admiration of the anti-sophistic sophistry on display in every syllable of his text.

Barack Obama’s unusual campaign has just led to one of the most unusual speeches in American political history. The purpose of the speech is to set his own political controversy into the largest possible context — to zoom out, as it were, and make it appear as though the disgusting remarks of his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, are the merest speck, a mere glancing moment in time in the centuries-long history of American race relations. He begins with the drafting of the Constitution, skips forward in time top Wright’s remarks, moves back to the legacy of segregation, and onward into the horrific populist present, with black people and white people suffering horrors untold in what he says is a great country but what he intimates is a giant piece of wreckage.

In Obama’s telling, Wright must be understood not as a standard-issue race provocateur of the Left, an entertaining spouter of vicious nonsense, but rather as a synecdoche — as someone who within himself contains the entirety of the African-American experience. We can judge him, yes, but we cannot judge him too harshly, because what he is, we all are. Within the walls of Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ is black America writ small and large: “the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger…..The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and the successes, the love, and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.”

And Wright, at the head of this flock, may speak in ways “that rightly offend black and white alike,” but that is due not to his own noxious ideas, or to his anti-American Leftism, or even to his sense of what his pulpit audience wants to hear, but is rather the voice of black America singing. “I can no more disown this man,” Obama says, “than I can disown the black community.” Just as he would not disown his white grandmother, “who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.” So a white racist grandmother and a black racist preacher “are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.”

Obama’s remarkable use of rhetoric may lead people to grade on a curve, to imagine that there has been a breakthrough in American history merely because a black politician is willing to acknowledge that things have changed for the better in this country:

The profound mistake in Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was [sic] static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country — a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black, Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know — what we have seen — is that America can change. That is the true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope — the audacity of hope — for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.

The eloquence of the speech will almost certainly mask Obama’s sophisticated effort here to condemn and not to condemn, to say something but not say anything, to sound clear while being extremely unclear. A denunciation that does not denounce, a condemnation that is full of love — as a former political speechwriter, I will acknowledge I am lost in admiration of the anti-sophistic sophistry on display in every syllable of his text.

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The Halo Has Slipped

If you’re looking for some comfort that Barack Obama wasn’t trying to play it both ways–endearing himself to extreme and paranoid fringe members of Chicago’s African-American community while preaching racial unity–his speech today won’t help. He asked the right questions, but dodged the crucial concern:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Labeling the remarks he heard as “controversial” is, of course, old-style political hide-the-ball. This attempt to minimize and wrap in euphemism what he probably heard–anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-white venom–is not going to satisfy those who say “My rabbi/priest/minister never said that stuff.” (By the way, if he’s so concerned about raising children properly, why was he subjecting his kids to this?)

And if you were expecting him to disassociate himself from someone whose words are indistinguishable in key respects from Louis Farrakhan’s, forget it. He dug in with this:

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way. . .

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

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 – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

Notice how he now limits to “conversations” those instances in which Wright did not deride other racial and ethnic groups? I think the truth, buried in all this rhetoric and gloss, is clear: Obama sat there in church for twenty years, listening with his kids to a preacher vilifying his country, white people in general, and the state of Israel, and lacked the moral gumption to leave. I think the halo has slipped.

If you’re looking for some comfort that Barack Obama wasn’t trying to play it both ways–endearing himself to extreme and paranoid fringe members of Chicago’s African-American community while preaching racial unity–his speech today won’t help. He asked the right questions, but dodged the crucial concern:

I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

Labeling the remarks he heard as “controversial” is, of course, old-style political hide-the-ball. This attempt to minimize and wrap in euphemism what he probably heard–anti-American, anti-Israel, and anti-white venom–is not going to satisfy those who say “My rabbi/priest/minister never said that stuff.” (By the way, if he’s so concerned about raising children properly, why was he subjecting his kids to this?)

And if you were expecting him to disassociate himself from someone whose words are indistinguishable in key respects from Louis Farrakhan’s, forget it. He dug in with this:

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way. . .

And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

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 – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

Notice how he now limits to “conversations” those instances in which Wright did not deride other racial and ethnic groups? I think the truth, buried in all this rhetoric and gloss, is clear: Obama sat there in church for twenty years, listening with his kids to a preacher vilifying his country, white people in general, and the state of Israel, and lacked the moral gumption to leave. I think the halo has slipped.

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BLT on Whites

As more information comes out on the Trinity United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has been a congregant for decades, we’re getting a fuller picture of what pastor Jeremiah Wright calls “black liberation theology.” There’s a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting some interesting aspects of the gospel according to Rev. Wright.

