Commentary Magazine


Topic: Trinity

Less in Sorrow Than In Anger

A young Democrat quoted in the Wall Street Journal says of Barack Obama’s association with Trinity Church: “I wouldn’t want to be associated with people who say things like that.” Many have tried to rationalize Obama’s continued presence at Trinity United. But now Stanley Kurtz come along to detail exactly why and how deeply Obama was associated with Wright, Pfleger, and liberation theology in practice. It seems clear that Obama very much wanted to be associated with these people precisely because his “long-held and decidedly audacious hope has been to spread Wright’s radical spirit by linking it to a viable, left-leaning political program, with Obama himself at the center.” Kurtz’s article is a must read, and the bottom line is disturbing :

So Obama’s political interest in Trinity went far beyond merely gaining a respectable public Christian identity. On his own account, Obama hoped to use the untapped power of the black church to supercharge hard-left politics in Chicago, creating a personal and institutional political base that would be free to part with conventional Democratic politics. By his own testimony, Obama would seem to have allied himself with Wright and Pfleger, not in spite of, but precisely because of their radical left-wing politics. It follows that Obama’s ties to Trinity reflect on far more than his judgment and character (although they certainly implicate that). Contrary to common wisdom, then, Obama’s religious history has everything to do with his political values and policy positions, since it confirms his affinity for leftist radicalism.

So if some were disturbed by the implication that Obama had “played” the black churches and put up a front to gain political acceptance and support for his blossoming career, it may come as a bigger shock to learn that his embrace of the radicals and their extreme rhetoric and agenda was sincere.  His current post-racial, moderate sounding themes may be a front. It would be ironic if those supposedly know-nothing hicks (according to the mainstream media) from West Virginia who told exit pollsters in overwhelming numbers that they believed Obama shared Wright’s views were exactly on the mark.

This explains, perhaps, why Obama took such great personal offense at being called out by Rev. Wright as insincere and acting like a politician. As nutty and vitriolic as he may be, Wright was witness to Obama’s deep involvement in the milieu which Kurtz describes. Wright’s willingness to pull back the curtain and reveal that Obama’s “signature theme” (as Kurtz put it) was in lockstep with Wright’s and Pfleger’s views struck at the heart of Obama’s efforts to win the nomination and the presidency. Because, after all, if Americans came to believe that Obama did not merely tolerate Wright and Pfleger, but agreed wholeheartedly with their outlook and approach then Obama’s chances for the presidency would likely be dashed. That’s enough to get a denouncement from the man who does not do denouncements.

A young Democrat quoted in the Wall Street Journal says of Barack Obama’s association with Trinity Church: “I wouldn’t want to be associated with people who say things like that.” Many have tried to rationalize Obama’s continued presence at Trinity United. But now Stanley Kurtz come along to detail exactly why and how deeply Obama was associated with Wright, Pfleger, and liberation theology in practice. It seems clear that Obama very much wanted to be associated with these people precisely because his “long-held and decidedly audacious hope has been to spread Wright’s radical spirit by linking it to a viable, left-leaning political program, with Obama himself at the center.” Kurtz’s article is a must read, and the bottom line is disturbing :

So Obama’s political interest in Trinity went far beyond merely gaining a respectable public Christian identity. On his own account, Obama hoped to use the untapped power of the black church to supercharge hard-left politics in Chicago, creating a personal and institutional political base that would be free to part with conventional Democratic politics. By his own testimony, Obama would seem to have allied himself with Wright and Pfleger, not in spite of, but precisely because of their radical left-wing politics. It follows that Obama’s ties to Trinity reflect on far more than his judgment and character (although they certainly implicate that). Contrary to common wisdom, then, Obama’s religious history has everything to do with his political values and policy positions, since it confirms his affinity for leftist radicalism.

So if some were disturbed by the implication that Obama had “played” the black churches and put up a front to gain political acceptance and support for his blossoming career, it may come as a bigger shock to learn that his embrace of the radicals and their extreme rhetoric and agenda was sincere.  His current post-racial, moderate sounding themes may be a front. It would be ironic if those supposedly know-nothing hicks (according to the mainstream media) from West Virginia who told exit pollsters in overwhelming numbers that they believed Obama shared Wright’s views were exactly on the mark.

