Thursday, Aug. 9, 2007
Presidential candidate Barack Obama preaches on the campaign trail that America needs a new consensus based on faith and bipartisanship, yet he continues to attend a controversial Chicago church whose pastor routinely refers to "white arrogance" and "the United States of White America."
In fact, Obama was in attendance at the church when these statements were made on July 22.
Obama has spoken and written of his special relationship with that pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
The connection between the two goes back to Obama’s days as a young community organizer in Chicago’s South Side when he first met the charismatic Wright. Obama credited Wright with converting him, then a religious skeptic, to Christianity.
"It was … at Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side of Chicago that I met Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who took me on another journey and introduced me to a man named Jesus Christ. It was the best education I ever had," Obama described his spiritual pilgrimage to a group of church ministers this past June.
Since the 1980s, Obama has not only remained a regular attendee at Wright’s services in his inner city mega church, Trinity United Church of Christ, along with its other 8,500 members, he’s been a close disciple and personal friend of Wright.
Wright conducted Obama’s marriage to his wife Michelle, baptized his two daughters, and blessed Obama’s Chicago home. Obama’s best-selling book, "The Audacity of Hope," takes its title from one of Wright’s sermons.
Because of this close relationship, questions have been raised as to the influence the divisive pastor will have on the consensus-building potential president.
Obama and Wright appear, at first blush, an unlikely pair. Wright is Chicago’s version of the Rev. Al Sharpton.
It was no surprise that Sharpton recently announced that with Wright’s backing, he was setting up a chapter of his New York-based National Action Network in Chicagoland. The chapter will be headed by Wright’s daughter, Jeri Wright.
Minister of Controversy
Obama was not the only national African-American figure to cozy up to Wright. TV host Oprah Winfrey once described herself as a congregant, but in recent years has disassociated herself from the controversial minister.
A visit to Wright’s Trinity United is anything but Oprah-style friendly.
As I approached the entrance of the church before a recent Sunday service, a large young man in an expensive suit stepped out to block the doorway.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"I came to hear Dr. Wright," I replied.
After an uncomfortable pause, the gentleman stepped aside.
On this particular July Sabbath morning, only a handful of white men — aside from a few members of Obama’s Secret Service detail — were present among a congregation of approximately 2,500 people.
The floral arrangements were extravagant. Wright, his associate pastors, choir members, and many of the gentlemen in the congregation were attired in traditional African dashiki robes. African drums accompanied the organist.
Trinity United bears the motto "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian."
Wright says its doctrine reflects black liberation theology, which views the Bible in part as a record of the struggles of "people of color" against oppression.
A skilled and fiery orator, Wright’s interpretation of the Scriptures has been described as "Afrocentric."
When referring to the Romans, for example, he refers to "European oppression" — not addressing the fact that the Egyptians, who were also a slave society, were people of Africa.
The Trinity United Web site tells of a "commitment to the black community, commitment to the black family, adherence to the black work ethic, pledge to make all the fruits of developing acquired skills available to the black community."
"Some white people hear it as racism in reverse," Dwight Hopkins, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, a member of the Trinity United Church of Christ, tells The New York Times. Blacks tend to hear a different message, Hopkins says: "Yes, we are somebody; we’re also made in God’s image."
Several prior remarks by Obama’s pastor have caught the media’s attention:
Wright’s strong sentiments were echoed in the Sunday morning service attended by NewsMax.
Wright laced into America’s establishment, blaming the "white arrogance" of America’s Caucasian majority for the woes of the world, especially the oppression suffered by blacks. To underscore the point he refers to the country as the "United States of White America." Many in the congregation, including Obama, nodded in apparent agreement as these statements were made.
The sermon also addressed the Iraq war, a frequent area of Wright’s fulminations.
"Young African-American men," Wright thundered, were "dying for nothing." The "illegal war," he shouted, was "based on Bush’s lies" and is being "fought for oil money."
In a sermon filled with profanity, Wright also blamed the war on "Bush administration bulls–t."
Those are the types of statements that have led to MSNBC’s Tucker Carlson describing Wright as "a full-blown hater."
Wright first came to national attention in 1984, when he visited Castro’s Cuba and Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya.
Wright’s Libyan visit came three years after a pair of Libyan fighter jets fired on American aircraft over international waters in the Mediterranean Sea, and four years before the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland — which resulted in the deaths of 259 passengers and crew. The U.S. implicated Gaddafi and his intelligence services in the bombing.
In recent years, Wright has focused his diatribe on America’s war on terror and the U.S. occupation of Iraq.
For a February 2003 service, Wright placed a "War on Iraq IQ Test" on the Pastor’s Page of the church Web site. The test consisted of a series of questions and answers that clearly portrayed America as the aggressor, and the war as unjustified and illegal. Marginally relevant issues regarding Israel received attention.
The test also portrayed the Iraqi people as victims of trade sanctions, but Saddam Hussein’s propensity for using "oil for food" proceeds to build palaces rather than buy medicine was never mentioned.
