"For the men and women of Rev. Wright's generation, the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. That anger may not get expressed in public, in front of white coworkers or white friends. But it does find voice in the barbershop or around the kitchen table. At times, that anger is exploited by politicians, to gin up votes along racial lines, or to make up for a politician's own failings," Obama said. He added, "And occasionally it finds voice in the church on Sunday morning, in the pulpit and in the pews. The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Rev. Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning. That anger is not always productive; indeed, all too often it distracts attention from solving real problems; it keeps us from squarely facing our own complicity in our condition, and prevents the African-American community from forging the alliances it needs to bring about real change. But the anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races." Obama has been a member of Wright's church for two decades.
The minister married Obama and his wife, Michelle, and baptized their two daughters. Obama said if all he knew of Wright was the YouTube videos of his anti-war comments that have been circulating, "there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way," he said. "But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man." Obama emphasized that even people we love sometimes do or say things with which we don't agree. "I can no more disown him than I can disown the Black community," Obama said. "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."
Others who understand the dynamics and history of the Black church have said in the last few days that this fuss over Wright's comments is overblown. Many, from Democratic strategist Donna Brazile to renowned Harlem Rev. Calvin Butts, have asserted that Wright's rhetoric, while controversial, is almost standard fare in terms of the tone emanating from the pulpits of many Black churches across the nation every Sunday. "The strength of the language is questionable.
However, the prophetic tradition of the African-American church has been such that we have had to criticize the nation that we love so dearly in order to win our human and civil rights," said Butts, leader of Harlem's historic Abyssinian Baptist Church, in an interview with CBS Early Morning News. "The shock rhetoric is not unusual in pulpits--Black or white but certainly in the Black community--because people have to have the point driven home. They have to have it made vivid and sometimes the language can be awfully powerful." Brazile, who served as the campaign manager of the 2000 presidential campaign of former Vice President Al Gore and is now a regular contributor and political commentator on CNN's "The Situation Room," concurred, calling Wright one of the more moderate Black preachers she's come across. "Just go to a church down the block from my house and I see women coming with their hats on the other side of their head because they have been lifted up," Brazile said.
The Rev. Gil Caldwell, a New Jersey civil-rights activist who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., said there's a historic ignorance of the why and the how of the Black church outside of the African-American community. "It's church that exists simply because of the reticence and the racism of the white church and I think you need to put the Black church into that context," he said.
"I think all of us would use different words than Jeremiah Wright, but I am not surprised by this kind of speaking." While not agreeing with the specifics of Wright's statements, Caldwell said the nation has to be able to handle a critical assessment. "He critiqued the war on Iraq. That has been coming at us from pulpits all over. I think we have to assume some culpability as a nation for some of our misdeeds throughout the world. I think it is important for us as a nation to be mature enough to accept self-criticism from men like Jeremiah Wright whose patriotism I think is not in question," said Caldwell. "It reminds me of the critique of Martin Luther King who at first was called a communist because he spoke about against the war in Vietnam. There is often resistance to that kind of prophetic speaking."
In a 2001 column for The Chicago Sun-Times, noted author and radio host Michael Eric Dyson said this of Wright: "Wright's prophetic stance on social issues … is more necessary now than ever. Huge segments of the church, including the Black church, have been seduced by the materialistic gospel of prosperity that obscures critical attention to the bread-and-butter issues that define the Black church's raison d'être: social justice, racial equality and spiritual vitality, themes Wright has relentlessly and fearlessly embraced. May he live long to preach the gospel and uplift our people."
Was Reverend Wright Wrong?
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