This explains, perhaps, why Obama took such great personal offense at being called out by Rev. Wright as insincere and acting like a politician. As nutty and vitriolic as he may be, Wright was witness to Obama’s deep involvement in the milieu which Kurtz describes. Wright’s willingness to pull back the curtain and reveal that Obama’s “signature theme” (as Kurtz put it) was in lockstep with Wright’s and Pfleger’s views struck at the heart of Obama’s efforts to win the nomination and the presidency. Because, after all, if Americans came to believe that Obama did not merely tolerate Wright and Pfleger, but agreed wholeheartedly with their outlook and approach then Obama’s chances for the presidency would likely be dashed. That’s enough to get a denouncement from the man who does not do denouncements.

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What Does It Mean?

Barack Obama is getting clobbered in another primary, losing more than 2 to 1 in Puerto Rico. On one hand, it is easy to say “Who cares?” The nomination is within Obama’s grasp and Puerto Rico doesn’t vote in November (making this primary the perfect coda to a bizarrely-constructed primary system). Whatever popular-vote theory Hillary Clinton is constructing won’t materially change. You either buy that she won Michigan and Florida, in which case she already leads, or you think she shouldn’t get to count those delegates, in which case Puerto Rico makes no difference.

But it does contribute to the sense that Obama is sputtering. In the words of the New York Times,

In many ways, Mr. Obama is wheezing across the finish line after making a strong start: He has won only 6 of the 13 Democratic contests held since March 4, drawing 6.1 million votes, compared with 6.6 million for Mrs. Clinton.

And there is queasiness about what other shoes might be dropping from Trinity or elsewhere. (Again, from the Times: “Mr. Obama’s announcement on Saturday that he would leave his church was just another reminder of how events continue to unfold in the race.”) So perhaps all she is left with is to sit back for a couple of months, watch the polls and the YouTube clips, and see if something might send those superdelegates scurrying back to her by August. If not, the Democrats have made their choice–a man who runs like John Kerry in the swing states, who for now trails John McCain on Iraq, national security, the economy, and reducing corruption, and who has forfeited his post-racial bona fides in the pews of Trinity United.

Maybe that’s why this didn’t sound like an “I’m dropping out Tuesday” sort of speech. If, come late August, the DNC needs a Plan B–Hillary will be waiting.

Barack Obama is getting clobbered in another primary, losing more than 2 to 1 in Puerto Rico. On one hand, it is easy to say “Who cares?” The nomination is within Obama’s grasp and Puerto Rico doesn’t vote in November (making this primary the perfect coda to a bizarrely-constructed primary system). Whatever popular-vote theory Hillary Clinton is constructing won’t materially change. You either buy that she won Michigan and Florida, in which case she already leads, or you think she shouldn’t get to count those delegates, in which case Puerto Rico makes no difference.

But it does contribute to the sense that Obama is sputtering. In the words of the New York Times,

In many ways, Mr. Obama is wheezing across the finish line after making a strong start: He has won only 6 of the 13 Democratic contests held since March 4, drawing 6.1 million votes, compared with 6.6 million for Mrs. Clinton.

And there is queasiness about what other shoes might be dropping from Trinity or elsewhere. (Again, from the Times: “Mr. Obama’s announcement on Saturday that he would leave his church was just another reminder of how events continue to unfold in the race.”) So perhaps all she is left with is to sit back for a couple of months, watch the polls and the YouTube clips, and see if something might send those superdelegates scurrying back to her by August. If not, the Democrats have made their choice–a man who runs like John Kerry in the swing states, who for now trails John McCain on Iraq, national security, the economy, and reducing corruption, and who has forfeited his post-racial bona fides in the pews of Trinity United.

Maybe that’s why this didn’t sound like an “I’m dropping out Tuesday” sort of speech. If, come late August, the DNC needs a Plan B–Hillary will be waiting.

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Obama Acts Like Obama

True to form, Barack Obama’s explanation yesterday of his reasons for leaving Trinity Church are a model of double-talk. (And the remarkably passive media pack doesn’t make it very hard for him to avoid further scrutiny.) He has, he explained

“tremendous regard” for the church community, but said he could not live with a situation where everything said in the church, including comments by a guest pastor, “will be imputed to me, even if they conflict with my long-held, views, statements and principles.”

And he would have remained in a church for two decades where regularly people spoke out in ways which conflicted with his principles because . . . why, exactly? We don’t know. And no one in the press thought to ask.