At the end of the test, the pastor wrote, "Members of Trinity are asked to think about these things and be prayerful as we sift through the ‘hype’ being poured on by the George Bush-controlled media." Obama’s campaign staff did not respond to a NewsMax request for the senator’s response to Wright’s statements.
In April, however, Obama spoke to The New York Times about Wright, and appeared to be trying to distance himself from his spiritual mentor. He said, "We don’t agree on everything. I’ve never had a thorough conversation with him about all aspects of politics."
More specifically, Obama told the Times, "The violence of 9/11 was inexcusable and without justification," adding "It sounds like [Wright] was trying to be provocative."
Obama attributed Wright’s controversial views to Wright being "a child of the ’60s" who Obama said "expresses himself in that language of concern with institutional racism, and the struggles the African-American community has gone through."
"It is hard to imagine, though, how Mr. Obama can truly distance himself from Mr. Wright," writes Jodi Kantor of The New York Times. On the day Sen. Obama announced his presidential quest in February of this year, Wright was set to give the invocation at the Springfield, Ill. rally. At the last moment, Obama’s campaign yanked the invite to Wright.
Wright’s camp was apparently upset by the slight, and Obama’s campaign quickly issued a statement "Senator Obama is proud of his pastor and his church."
Since that spat, there is little evidence, indeed, that Sen. Obama has sought to distance himself from the angry Church leader. In June, when Obama appeared before a conference of ministers from his religious denomination, Wright appeared in a videotaped introduction.
One of Obama’s campaign themes has been his claim that conservative evangelicals have "hijacked" Christianity, ignoring issues like poverty, AIDS, and racism.
This past June, in an effort to build a new consensus between his new politics and faith, Obama’s campaign launched a new Web page, http://www.faith.barackobama.com.
On the day the page appeared on his campaign site, it offered testimonials from Wright and two other ministers supporting Obama. The inclusion of Wright drew a sharp rebuke from the Catholic League. Noting that Obama had rescinded Wright’s invitation to speak at his announcement ceremony, Catholic League President Bill Donohue declared that Obama "knew that his spiritual adviser was so divisive that he would cloud the ceremonies."
He noted that Wright "has a record of giving racially inflammatory sermons and has even said that Zionism has an element of ‘white racism.’ He also blamed the attacks of 9/11 on American foreign policy."
Donohue acknowledged that Obama may have different views than Wright and the other ministers on his Web site, but "he is responsible for giving them the opportunity to prominently display their testimonials on his religious outreach Web site."
Political pundits have suggested that Obama’s problems with Wright are not ones based on faith, but pure politics. The upstart presidential candidate needs to pull most of the black vote to have any chance of snagging the Democratic nomination. Obama’s ties to Wright and the activist African American church helps in that effort.
But the same experts same those same ties may come to haunt him if he were to win the nomination and face a Republican in the general election.
The worry is not lost on Wright.
"If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me," Wright told The New York Times with a shrug. "I said it to Barack personally, and he said ‘yeah, that might have to happen.’"
Then lets not forget the Muslim Factor. Obama’s full name–as by now you have probably heard–is Barack Hussein Obama, Jr. Hussein is a Muslim name, which comes from the name of Ali’s son–Hussein Ibn Ali. And Obama is named after his late Kenyan father, the late Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., apparently a Muslim.
And while Obama may not identify as a Muslim, that’s not how the Arab and Muslim Streets see it. In Arab culture and under Islamic law, if your father is a Muslim, so are you. And once a Muslim, always a Muslim. You cannot go back. In Islamic eyes, Obama is certainly a Muslim. He may think he’s a Christian, but they do not.
Then, there are the other items in his background. As best-selling author Scott Turow wrote in Salon, Obama went to a Muslim school for two years in Indonesia. His mother, Anna, married an Indonesian man (likely another Muslim, as Indonesia is Muslim-dominated and has the largest Islamic population in the world).
And Obama has a "born-again" affinity for the nation of his Muslim father, Kenya, and his Kenyan sister. (Although Kenya is largely Christian, it has a fast-growing Muslim population that has engaged in a good deal of religious violence and riots against Christians. And Kenyan courts will apply Sharia law, when the participants are Muslim.) Wrote Turow:
Obama’s father died in a traffic accident in Nairobi in 1982, but while Obama was working in Chicago, he met his Kenyan sister, Auma, a linguist educated in Germany who was visiting the United States. When she returned to Kenya in 1986 to teach for a year at the University of Nairobi, Obama finally made the trip to his father’s homeland he had long promised himself. There, he managed to fully embrace a heritage and a family he’d never fully known and come to terms with his father, whom he’d long regarded as an august foreign prince, but now realized was a human being burdened by his own illusions and vulnerabilities.
So, even if he identifies strongly as a Christian, and even if he despised the behavior of his father (as Obama said on Oprah); is a man who Muslims think is a Muslim, who feels some sort of psychological need to prove himself to his absent Muslim father, and who is now moving in the direction of his father’s heritage, a man we want as President when we are fighting the war of our lives against Islam? Where will his loyalties be
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