Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Jeremiah Wright

I have blogged about Barack Obama and why I support him. It seemed worthwhile to throw a few thoughts out around my take on the current goings-on with his campaign. For those who don’t know, comments made by the pastor of a church he attended for years have recently come to light. These comments were hate-filled and wrong.
In response, Barack has denounced these comments and distanced himself from these comments.
As he should have.

I don’t deny being troubled by all this. I am glad Barack is distancing himself from the “Rev.” It somewhat calls his judgement into question. Until recently, Rev. Wright served on a council for Obama. (I gather that the council was advisory in nature) Strategically, it’s not good. People have been fixated on the question of Barack’s religious affiliation. When it became clear that he was a Christian there were questions about the nature of this church. These questions were minimized by Barack and his people. Makes them look quite foolish now.
However, I still support Obama. One of my thoughts is that all this requires a little context. Here’s some quotes from his pastor; the source of these is
“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye,” Wright said. “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
In a 2003 sermon, he said blacks should condemn the United States.
“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”

Now, compare these:

Then Falwell said, “What we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”
Robertson replied, “Well, Jerry, that’s my feeling. I think we’ve just seen the antechamber to terror, we haven’t begun to see what they can do to the major population.”
Falwell said, “The ACLU has got to take a lot of blame for this. And I know I’ll hear from them for this, but throwing God…successfully with the help of the federal court system…throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools, the abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked and when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad…I really believe that the pagans and the abortionists and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People for the American Way, all of them who try to secularize America…I point the thing in their face and say you helped this happen.”
Robertson said, “I totally concur, and the problem is we’ve adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government, and so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do, and the top people, of course, is the court system.”
Falwell added, “Pat, did you notice yesterday that the ACLU and all the Christ-haters, the People for the American Way, NOW, etc., were totally disregarded by the Democrats and the Republicans in both houses of Congress, as they went out on the steps and and called out to God in prayer and sang ‘God bless America’ and said, let the ACLU be hanged. In other words, when the nation is on its knees, the only normal and natural and spiritual thing to do is what we ought to be doing all the time, calling on God.”

The source for these quotes is:

There are some critical distinctions between the two quotes. (I’ll explore these differences in a minute.) But there are striking and ironic paralells.
Ultimately, all three men begin with the bible and they notice that God has removed his protection (or even actively punished) disobedient nations. All three men began with what they saw as real evils occurring in our society today. All three men placed some of the responsibility for the 9/11 attacks on the members of society doing the evil.
All three men were wrong and their words are about equally despicable. I do not want to give the impression that I am seeking to let Wright off the hook simply because Roberton and Falwell are equally ignorant. I do want to put this in a context; the shoes has been on the other foot. We should react to Wright with whatever level of indignation we had for Robertson.

Yes, there were differences. One is that Robertson and Fallwell identified specific groups within American society. In the first paragraph, Wright says “we” and in the second paragraph he clearly identifies The American Government as the culprit. (It should be noted that since our government is, in theory, a representative democracy thisn isn’t an inconistent move to make, identifying us with our government.)
We could be argued all day long whether the ACLU or American forieng policy disasters are more evil. I don’t think that’ll get us very far. I think it’s fair to note that Robertson and Fallwell lists some groups who deserve criticism. Wright lists some groups who deserve criticism. Both also demonize undeserving targets.
A second difference is that Roberton and Fallwell have engaged in some confusing apologies, back pedaling, and explanations since they made these comments. Wright has not: but he also hasn’t had much time too.
Thirdly, the comments from Wright are actually taken from two different sermons, seperated by 2 years. By placing them together there is an implication that paragraph 2 is somehow related to paragraph one. But Wright spoke them years apart!!! Furthermore, If a Pastor spoke 40 out of the 52 weeks in a year, and if he preached from 2001 through 2008, this would mean 40 X 7= 280 times. If each sermon lasted an hour, then this means that there are 280 hours of material.
It’s entirely possible that Wright is a maniac. However, given 280 hours of anybody speaking, it would be pretty easy to find two paragraphs which, when taken out of context, sound quite dangerous. If these two seperate paragraph were placed next to each other, it would become easy to miss that they weren’t said together and things would sound worse.
Finally, there is the question of authority and responsibility. If God has called all three to be pastors then there is a level on which all three are equal in this regard. But there is another sense in which there are important differences. Roberton and Falwell have thousands of times of the power of Wright. Robertson has aspired to political office. Both have audiences of millions including very powerful political figures.
Wright might have enjoyed some of this if Obama had been elected and his comments had gone unnoticed. But her certainly didn’t have this power when he made the comments.
Even Spider-man knows that with great power comes great responsibility.

What it comes down to for me is this: Obama blew it. However, It’s important not to over react to this. A good barometer for appropriate levels of outrage would be to put the shoe on the other foot.
How did we react to politicians who claimed to follow Robertson or Falwell after there 9/11 comments? How satisfied would we have been if this hypothetical politician reacted in the same way that Obama currently is reacting?


