NOTE: This post is a “peg” for those who need to catch up with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s speeches and interviews during this past weekend, and serves as background for this May 1 post (“Obama Bulletin Blowback: Wrightâ€™s Stated and Sanctioned Equations of US War Efforts with Terrorism Is Nothing New, and Has Been Frequent”).
The best way to evaluate what Obama said yesterday at his North Carolina press conference is to have a fairly thorough understanding of what preceded it, which is why this post is here.
In his Sunday morning interview with Chris Wallace of Fox News, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama said this about the relevance of his 20-year pastor and “sounding board,” the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, to his campaign:
I think that people were legitimately offended by some of the comments that he had made in the past. The fact he’s my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue. So I understand that.
That statement conceded a point that Obama’s critics have been insisting remains the case almost seven weeks after ABC News’s March 13 airing of “Obama’s Pastor: God Damn America, U.S. to Blame for 9/11.”
Obama’s concession that Wright and his church remain topical is all the more important because Obama has stated that he and his family will continue to attend TUCC, even though the church’s new pastor, Otis Moss III, has given no public indication that he intends to conduct church affairs differently.
ABC reported that it had reviewed “dozens of Rev. Wright’s sermons, offered for sale by the church,” and “found repeated denunciations of the U.S. based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans.” Included among what ABC reported was Wright’s now widely-known statement that the September 11 attacks represented “America’s chickens coming home to roost.”
Beyond what ABC revealed, additional Wright videos posted on the Internet (examples here and here) show Wright calling the United States “The US KKK of A,” and claiming that the AIDS virus was developed by the government “as a means of genocide against people of color.”
On March 14, Obama told Fox News’s Major Garrett that if he had heard Wright’s controversial statements in person, “I would have quit.”
Obama went on to tell Wallace Sunday that:
I think that it is also true that to run a snippet of 30-second sound bites, selecting out of a 30-year career, simplified and caricatured him and caricatured the church.
And I think that was done in a fairly deliberate way, and that is unfortunate, because as I’ve said before, I have strongly denounced those comments that were the subject of so much attention. I wasn’t in church when he made them.
Wright’s “Press Offensive”
Last week, the Rev. Wright embarked on what Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times called a “press offensive,” making three highly-publicized appearances.
The first was a sit-down, one-on-one interview with Bill Moyers of PBS’s “The Journal” that was aired on Friday, April 25. In it, Wright:
- Said that his critics “wanted to communicate that I am un-patriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ” to hurt Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy.
- Stated that he, the pastor who is replacing him, and the church itself had received death threats, because “the blowing up of sermons preached ten, fifteen, seven, six years ago and now becoming a media event, not the full sermon, but the snippets from the sermon and sound bite(s)” had made him “the target of hatred.”
- That he had never heard Obama repeat any of his controversial statements as his opinion.
When asked what his reaction was to what Moyers described as “some hard things about you” that Obama said in the candidate’s “A More Perfect Union” speech on March 18, Wright seemingly implied that Obama did not mean what he said:
….. He’s a politician, I’m a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician.
In that March 18 speech, Obama rejected the controversial views expressed in Wright’s sermons, but pointedly did not dissociate himself from or “disown” his pastor.
Wright’s second appearance was a Saturday speech at an NAACP dinner in Detroit. He touched on a wide array of topics, including many that appeared to draw broad race-based distinctions, including these:
- “African and African-American children have a different way of learning. They are right-brained, subject-oriented in their learning style. Right brain that means creative and intuitive.”
- “Nobody in here speaks English, but only black children 50 years ago were singled out as speaking bad English.”
- “Africans have a different meter and Africans have a different tonality.”
Wright did not address how assertions such as these, which he appeared to treat as facts, might affect those, including Obama, who are of mixed ancestry.
Wright also ridiculed those who have chosen to note Obama’s middle name (Hussein), including Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly. The insistence by many that the use of Obama’s middle name is off-limits seems to contradict the pride Obama appears to have in his middle name, as expressed to PBS’s Tavis Smiley on October 17, 2007. He even seemed to see using his middle name as positive statement to the rest of the world:
Tavis: They (the world) would look at the U.S. differently for what reason or reasons?
Obama: Well, I think if you’ve got a guy named Barack Hussein Obama, that’s a pretty good contrast to George W. Bush, to start with. Somebody who’s lived in a foreign country, somebody who knows what it’s like to see family members in dire poverty, somebody who has a grandmother who lives in a village in Africa without running water and without heat and without indoor plumbing – a village that’s been devastated by HIV/AIDS.
Wright’s third appearance was Monday morning at the National Press Club in Washington.
He began his speech there with a defense of “Black Liberation Theology,” which included a statement that “I do not in any way disagree with Dr. (James) Cone,” who, according to a report by Margaret Tavel of McClatchy Newspapers, “founded the modern black liberation theology movement out of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s.”
Tavel began that same McClatchy report (“Obama’s church pushes controversial doctrines”) thusly:
Jesus is black. Merging Marxism with Christian Gospel may show the way to a better tomorrow. The white church in America is the Antichrist because it supported slavery and segregation.
Those are some of the more provocative doctrines that animate the theology at the core of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Barack Obama’s church.
Wright stated that he has “take(n) and trace(d) the theology of the black church back to the prophets in the Hebrew Bible and to its last prophet, in my tradition, the one we call Jesus of Nazareth.”
He also recited what he considers important actions and positions his church has taken, or is taking, including:
- “Our congregation, as you heard in the introduction, took a stand against apartheid when the government of our country was supporting the racist regime of the African government in South Africa.”
- “Our congregation stood in solidarity with the peasants in El Salvador and Nicaragua, while our government, through Ollie North and the Iran-Contra scandal, was supporting the Contras …..”
- “Our congregation feeds over 5,000 homeless and needy families every year, while our government cuts food stamps and spends billions fighting in an unjust war in Iraq.”
In the question-and-answer session with the press that followed, Wright did not back off of his previous sermons or associations:
- He defended his 9/11-related remarks in part by saying that he “was quoting the ambassador from Iraq.” Iraq was ruled by Saddam Hussein at the time. Wright also said that “You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you.”
- He said that “Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery.”
- On his comparison of the Roman soldiers who killed Jesus to the U.S. Marine Corps, Wright asserted, “I can compare that. We have troops stationed all over the world, just like Rome had troops stationed all over the world, because we run the world.”
He also told the audience:
And I said to Barack Obama, last year, “If you get elected, November the 5th, I’m coming after you, because you’ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.” All right? It’s about policy, not the American people.
Wright avoided answering a question about how frequent a churchgoer Obama is. The answer to that question may be important in determining the believability of the candidate’s statement that “I wasn’t in church” when Wright made his controversial comments.
But, as noted in the first installment of this series, the Obama campaign has shown that it has concerns beyond Wright’s sermons:
The campaign’s biggest concerns are over the controversial content of the pastor’s sermons, similar and additional content in TUCC’s weekly church bulletins, and the degree to which Obama knew about, or should have known about, what he now says he “vehemently condemn(s).”
I have obtained roughly 125 of those church bulletins (up from 100 a few days ago), in PDF format, that were, and perhaps still are, available at TUCC’s web site. I now have one issue from late May 2004, plus roughly 70% of those that I expect were published between December 2004 and March 2008, and will put out at least one post covering part or all of their relevant content.