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 http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20080315/ap_on_el_pr/obama_pastor
“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?