Religion plays too important of a role in today’s
theater of American politics. Given the collapsing of church
and state since Bush came into office how and where and why
a presidential candidate worships or not, unfortunately, speaks
to his or her electability - which brings us back again to
Obama and his pastor.
While Obama has denounced Rev. Jeremiah Wrights’
incendiary remarks, suspicion, nonetheless, still surfaces
about not only his professed faith as a Christian, but now
also his electability as president.
Church is a central, powerful and
revered institution in the African-American community. While
as a community organizer working with local churches on the
South Side of Chicago, the Black
Church captivated Obama’s attention. Obama says he came to understand
“the power of the African-American religious tradition to
spur social change.” However, suspicion now abounds questioning
how much Obama really covets the power of the Black Church for his own political aggrandizement,
rather than for its religion.
“When Obama picked a ‘church home,’ he chose
one that helped him with another weak spot in his biography.
Before Obama joined Trinity United, Rev. Wright warned Obama
that the church was viewed as “too radical ... Our emphasis
on African history, on scholarship ...” But Obama joined anyway.
With that act, he had become significantly blacker - and more
like local voters,” wrote Edward McClelland of salon.com
“Part of the cultural divide between the half-Kenyan
Hawaiian and his Chicago neighbors, most of them products
of the Deep South's black Diaspora, was bridged. Look, for better or worse,
the reality is that politicians and aspiring politicians sometimes
appear to make choices about religion based at least in part
on political expediency.”
Obama knew to pander to his base.
But unbeknownst to Obama’s plans to ride Wright’s
back long enough to get the needed Christian stamp of approval
to win religious voters, his misguided calculations are now
like chickens coming home to roost.
Rev. Jeremiah Wright is one of this nation’s
most revered African American ministers. He is an iconic image
not only of the Black Civil Right’s era, but he is also the
iconic image of the Black Church, Black Liberation Theology,
and of today’s Afrocentric churches whose pride is captured
in Trinity's motto: Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically
Trinity's Statement of Faith says:
roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are
deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and
remain “true to our native land,” the mother continent, the
cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage
through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and
the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength
and courage to continuously address injustice as a people,
and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God
through cultural expression of a Black worship service and
ministries which address the Black Community.”
However, positioning himself as the post-racial
candidate , Obama’s candidacy has done nothing but collided
with this nation’s old nagging paradigms and practices of
race and racism in America.
Some in the Generation X era, that Obama has
successfully wooed, would depict Rev. Jeremiah Wright and
his civil rights cohorts as old school Negroes. And Obama’s
address on race in Philadelphia would even suggest that.
“The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s
sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society.
It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no
progress has been made; as if this country – a country that
has made it possible for one of his own members to run for
the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white
and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old
- - is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what
we know - what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this
nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the
audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.”
things have shifted a tad for those of us still on the margins
of society, the beneficiaries of the change have befallen
only to those who come from or have ascended to the upper
tiers of society’s socioeconomic ladder. While Race
as Cornel West's bestseller of the same title waxes eloquently
about, the daily bite and sting of racism, however, is cushioned
by class and social upward mobility that gives the illusion
, to some, we are now in a post-racial era, especially in
light of presidential hopeful Barack Obama.
Peter Boyer’s article in the February 4, 2008
issue of The New Yorker titled, “The Color of Politics:
A Mayor of the Post-Racial Generation” wrote the following
explaining this “post-racial” generation of African Americans
that includes Barack Obama, Harold Ford, Cory Booker, and
my governor, Deval Patrick:
“Their deeper kinship resides in their identities
as breakthrough figures - Africa American politicians whose
appeal transcends race. Men reared in the post-Selma era and
schooled at elite institutions, developed a political style
of conciliation rather than confrontation, which complemented
their natural gifts and , as it happens, nicely served their
This political style these men employ Shelby
Steele depicts it best in his recent book A
Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't
Steels states that in the African American community there
two types of people - a “bargainer” or a “challenger.”
What is a “bargainer” or a “challenger?”
According to Shelby Steele, a bargainer strikes
a bargain with white America
in which they say I will not rub America's
ugly history of racism in our face if you will not hold my
race against me.
A “challenger,” on the other hand, does the
opposite of a “bargainer”. A “challenger” charges white people
with inherent racism and then demand that they prove themselves
innocent by supporting black friendly polices like affirmative
action and diversity.
So why did Obama give his speech race?
Was his speech on race to bargain with American
voters by assuaging white fear? Did Obama want to tell white
that he is not too black identified for them not to elect
him, especially now knowing of his a twenty year association
with Rev. Wright and Trinity Church.
Or was Obama’s speech on race also to challenge
black Americans to vote for him albeit his racial mix, background,
and ideology is different, because his black presence is enough.
In other words, is Obama so post-racial to the extent that
he will not speak out candidly about this country's legacy
and present-day perpetuation of racism that Rev. Wright preaches
The term “post-racial,” unlike its lived reality
is gaining cultural currency in today’s American lexicon with
a younger generation of people of color who, some say, are
more adept at being “bargainers” and also amiable to being
“bargainers” than “challengers” because they are the progenies
of a post black civil rights era.
However, in trying to save his political career,
has Obama’s post-racial platform come back to bite him? And
Rev. Wright is like a bad penny that keeps rolling back into
Obama’s life and he can’t get rid of Wright.
By exploiting Wright, the media has used Obama's
religious narrative - real and imagined - to capture the public’s
attention. And the media’s spin on his pastor is more about
this country’s uncritical patriotism predicated on espousing
a rhetoric that all is good with and in America than addressing
its unjust foreign and domestic polices.
When news got out about Wright fiery sermons,
Obama first said he never heard them, then he recanted by
saying he denounced only those objectionable ones. But Wright
has now spoken up. And at the National Press Club, Wright
explained Obama’s Orwellian remarks.
“We both know that if Senator Obama did not
say what he said, he would never get elected. Politicians
say what they say and do what they do based on electability,
based on sound bites, based on polls - Huffington, whoever's
doing the polls. Preachers say what they say because they
are pastors. They have a different person to whom they're
accountable. As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I'm
still going to have to be answerable to God, November 5th
and January 21st. That's
what I mean. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians
Where Obama ran afoul is that he didn't think
his involvement with Rev. Wright would collide with his carefully
crafted post-racial electable message.
But maybe there’s a bigger lesson here that
Obama is now learning. And it’s this: whether he dons the
face of a Christian and/or the face of a politician in this
bid for the White House - no lie lives forever. Like chickens,
they eventually come home to roost.
BlackCommentator.com Editorial Board member, the Rev. Irene Monroe is
a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. A native
of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College
and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and
served as a pastor at an African-American church before coming
to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow.
Reverend Monroe’s Let Your Light Shine Like a
Rainbow 365 Days a Year - Meditations on Bible Prayers will be out in June, 2008. As an African American
feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that
is frequently invisible. Her website is irenemonroe.com.
here to contact the Rev. Monroe.