The Journal claims Wright described black liberation theology “as a sister of liberation theology, the lay Catholic movement that fueled political activism in Latin America in the 1960’s.” It’s worth noting that the Latin American liberation theology of the 1960’s was heavily rooted in Marxism. Using Marxist categorizations to analyze economic oppression and social injustice, liberation theologians shifted the focus of salvation off the individual and onto larger societal structures. The problem with the emulation of Latin America’s liberation theology in the U.S. is not that preachers like Wright are necessarily Marxists, but that they can give short shrift to the notion of personal responsibility in favor of diffuse societal blame.

Fiery condemnation of the country’s white political and social power structure would be justified if we were back in the 1960’s. America’s long and unpardonable delay in living up to its Bill of Rights demanded nothing less. But in 2008, almost forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black liberation theology, like other left-wing anachronisms, is almost quaintly misguided. I mean, if you discount the damning of America, the accusation that the U.S. government created AIDS, and the charge that we brought 9/11 on ourselves, the Trinity United Church is almost as curiously out-of-date as one of those recreated historical villages where you can ask the blacksmith about his trade.

Except that this isn’t entertainment. It’s what passes for spirituality and activism for a large number of American citizens, and that’s a tragedy. (According to this poll, Wright’s comments made black voters more likely, on balance, to vote for Obama.) Aside from the toxic looniness of the charges themselves, what’s most distressing about Wright’s blather is that it abets a mindset that keeps disaffected people disaffected. John McWhorter coined the term “therapeutic alienation” to describe the strain of default resistance to societal expectations that’s found in some black communities. In peddling justifications for therapeutic alienation, Rev. Wright is damning his congregation most. Trinity officials say Wright’s words were taken “out of context,” but the only thing out of context here is the sentiment behind his words. History has left Wright behind. It’s time to retire this petrified line of preachment and liberate the minds of its adherents.

As more information comes out on the Trinity United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has been a congregant for decades, we’re getting a fuller picture of what pastor Jeremiah Wright calls “black liberation theology.” There’s a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting some interesting aspects of the gospel according to Rev. Wright.

The Journal claims Wright described black liberation theology “as a sister of liberation theology, the lay Catholic movement that fueled political activism in Latin America in the 1960’s.” It’s worth noting that the Latin American liberation theology of the 1960’s was heavily rooted in Marxism. Using Marxist categorizations to analyze economic oppression and social injustice, liberation theologians shifted the focus of salvation off the individual and onto larger societal structures. The problem with the emulation of Latin America’s liberation theology in the U.S. is not that preachers like Wright are necessarily Marxists, but that they can give short shrift to the notion of personal responsibility in favor of diffuse societal blame.

Fiery condemnation of the country’s white political and social power structure would be justified if we were back in the 1960’s. America’s long and unpardonable delay in living up to its Bill of Rights demanded nothing less. But in 2008, almost forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black liberation theology, like other left-wing anachronisms, is almost quaintly misguided. I mean, if you discount the damning of America, the accusation that the U.S. government created AIDS, and the charge that we brought 9/11 on ourselves, the Trinity United Church is almost as curiously out-of-date as one of those recreated historical villages where you can ask the blacksmith about his trade.

Except that this isn’t entertainment. It’s what passes for spirituality and activism for a large number of American citizens, and that’s a tragedy. (According to this poll, Wright’s comments made black voters more likely, on balance, to vote for Obama.) Aside from the toxic looniness of the charges themselves, what’s most distressing about Wright’s blather is that it abets a mindset that keeps disaffected people disaffected. John McWhorter coined the term “therapeutic alienation” to describe the strain of default resistance to societal expectations that’s found in some black communities. In peddling justifications for therapeutic alienation, Rev. Wright is damning his congregation most. Trinity officials say Wright’s words were taken “out of context,” but the only thing out of context here is the sentiment behind his words. History has left Wright behind. It’s time to retire this petrified line of preachment and liberate the minds of its adherents.

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Obama, the Non-Muslim

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Christian.  As his official campaign biography notes, Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago with a church-based group after graduating from Columbia, and he currently attends Trinity United Church of Christ with his family.

Yet at various points during his campaign, Obama has had to address questions regarding the Islamic aspects of his biography, which include a Kenyan-Muslim father, an Indonesian-Muslim stepfather, four years spent living in Indonesia during his childhood, and an Islamic middle name (Hussein).  Earlier this year, with the help of investigative journalists, Obama debunked the rumor that he had studied at an Indonesian madrassa.  Yesterday, amid whispers from supporters of Hillary Clinton, Obama again declared that stories regarding his “Muslim background” had been “misreported.”

