The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado
“Three things concern me about Barack Obama’s candidacy,” cautioned a friend, a lifelong Republican who recently confessed that for the first time in his life he may vote the Democratic ticket for president.
The first concern is Obama’s strictly liberal voting record. Second is Obama’s failure to endorse bipartisan bills. Third is Obama’s place in the congregation of Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
The first two concerns are political. Obama’s liberal voting record reflects loyalty to his liberal ideology; no mystery there. His lack of bi-partisan support reveals allegiance to his Democratic Party in what has been a divisive political climate; he will soften this stance as a consensus-driven president. The third concern is more complicated, and it gives conservatives deep palpitations of doubt and fear for the Obama presidency. If Barack Obama could attend Reverend Wright’s church, how radical is he and what might that imply for his leadership?
If our political leaders were all identified by the churches they attend, the American political establishment would face an absurd Inquisition. George W. Bush claims to talk regularly with God, so we could begin there in assessing his sanity and religious fervor.
Obama’s association with Wright is perceived as ideological rather than religious. The fear of conservatives is based on Wright’s condemnations of America, especially of the war in Iraq. Many conservatives think Wright’s denunciations implicate Obama.
John H. Thomas, Minister of United Church of Christ, said in a sermon in March that Wright has been condemned for using a mild “obscenity” in reference to the US, but he suggests there are greater obscenities to witness. “The war in Iraq … was conceived in deception and prosecuted in foolish arrogance,” charged Thomas. “Nearly four thousand cherished Americans have been killed, countless more wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqis slaughtered. Where is the real obscenity here?
“True patriotism,” he opined, “requires a degree of self-criticism, even self-judgment that may not always be easy or genteel. Pastor Wright’s judgment may be starker and more sweeping than many of us are prepared to accept. But is the soul of our nation served any better by the polite prayers and gentle admonitions that have gone without a real hearing for these five years while the dying and destruction continues?”
Thomas’s words evoke Martin Luther King from his “Letter from Birmingham City Jail,” where King denounced white moderates for their ambiguity regarding the civil rights of minority blacks. “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion,” wrote King, “that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the … Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.”
Wright condemns the same ambiguity toward the war in Iraq. The desperate need for “order” after 9/11 created a nation of moderates too afraid and morally confused to question, let alone contest, bellicose foreign policies.
“I had hoped,” wrote King in 1963, “that the white moderates would understand that law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice, and that when they fail to do this they become dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.”
Social progress requires unflinching morality and the embrace of humanism. Coddling the status quo out of fear suggests the posture of an ostrich, which Wright has refused to accept, hence his perorations against a belligerent, myopic U.S.
Obama’s perceived taint from consorting with Rev. Wright may be frightening to some, but it signals the hope that Obama will think critically about the U.S. as a global leader and work for justice in addressing that role. If not, we face a moral crisis that King described with simplistic force: “We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the vitriolic words and actions of the bad people, but for the appalling silence of the good people.”