Regardless of whether or not you agree or disagree with Jeremiah Wright's recently come to light statements - and everyone, including Mr. Obama, is scrambling to distance themselves from them - you've got to admit that the hullabaloo surrounding the fall(ing) out is pretty fascinating. If you're Obama, you don't have a choice, you've got to do what he is doing and I'm sure it is happening with the blessing and encouragement of Wright - again, those are the rules of the game. What I wish someone was writing more about is the character of the African-American church, the role of pastor as social critic within that context, and the reality that African-American faith communities tend to be much broader in their range of ideological spectrums than predominantly white churches tend to be - African-American churches generally play a larger social/cultural role in their communities and thus ideological/theological agreement tends to be much lower on the shopping list than it does for whites looking for a church to join. If you are a member of Jeremiah Wright's church you can gloss over a lot of "crazy things being said from the pulpit" as they don't touch on the primary reason you are at the church, or even chiefly define your church - in the case of Trinity United Church of Christ its obviously their involvement in issues of social justice that define them and anchor them as a community. That your pastor should be politically correct in order to qualify you for public office is laughable if for no other reason than the fact than being described as a "politically correct pastor" should disqualify you from the pastorate. I don't agree with much of what Mr. Wright has said, nor with much of his theology for that matter, but I whole heartedly applaud the fact that having spent thirty years as a minister has resulted in a life and message that is out of step with the political and cultural mainstream - anything else would be hypocrisy.
However, the real problem with Mr. Wright may have been that he simply doesn't sing very well. In the 1960's Nina Simone gave voice to some similar sentiments, albeit in a vastly different context, in her now classic song, "Mississippi Goddamn." Simone was reacting to the recent slaying of Medgar Evers in Mississippi and the deaths of four children in the Birmingham church bombings. I'm not equating Wright's rantings with Simone's song but simply suggesting that there has been and probably should be a place in the discourse of the public square that allows for the hyperbolic "damning" of what appears from one perspective to be great injustice or hypocrisy - if for no other reason than that, as the case of Ms. Simone demonstrates, history has a way of occasionally bearing them out. Most of the world doesn't live on the mountain top but in the valley and our attempt to act otherwise in the midst of selecting the most important leader in the free world is rather disheartening.
Just try to do your very best
Stand up be counted with all the rest
For everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam
I made you thought I was kiddin' didn't we
School boy cots
They try to say it's a communist plot
All I want is equality
for my sister my brother my people and me
Yes you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you'd stop calling me Sister Sadie
Oh but this whole country is full of lies
You're all gonna die and die like flies
I don't trust you any more
You keep on saying "Go slow!"
Here's a video version of Nina performing:
Here's a better audio version you can download.
PS - Happy Ides.