But it gets worse. ABC reports:

He insisted that Trinity itself is not a church worth denouncing. “I’m not denouncing the church and I’m not interested in people who want me to denounce the church, because it’s not a church worthy of denouncing, and so if they’ve seen caricatures of the church and except [sic] those caricatures despite my insistence that that’s not what the church is about, then there’s not much I can do about it.”

Yes, remember Obama does not do denouncing. There is nothing a Wright or Pfleger or Ayers can do which deserve condemnation. Unless, of course they visit the National Press Club and critique his sincerity.

And Obama concedes that:

[A]t the start of the campaign he never would have expected this much scrutiny to be put on his faith, “which we knew there was going to be some things that we didn’t see coming, this was one. You know I did not anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subject to such challenge and such scrutiny. Initially with emails suggesting that I was a Muslim, later with you know the controversy that Trinity generated.”

This one gets the trifecta for dishonesty, or perhaps cluelessness. First, it is, of course, not the case that his Christian faith is being questioned. I know of no commentator, critic, or political opponent who has done that. What is at issue is his propensity to hang out with hatemongers who suggest his current post-racial theme is a pose. Second, he apparently lacks any cultural or political compass if he really believed that Wright et al. would not become an issue. Was it self-delusion? Or is he so out of touch with average Americans that he was unable to predict what would be deeply offensive to millions of Americans? And finally, notice how he impugns the motives of those who raise concerns about his association with Trinity. They are on a footing, in his book, with those perpetrating the “He’s a Muslim” canard. But the former are not perpetrating a lie. They are discussing and probing the beliefs, sincerity, and character of the man who wants to be President.

The Trinity cast of characters and Obama’s reaction to them have been more revealing than more a dozen-plus debates, all the speeches, and just about anything that has happened in over a year of campaigning. It might be even more revealing if the media would take their role seriously and press Obama on some of these obvious points. But Obama, however inadvertently, has done a fairly good job of letting us know how he makes both political and moral judgments. And that is perhaps the most important thing to know about a potential President.

True to form, Barack Obama’s explanation yesterday of his reasons for leaving Trinity Church are a model of double-talk. (And the remarkably passive media pack doesn’t make it very hard for him to avoid further scrutiny.) He has, he explained

“tremendous regard” for the church community, but said he could not live with a situation where everything said in the church, including comments by a guest pastor, “will be imputed to me, even if they conflict with my long-held, views, statements and principles.”

And he would have remained in a church for two decades where regularly people spoke out in ways which conflicted with his principles because . . . why, exactly? We don’t know. And no one in the press thought to ask.

But it gets worse. ABC reports:

He insisted that Trinity itself is not a church worth denouncing. “I’m not denouncing the church and I’m not interested in people who want me to denounce the church, because it’s not a church worthy of denouncing, and so if they’ve seen caricatures of the church and except [sic] those caricatures despite my insistence that that’s not what the church is about, then there’s not much I can do about it.”

Yes, remember Obama does not do denouncing. There is nothing a Wright or Pfleger or Ayers can do which deserve condemnation. Unless, of course they visit the National Press Club and critique his sincerity.

And Obama concedes that:

[A]t the start of the campaign he never would have expected this much scrutiny to be put on his faith, “which we knew there was going to be some things that we didn’t see coming, this was one. You know I did not anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subject to such challenge and such scrutiny. Initially with emails suggesting that I was a Muslim, later with you know the controversy that Trinity generated.”

This one gets the trifecta for dishonesty, or perhaps cluelessness. First, it is, of course, not the case that his Christian faith is being questioned. I know of no commentator, critic, or political opponent who has done that. What is at issue is his propensity to hang out with hatemongers who suggest his current post-racial theme is a pose. Second, he apparently lacks any cultural or political compass if he really believed that Wright et al. would not become an issue. Was it self-delusion? Or is he so out of touch with average Americans that he was unable to predict what would be deeply offensive to millions of Americans? And finally, notice how he impugns the motives of those who raise concerns about his association with Trinity. They are on a footing, in his book, with those perpetrating the “He’s a Muslim” canard. But the former are not perpetrating a lie. They are discussing and probing the beliefs, sincerity, and character of the man who wants to be President.

