After his sermon at the National Press Club
in April, there was renewed uproar in my parish about Rev.
Wright, based on the belief, asserted no doubt in many other
circles, that Jeremiah Wright was now egotistically upstaging
his former parishioner. Reverend Wright was accused of selfishly
chasing the media so as to effectively sabotage Senator Obama’s
candidacy. There was Obama, working like the sorcerer’s apprentice
to get the Democratic nomination - remember Mickey Mouse in
the Disney version - and his Christian broom had taken on
a life of its own. Much to the chagrin of Obama and his supporters,
that attempt to counter the Muslim associations of his name
by actively embracing his Christian church has now turned
into a media challenge to put down that very Christian pastor
who, according to Obama, actually drew him into the Church.
The attack on Obama, using Wright’s outspokenness,
did not originate with his statements to Bill Moyer or the
National Press Club. For decades, US Americans have been conditioned
to believe that one third - and in some parts of the US
one half - of the population constitute a “special interest”
because of their skin color. This has perverted the country’s
political culture - just like the 19th century Supreme Court
decision granting corporations more civil rights than ex-slaves.
Rev. Wright probably would not have drawn much attention in
the first place had the Right not thought his old sermons
would be good ammunition against Senator Obama. He was thrust
into the limelight by the campaign - not the other way around.
Reverend Wright was correct to see and say that the attack
on him and indirectly the challenge to Obama was not even
an ad hominem but an attack on the Black
Church and on African-American culture
itself. In short, it was an attack on the validity of the
prophetic voice of the African-American religious experience
in a country which itself has no political culture divorced
from the Church. In
a secular society like some in Europe
this would be relatively unimportant. However in a country
whose entire socio-political culture is church driven, to
attack the validity of the Black Church (by no means a monolith) is even
more vile than to attack the polling stations. No white candidate
would have been forced to distance himself from the obnoxious
pronouncements of New York’s John Cardinal O’Connor in order to establish his right to
candidacy. Even when the US elected its first Catholic president, there
was no serious talk of Kennedy renouncing Cardinal Cushing.
all respect to Obama’s Philadelphia speech in March - truly
an excellent piece of oratory - the senator from Illinois
is responsible for at least two serious weaknesses which had
nothing to do with Wright - his soft-jingoism in aligning
himself with Israel and disregarding the truly catastrophic
consequences of US policy both for Palestine and for Muslims
everywhere - and his failure to address the fact that the
majority of people who are going to war for the US are the
poor, a substantial number of whom are Black Americans. The
same was true of the military in Reverend Wright’s day, forty
years ago, when US soldiers were being recruited to kill “gooks”
instead of “rag-heads.” These poor are being made even poorer
by the wars the US has been fighting for decades against what used
to be the Third World (and is now merely
the lower half of an increasingly polarized economic system).
You just have to look at the current on-line
recruiting material of the US Army today to see that the US
armed forces still fill most of the enlisted ranks with people
who are simply glad the military gave them a job or an education
- an indication of just how difficult it still is to get either
in civilian life if one is not deemed white and/or rich. It
is a disgrace to this country when a man or woman has to become
a trained killer in order to enjoy a monthly salary and a
college education. A presidential candidate who cannot or
will not make the connection between the suffering in Iraq (or elsewhere) and the
portion of the population who only have the military as an
employment option, is irresponsible. If Obama cannot say that
because his campaign strategy prohibits it, then he should
have the courage to leave those who do not run for president
to say what needs to be said.
Now, even black nationalism has been resurrected
as a straw man to blame Wright’s vocal and independent criticism
of yes - the rich, white male rulers of the US - for being “racially closed-ended and culturally
closed-ended.” Wright’s polemic must be like a nightmare for
those who currently run the US government since nearly all the top jobs of
the Bush regime have been held by people who were starting
their careers when King and Malcolm were assassinated. Their
attempts to discredit Obama using Wright rely on pervasive
media-maintained amnesia. In
tried to cast another spell which would return his “broom”
to an inert state, by associating Wright’s preaching with
the experience of some prior angry generation, as if a disproportionate
share of prison “chain gangs” today were not comprised of
African-Americans, as in those bad old days. Was Obama saying
that Black Americans today do not have a right to be angry?
By accusing Wright of sowing division, he was calling for
a return, not to the spirit of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther
King, Jr., but to the Booker T. Washington tradition.
is not black liberation theology or Black Nationalism that
causes division in the US,
but rich, white minority and corporate rule. Even Rev. Dr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. found that just before he was murdered
there was a point at which Christian faith required speaking
the truth and not only talking about justice but naming the
sources of injustice. People cannot fight “injustice”, they
have to fight those whose actions cause or maintain it (not
mythical terrorists or Sadam Hussein, but the upper 10 percent
of the US that controls most of the country’s wealth).
