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 electabilty as president.
The Black 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.
“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 Christian.
Trinity’s Statement of Faith says:
â€œOur 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.â€
Some in the Generation X era, whom 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.
While 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 still matters as Cornel West 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, that 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:
â€œTheir 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 ambitions.â€
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 Win.” Steele states that, in the African American community, there two types of people – the “bargainer” and the “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 demands they prove themselves innocent by supporting black friendly polices like affirmative action and diversity
So why did Obama give his speech on race?
Was his speech on race to bargain with American voters by assuaging white fear? Did Obama want to tell white America that he is not too black identified for them not to elect him, especially now knowing of his 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 that he will not speak out candidly about this country’s legacy and present-day perpetuation of racism that Rev. Wright preaches about.
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” than “challengers” because they are the progenies of a post-black civil rights era.
However, in trying to save his political career, Obama’s post-racial platform has 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 captured 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 do.”
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.