The Trinity cast of characters and Obama’s reaction to them have been more revealing than more a dozen-plus debates, all the speeches, and just about anything that has happened in over a year of campaigning. It might be even more revealing if the media would take their role seriously and press Obama on some of these obvious points. But Obama, however inadvertently, has done a fairly good job of letting us know how he makes both political and moral judgments. And that is perhaps the most important thing to know about a potential President.

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What Took Twenty Years?

John, as you just noted, Barack Obama is leaving Trinity Church. Here’s the ABC News report:

Sources tell ABC News that Obama felt that as the campaign continued, the media would continue to focus on the church, to the detriment of the church community, that Obama would be held responsible for what happened in the church, and that the Church would be held responsible for his campaign. It would be best, Obama felt, to simply cut ties. He has not yet joined a new church. (Emphasis added.)

Well, we can now call Obama’s claim that he is devoted to the church and not Wright “inoperative.” This seems to undermine the argument of his apologists that there was nothing wrong Trinity United and lots of people attend places with rabbis or ministers with whom they “disagree.” Now that it is plain that this church welcomed and celebrated anti-white, anti-woman and anti-Semitic hate speech it is fair to ask why now, why only now would he leave? Well, he’s got a general election to run and the old Obama – the one with Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger as mentors – needs to be pushed out of view.

Imagine if the roles were reversed and John McCain had attended a white separatist church for twenty years. Would his resignation after two decades cure the concern that he had lived some sort of weird double life, cavorting with racists but talking about equal opportunity in his public life? I would imagine he’d have been forced out of the presidential race by now.

So the question remains: was Obama the least observant church congegrant on the planet (racism and anti-Semitism at Trinity? No!) or a hypocrite? Let the voters decide.

John, as you just noted, Barack Obama is leaving Trinity Church. Here’s the ABC News report:

Sources tell ABC News that Obama felt that as the campaign continued, the media would continue to focus on the church, to the detriment of the church community, that Obama would be held responsible for what happened in the church, and that the Church would be held responsible for his campaign. It would be best, Obama felt, to simply cut ties. He has not yet joined a new church. (Emphasis added.)

Well, we can now call Obama’s claim that he is devoted to the church and not Wright “inoperative.” This seems to undermine the argument of his apologists that there was nothing wrong Trinity United and lots of people attend places with rabbis or ministers with whom they “disagree.” Now that it is plain that this church welcomed and celebrated anti-white, anti-woman and anti-Semitic hate speech it is fair to ask why now, why only now would he leave? Well, he’s got a general election to run and the old Obama – the one with Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger as mentors – needs to be pushed out of view.

Imagine if the roles were reversed and John McCain had attended a white separatist church for twenty years. Would his resignation after two decades cure the concern that he had lived some sort of weird double life, cavorting with racists but talking about equal opportunity in his public life? I would imagine he’d have been forced out of the presidential race by now.

So the question remains: was Obama the least observant church congegrant on the planet (racism and anti-Semitism at Trinity? No!) or a hypocrite? Let the voters decide.

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One Step Closer . . .

Since Iran’s nuclear program was exposed in August 2002, Tehran has protested its innocence and claimed its nuclear program has only civilian purposes. The IAEA has just produced its latest report and it is not expressing confidence in Iran’s version of the facts. The IAEA pressing Iran on a number of findings about clandestine military activities–a diagram for an underground testing arrangement, the testing of explosive bridgewire detonators normally used for nuclear weapons, and documents about modifying the Iranian Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear warhead. And the report includes the following statement:

The Agency has also inquired about the reasons for inclusion in the curriculum vitae of an IAP [Institute of Applied Physics, a military-linked institute implicated in some of Iran's nuclear activities] of a Taylor-Sedov equation for the evolving radius of a nuclear explosion ball with photos of the 1945 Trinity test–the July 16, 1945 US test of a nuclear plutonium bomb in the New Mexico desert.

Iran has denied that there is any connection to nuclear weapons, just as it denied that it had asked for a nuclear warhead design it obtained from the network of Pakistani scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan. But these denials are starting to ring more and more hollowly, even to the ears of IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, not exactly unsympathetic to Iranian arguments. The IAEA has now verified that the design Iran has is identical to the one Pakistan has–so we now know that Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon from the Khan network, built an underground testing range, developed special detonators for a nuclear weapon, modified its long range missiles to fit a nuclear warhead, and has set physicists to studying nuclear blasts. What more does the international community need to know about this program before it recognizes that stronger measures are needed to prevent Iran from achieving its goals?