King was shredded for his Riverside Church sermon, especially by his
middle-class supporters. Soon after that, he was dead. Reverend
Wright preached the sermon that should have reminded Americans
of Oscar Romero, the Catholic archbishop of Salvador,
murdered in 1980 by people supported by the US
government, of US religious workers throughout Latin America
also murdered with the tacit consent of the US
government in the name of their “peculiar institutions.” Reverend
Wright’s sermons should have reminded even Senator Obama that
God did not anoint the US as the divine
wielders of lethal nuclear force.
However, to talk today requires a different
and perhaps deeper courage when confronted with so many mirages
of equality. It is tempting to be confused by these oases
of opportunity and forget the desert of inequality through
which most people are still struggling.
For nearly thirty years now, the US has had open season on Black Americans in the
media - whether talk radio (most of it Right wing) or the
decisions of courts and legislatures throughout the country,
not to mention the executive. There was no righteous indignation
and still is none when whites malign the other half of the
Mayflower and Jamestown heritage. If the blood count for “negroes” had the same validity
as the pedigree of the Mayflower and DAR descendants, then
most African Americans would be colonial bluebloods in the
US. But instead, whites were
imported with greater intensity after the US civil war to neutralize the impact of slavery’s
abolition. (Apartheid South Africa was less successful with this strategy.)
These immigrants from Europe were given
“letters patent” while African-Americans were still being
In a year which may make the difference between
potential peace or another decade of war, a candidate who
does not have the knowledge of US history to campaign for
justice in your country or the courage to withstand strong
opinions, will have no chance - even if elected - in suppressing
the demonic forces by which the military-industrial-financial
complex dominates the US.
There is nothing flattering to say about the
history of the US. On the other hand, that
unpleasant odor when the US sits at the table of the United Nations can
only be ignored with the strongest perfume or the greatest
mendacity. It strains the imagination to believe that a presidential
candidate can spend a year campaigning for hope and at the
same time not have the courage to speak with a passion for
justice. Justice cannot come from ignorance. It behooves a
polite and respectful host to ask his disagreeable guest to
wash before dining with the rest of us. Or to put it another
way, true humility before God means washing one’s feet before
prayer. That means that a presidential candidate for justice
has to educate or if he cannot, then he should allow and encourage
others who do.
There is no “Southern Strategy” for Obama to
win over the whites who are not already on his side. He has
to hope for a fair election (and after two fraudulent presidential
elections that will take a lot of hope.) Obama has to deliver
not only an end to the trillion dollar war but a way of putting
that trillion back into the living conditions of over half
the US population from which it has been robbed and which
is getting poorer every day.
is a dangerous road to follow. King and Malcolm were run off
that road. But the lesson is not that somehow public speech
has to be toned to flatter rich whites and their corporations.
People will have to start shouting very loudly to be heard
over the din of lies that appear in all the mass media everyday.
Not only are Black Americans still getting poorer, there is
going to be a steady stream of Black Americans coming back
in uniform, psychologically damaged if not destroyed, who
will find that just as King said, they will have killed for
a “freedom” abroad that eludes them at home - to this very
If Obama is the great hope, then the African-American
clergy and for that matter any other true patriots should
be urging Obama to speak for justice and not only for hope.
If people like Wright do not use their exposure to push the
agenda of justice and Obama cannot, then who will? The demand
for justice is divisive and culturally closed; it divides
those who seek justice from the unjust. It rejects a culture
that promotes individual or corporate profit at any cost.
white Americans have a practical, lived notion of justice,
based on recognition of their country’s history of systemic
injustice maintained to this day by those who rule the US,
how will they ever get beyond the empty phrases of that pledge
each school child is supposed to take? This means naming names.
It is not so long ago in the history of the US that cars could
be found with bumper stickers saying, “Kill an Indian, save
a walleye”. Sins are not committed in the abstract and crimes
are not theoretical. Jesus may have asked God to forgive his
crucifiers because “they know not what they do.” However,
“not knowing what they do” is no excuse for the rest.
The problem with Reverend Jeremiah Wright is
that there are too few like him who are speaking for justice
and truth first - instead of branding the truth sedition.
Only when there has been truth and justice can there be reconciliation.
Too many people want to take the short cut. They want African-Americans
to reconcile themselves to a government which does not represent
them, actively disenfranchises them, destroys their homes
(and whole cities if need be), imprisons their children and
ships the rest off to war, and never ask why or who is responsible.
This is the reconciliation “on the cheap” - cheap for white
and corporate America, that is. Reverend
Wright offers Obama an opportunity, it is a shame he has declared
himself unwilling to take it. That is not Wright’s problem.
That is America’s problem. It is America
that is the embarrassment, not Wright - who merely points
out what the country still has not deigned to admit, let alone
Commentator, Brother Bede, is a lay brother and former teacher,
educated in the US,
UK and Germany. He is associated with the Institute for
Studies-College Park, MD and IACS-Europe.
here to contact Brother Bede.