These episodes questioning Obama’s “true faith” expose two disturbing trends.  The first is the upsetting tendency of Obama’s opponents to invoke his “Muslim roots” as a weapon.  Although this smear campaign is most pronounced on the Internet, it received a substantial bump last week, when former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey played the Muslim card while endorsing Hillary Clinton.  “I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim,” Kerrey said.  News of Kerrey’s remark quickly spread to the Arabic press, where readers of the al-Arabiyya were outraged, commenting that the statements were “racist” and proved that “America is at war with Islam to build Zion.”  Their anger—though surely not their bigoted retorts—is understandable.  If it is wrong to take issue with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, then it is logically even more wrong to take issue with Obama’s non-Islamic faith, especially insofar as it demonizes Islam in the process.

But Obama’s responses to these spurious insinuations are also frustrating.  Obama likes to have it both ways, severely downplaying his Islamic heritage while still claiming to possess a unique understanding of the Muslim world.  In this vein, you won’t find “Hussein” anywhere in his officially produced campaign content, while he emphatically told an Iowa audience on Sunday that his Muslim father “wasn’t very religious.”  Yet, in the same conversation, Obama claimed that living in Indonesia from the ages of 6-10 gave him “insight into how these folks think.”  Where does this insight come from, if Obama is as removed from Islam as he claims?  What kind of intense sociocultural conversations was young Barry Obama having with his classmates during recess in Jakarta that would meaningfully inform his thinking on the Muslim world four decades later?

Frankly, Obama’s response demonstrates that his experience in the Muslim world has taught him little about “these folks.”  Indeed, if he truly understood the Muslim world, he would respond to future insinuations regarding his “Muslim background” by taking umbrage at the equation of Islam with evil, and declaring such sentiments un-American.  Perceptions of Islam are critical to many in the Muslim world, and statements such as those made by Kerrey do little to assuage their concerns.  Instead, Obama has fallen back on the selectively embellished version of his cultural biography, reminding us of his travels when he is unable to provide substance.

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is a Christian.  As his official campaign biography notes, Obama worked as a community organizer in Chicago with a church-based group after graduating from Columbia, and he currently attends Trinity United Church of Christ with his family.

Yet at various points during his campaign, Obama has had to address questions regarding the Islamic aspects of his biography, which include a Kenyan-Muslim father, an Indonesian-Muslim stepfather, four years spent living in Indonesia during his childhood, and an Islamic middle name (Hussein).  Earlier this year, with the help of investigative journalists, Obama debunked the rumor that he had studied at an Indonesian madrassa.  Yesterday, amid whispers from supporters of Hillary Clinton, Obama again declared that stories regarding his “Muslim background” had been “misreported.”

These episodes questioning Obama’s “true faith” expose two disturbing trends.  The first is the upsetting tendency of Obama’s opponents to invoke his “Muslim roots” as a weapon.  Although this smear campaign is most pronounced on the Internet, it received a substantial bump last week, when former Nebraska Senator Bob Kerrey played the Muslim card while endorsing Hillary Clinton.  “I like the fact that his name is Barack Hussein Obama, and that his father was a Muslim and that his paternal grandmother is a Muslim,” Kerrey said.  News of Kerrey’s remark quickly spread to the Arabic press, where readers of the al-Arabiyya were outraged, commenting that the statements were “racist” and proved that “America is at war with Islam to build Zion.”  Their anger—though surely not their bigoted retorts—is understandable.  If it is wrong to take issue with Mitt Romney’s Mormon faith, then it is logically even more wrong to take issue with Obama’s non-Islamic faith, especially insofar as it demonizes Islam in the process.

But Obama’s responses to these spurious insinuations are also frustrating.  Obama likes to have it both ways, severely downplaying his Islamic heritage while still claiming to possess a unique understanding of the Muslim world.  In this vein, you won’t find “Hussein” anywhere in his officially produced campaign content, while he emphatically told an Iowa audience on Sunday that his Muslim father “wasn’t very religious.”  Yet, in the same conversation, Obama claimed that living in Indonesia from the ages of 6-10 gave him “insight into how these folks think.”  Where does this insight come from, if Obama is as removed from Islam as he claims?  What kind of intense sociocultural conversations was young Barry Obama having with his classmates during recess in Jakarta that would meaningfully inform his thinking on the Muslim world four decades later?

Frankly, Obama’s response demonstrates that his experience in the Muslim world has taught him little about “these folks.”  Indeed, if he truly understood the Muslim world, he would respond to future insinuations regarding his “Muslim background” by taking umbrage at the equation of Islam with evil, and declaring such sentiments un-American.  Perceptions of Islam are critical to many in the Muslim world, and statements such as those made by Kerrey do little to assuage their concerns.  Instead, Obama has fallen back on the selectively embellished version of his cultural biography, reminding us of his travels when he is unable to provide substance.

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