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

13 thoughts on “Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Jeremiah Wright”

  1. I don’t understand why Jeremiah Wright calls himself black? Look at color of his skin – completely white! His facial features are also not African at all, more like South European, Turkish or Arabic. If he is black then we all are black!


  2. hmmm…
    People who are of African decent but have light colored skin sometimes observe that they are doubly discriminated against. Being around African-American family, friends, and neighborhoods means that they would often be identified as such. But extremists (racists) within the African-American can regard them as inferior to darker skin African Americans.
    I’d imagine there are times it makes life easier to have lighter skin and times it makes life harder. Maybe more importantly, though, simply knowing that you are decended of a certain group that has a certain history has an impact. The fact that others might not notice that you’re a member of a group wouldn’t necessarily mean that you’d want to hide it.
    I have a learning disabality. Most people wouldn’t know. But I don’t hide this fact. When I hear people using the word “dyslexic” as a synonim for “stupid” I react with anger… if I were quiet nobody would ever know. But if I were quiet I’d be selling out who I am. I wonder if it’s the same for him.


  3. Jeff — your headline, invoking Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, is a desperate attempt at spin. Spin won’t work. Obama is toast, as he should be.

    Get a new hobby.


  4. I pondered a moment about whether or not to simply delete the above comment. I decided not to, obviously.
    Terezia, calling something “spin” does not make it so. The reason I put those names in the headline is because I think it’s a valid comparison. If you read what I had to say and you think I’m wrong, I’d be interested in hearing why.
    The next time you end a message on my blog with a statement like “Get a new hobby” Expect that you’ve simply wasted your time by typing because it will not be posted on this blog.


  5. So Jeff, some interesting comments, huh?
    Listen dog, (do I sound like Randy Jackson yet?)
    I think that you were right in denouncing the words of Wright and Falwell (now deceased) and Robertson, but it’s kind of a waste of time defending and pointing out the differences between the two situations. It doesn’t tell me anything really about what they said as much as what side you are on (which I already knew).
    The truth is that Falwell and Robertson have taken their followers to the political arena and used their pastorship to gain power that Jesus never intended his disciples to have. Wright is starting to do the same thing. He just (based on your writings) started doing it now because he has some leverage now.
    My guess is that you wouldn’t have liked Falwell or Robertson when they were starting out either, so basically the conversation tells me who you like better, not what actually happened. they were all wrong.

    This is a test… Jeff is adding on to a comment of a friend. I know he won’t mind. I was just curious if I could do this. I deleted the word “Thoughts?” from the end of his post and added these sentences.
    This is fun!!! If people are rude I can add all sorts of silly comments under there names. I’m going to click “edit comment” and see if this works.


  6. Thanks for your thoughts, Marty.
    I’m not at all focused on who’s right and who’s wrong. I’m focused on how we should react to this.
    Some people are over-reacting. Yesterday, I heard an Obama supporter denouncing the timing and whatnot of all this and basically writing it off the same way we’ve written off the emailed accusations of him being a Muslim. I heard one of those talk radio knuckleheads saying “If this had been a Republican, it would be all over.”

    My point is that if we got angry at Roberson and Falwell, we should be angry at Wright. If we justified or defended the opinions of Robertson and Falwell, we ought to defend Wright’s. If a politician was a close follower or ally of Robertson or Falwell, whatever we expect of this person is the same sort of actions we should expect from Obama.

    Just for the record, I believe that Wright has been around for a really long time. If I said anything that implies otherwise I communicated poorly.

    When I was noting the dates of his comments (2001, and 2003) This was based on this image I had of a reporter looking for a scoop, and pouring through recordings of Reverend Wright speaking. He might find stuff earlier than 2001, but obviously there would be no reference to 9/11 before that date.

    You’re exactly right to observe that I don’t like where Falwell, or Robertson are coming from. I want to stress and emphasize that if the quotes from Wright are in-context and typical of him, I don’t like where he’s coming from either.


  7. I wish your post would have made a better argument than throwing sand at Robertson and Falwell. The point is Pastor Wright and the tight association that Obama has had with him for 20 years. To quote an article from Rolling Stone: From a Rolling Stone article done in Feb 2007 which gives us some insight into just how important Rev. Wright is to Obama:

    The senator “affirmed” his Christian faith in this church; he uses Wright as a “sounding board” to “make sure I’m not losing myself in the hype and hoopla.” Both the title of Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope, and the theme for his keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 come from Wright’s sermons. “If you want to understand where Barack gets his feeling and rhetoric from,” says the Rev. Jim Wallis, a leader of the religious left, “just look at Jeremiah Wright.”

    Now that is what worries me because if I want to believe or understand Obama I have just to look at Jeremiah Wright and what I see and hear I do NOT like.


