July 4, 2008

Obama and the Black Church

There is a long and interesting piece at the New York Review of Books entitled, Obama and the Black Church.  Here's a bit towards the end:
It is tempting to look at Obama as an inheritor of the integrationist legacy of King, and Wright as a legatee of Malcolm X's black nationalism. The real conflict between Wright and Obama stems from their uses of King's memory. Wright, at least in some of his statements, seems to see his ministry as a continuation of the radicalization King underwent after the profound disappointment of the white reaction to the Poor People's campaign in Chicago and to the striking garbage workers in Memphis. But it was not in King's politics to damn America himself, as much as he was concerned with the effect of racism on Americans. King maintained that the civil rights struggle was one of justice against injustice and he warned that it must not deteriorate into a racial struggle of black against white. Obama returns to the moment of "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," and wants to recapture the high moral ground of the summer of 1963, when many members of the white clergy turned away from the white nationalism of the conventional American church and marched with blacks in Washington and across the South.

The black church is central to the grassroots and even the secular civil rights movements, and secular leaders who had no interest in religion were nevertheless very much influenced by the black church's emphasis on the redemptive power of suffering and what the American historian Wilson Jeremiah Moses has called the "social gospel of perfectionism that presumes change to be progressive, inevitable, and divinely inspired."[4] This is the legacy Obama claims through his mother, just as through his father he lays claim to another American tradition, the opening to people from different national and ethnic backgrounds. Once again, Obama's biography contains a reversal of expectation: he gets his connection to black American history through his white mother and his links to Americans born of foreign parents through his black father.
The whole thing is worth the read.

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