Since Iran’s nuclear program was exposed in August 2002, Tehran has protested its innocence and claimed its nuclear program has only civilian purposes. The IAEA has just produced its latest report and it is not expressing confidence in Iran’s version of the facts. The IAEA pressing Iran on a number of findings about clandestine military activities–a diagram for an underground testing arrangement, the testing of explosive bridgewire detonators normally used for nuclear weapons, and documents about modifying the Iranian Shahab-3 missile to accommodate a nuclear warhead. And the report includes the following statement:

The Agency has also inquired about the reasons for inclusion in the curriculum vitae of an IAP [Institute of Applied Physics, a military-linked institute implicated in some of Iran's nuclear activities] of a Taylor-Sedov equation for the evolving radius of a nuclear explosion ball with photos of the 1945 Trinity test–the July 16, 1945 US test of a nuclear plutonium bomb in the New Mexico desert.

Iran has denied that there is any connection to nuclear weapons, just as it denied that it had asked for a nuclear warhead design it obtained from the network of Pakistani scientist Dr. A.Q. Khan. But these denials are starting to ring more and more hollowly, even to the ears of IAEA Director General, Dr. Mohammad ElBaradei, not exactly unsympathetic to Iranian arguments. The IAEA has now verified that the design Iran has is identical to the one Pakistan has–so we now know that Iran obtained a design for a nuclear weapon from the Khan network, built an underground testing range, developed special detonators for a nuclear weapon, modified its long range missiles to fit a nuclear warhead, and has set physicists to studying nuclear blasts. What more does the international community need to know about this program before it recognizes that stronger measures are needed to prevent Iran from achieving its goals?

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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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Obama’s Pastor Rejects “Middleclassness,” All Right

A March 2007 New Republic article has surfaced in which the piece’s writer, Ryan Lizza, asserts that Jeremiah Wright was once a Muslim:

But Wright was a former Muslim and black nationalist who had studied at Howard and Chicago, and Trinity’s guiding principles–what the church calls the “Black Value System”–included a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’

I’m not terribly interested in the spiritual evolution of Rev. Wright. Muslim Americans have the same rights as Jewish Americans, Hindu Americans, and Christian Americans—including the right to worship freely and be left alone provided their worship doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s rights. (Although the implication here is that he might have been a Nation of Islam member, and the NOI is, at best, a racialist organization.) In any case, the Democratic primary has provided enough identity fodder to last several lifetimes.

What’s far more interesting is that Trinity Church’s guiding principles include a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’ Keep that in mind. Yesterday in Slate Christopher Hitchens gave this account of the Rev. Wright’s retirement booty: “a $1.6 million home, purchased in the name of his church and consisting of more than 10,000 square feet, in a gated community in Tinley Park, a prosperous white section of the city.” This deeply spiritual man has demonstrated that rarest of qualities in modern preachers: the ability to live up to one’s professed ideals. After all, there’s nothing middle-class about a 10,000 square foot home.

A March 2007 New Republic article has surfaced in which the piece’s writer, Ryan Lizza, asserts that Jeremiah Wright was once a Muslim:

But Wright was a former Muslim and black nationalist who had studied at Howard and Chicago, and Trinity’s guiding principles–what the church calls the “Black Value System”–included a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’

I’m not terribly interested in the spiritual evolution of Rev. Wright. Muslim Americans have the same rights as Jewish Americans, Hindu Americans, and Christian Americans—including the right to worship freely and be left alone provided their worship doesn’t infringe upon anyone else’s rights. (Although the implication here is that he might have been a Nation of Islam member, and the NOI is, at best, a racialist organization.) In any case, the Democratic primary has provided enough identity fodder to last several lifetimes.

What’s far more interesting is that Trinity Church’s guiding principles include a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’ Keep that in mind. Yesterday in Slate Christopher Hitchens gave this account of the Rev. Wright’s retirement booty: “a $1.6 million home, purchased in the name of his church and consisting of more than 10,000 square feet, in a gated community in Tinley Park, a prosperous white section of the city.” This deeply spiritual man has demonstrated that rarest of qualities in modern preachers: the ability to live up to one’s professed ideals. After all, there’s nothing middle-class about a 10,000 square foot home.

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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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