  8. Leo, I’d like to refer you to the comment I made immediately preceeding yours.
    It appears I was unclear about my purpose and point. In my defense, I did state– more than once– that I was not justifying Wright’s actions by pointing to Falwells. In terms of morality, one set of actions have nothing to do with the other.
    In terms of how we react, though, there are clear paralells. It seems to me if we treat Wright significantly different than Falwell, we’d owe an explanation for why.
    Your points are reasonable around the closeness between Obama and pastor Wright. As I stated, this does worry me.
    However, I think we’ve all been influenced by people who we do not agree with. I think we’re owed some details about the nature of Obama’s agreement with Wright. I also think we’re owed some details about Wright’s character. I have seen the same 2 or 3 quotes played repeatedly. If you went through hundreds of hours of every pastor I’ve ever known, you could rustle up a couple comments out of context to make the pasor look evil. (I’m not saying that this is the case. I’m simply saying I’m not convinced by what I’ve seen thus far.)


  9. Of course, Falwell and Robertson are particularly inapt this election cycle. The Republicans nominated John McCain who called the two of them “agents of intolerance” back in 2000 and took a lot of heat from other Republicans for that. I can’t think of a single Republican politician who has been as deeply involved with either of these men as Obama was with Wright (except, of course, for Robertson himself who ran against the elder George Bush).


  10. Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, and he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr., But they were already presidents, so nobody cared.

    The attack on Rev. Wright reveals the level of misunderstanding that still divides white and black Christians in the United States. Many white people find the traditions of African-American preaching offensive.
    Typical of the form used by black preachers is Frederick Douglass’ address, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” first delivered on July 5, 1852. The address, a political sermon, forcefully attacks white culture. “Fellow-citizens,” Douglass proclaims, “above your national, tumultuous joy, I hear the mournful wails of millions! Whose chains, heavy and grievous yesterday, are, today, rendered more intolerable by the jubilee shouts that reach them.” He goes on to calls American conduct “hideous and revolting” and accuses white Christians of trampling upon and disregarding both the constitution and the Bible. He concluded his sermon with the words, “For revolting barbarity and shameless hypocrisy, America reigns without a rival.” It has been true, right?


  11. I think there are bigger differences than you pointed out and although I think Rev. Wright is too angry to help fix the issues he speaks of he has some valid points. Claiming U.S. foreign policy flaws as a potential catalyst for the attacks of people from other countries is much more viable than a hatred caused by gays, abortionists, the ACLU. Are those things that important to people in other countries they would kill themselves to prove that point?
    As to the “war on drugs” where is all the heroine coming from? 90% of the world’s heroine comes from Afganistan where the U.S. government controls the borders and the no fly zone. So I ask again where does all the heroine come from and who is building bigger prisons here in the U.S.? The answer is Haliburton. The movie American Gangster was based on a true story and Frank Lucas was worth $250 million dollars when he was arrested. His fortune came from importing heroine from vietnam on U.S. Army planes. As I said I think Rev. Wright is divisive in his delivery and that clouds how people hear his words but some of his claims have actual merit.


  12. Right on!

    Wonderful post Jeff. Its funny how the rightist loonies are saying ” If a Republican were in the place of Obama, he’d be toast”.

    Well every Republican candidate was running to get the endorsements of Pat Robertson, and Jerry Falwell was a superhero for all the Right-wing jokers before he died.


  13. Wrights comments speak to the political unconscious of many on the left who believe that American (western?) military, political and economic interventions across the globe have contributed to the sort of anti-American sentiment that would lead to terrorisms such as 9/11. This is really not such a radical belief, and if you take into considerations libertarian ideas (even such as those of Ron Paul) it is not exclusively limited to the left. This points to a fundamental difference between Falwell’s and Robertson’s comments with those of Wright: that is the historical narrative within which the comments are contextualized and from where they draw their meaning. Falwell’s and Robertson’s comments are framed within a discourse which unquestioningly accepts the United States as morally superior to the rest of the world. The 9/11 attacks were the result of what they see is a corruption of this moral superiority by the secularizing forces of liberal democracy notwithstanding the contradiction that the United States’ moral superiority stems from an acceptance of values associated with liberal democracies. The basic point here is that their comments reinforce and perpetuate a dominant ideology which it could be argued engender racial, gender and class inequalities all across the globe. Wright’s comments on the other hand stand in stark opposition to this. They seem to be informed by a discourse where American’s military and economic achievements actually throw into disarray any such chauvinistic notions of American success based on divine providence. The historical narrative is one where America has achieved it’s exalted position in the world by ignobility and aggression. Fundamentally, Wright’s comments are essentially oppositional to the status quo whereas Falwell’s and Robertsons are in keeping with it. This is an important distinction and it speaks to the fact that Wright’s comments have been criticized more severely than anything Falwell or Robertson ever said.


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