Was Rev. Wright Obama's Spiritual Mentor or Spiritual Adviser?--

I was struck by Barack Obama’s blaming the press for identifying Reverend Wright as his spiritual mentor or spiritual adviser:

OBAMA: I know that one thing that [Wright] said was true, was that he wasn't — you know, he was never my, quote-unquote, "spiritual adviser."

He was never my "spiritual mentor." He was — he was my pastor. And so to some extent, how, you know, the — the press characterized in the past that relationship, I think, wasn't accurate.

I had always thought that this notion came from Obama himself. A LEXIS search of news articles tends to indicate that it was Barack himself who so identified Wright, at least initially. But then, of course, perhaps the press repeatedly misreported what Obama told various reporters over the last four years.

Here are some of the news stories I found (all except the last are over a year old):

'I HAVE A DEEP FAITH,' Chicago Sun-Times, April 5, 2004

These days, [Obama] says, he attends the 11 a.m. Sunday service at Trinity in the Brainerd neighborhood every week — or at least as many weeks as he is able. His pastor, Wright, has become a close confidant.

Race Against History, The New Republic, May 31, 2004

Shortly before leaving Chicago for Harvard, he had a meeting with the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the charismatic black pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, one of the most socioeconomically diverse all-black congregations in Chicago. Obama was taken with Wright's worldview, perhaps best encapsulated by a Trinity brochure proclaiming that, "while it is permissible to chase `middleincomeness' with all our might," ambitious African Americans must beware the "psychological entrapment of black `middleclassness' that hypnotizes the successful brother or sister into believing they are better than the rest of US."

Sen. Barack Obama's Pastor Frames Progressive Issues Through Lens of Faith, Religion News Service, March 10, 2005

But when talking about how religious conservatives have pushed issues such as gay rights and stem cell research into the forefront, [Wright’s] voice becomes taut and his rebuke direct.

Those who focus on these issues are building themselves up at the expense of others and, while the Bible has many references to right and wrong, Jesus only spoke against people who judged others, Wright says.

"Are you following Jesus when you are vilifying people?" Wright asks. "The answer to that question is no."

It's no coincidence that Wright's response to these issues is similar to that of Obama, Illinois' newest senator and one of the Democratic Party's leading lights in trying to frame traditional liberal issues as moral and religious imperatives.

Obama met Wright 20 years ago in the process of trying to get Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ involved in some community organizing he was doing. Ever since, Obama has been a devoted member of Wright's church. Obama says that Wright is not only his pastor, but he also is his friend and mentor. And Wright is one of the people to whom he turns [to] help him explain how his liberal positions jibe with his faith.

The fact that Obama chose Trinity is no accident. In a sea of conservative black churches, Trinity stands out in that it has welcomed in gay members, done outreach to people living with AIDS and advocated progressive positions on many social issues. . . .

Today, Wright is quick to call those who voted for President Bush "stupid" and chastise the public for letting issues like housing for the poor "fall off the radar screen." . . .

Obama says one of the things he has learned from Wright is that the Bible is full of references to poor people and how they should be treated. This, Obama says, is one of the points he would like Democrats to point out when Republicans try to take the religious high ground with talk of moral values.

Wright is there to give further guidance.

First, he says Democratic leaders need to understand why so many people feel threatened by gay people.

"Is it that people have linked homosexuals with pedophiles?" Wright asks. "Was it that they were molested as a kid? There are all kinds of emotional stuff that come up. We have to stick with it and hear each other."

Keeping the Faith, In These Times, February 28, 2005

Wright and Obama developed a close relationship in the intervening years, and Obama counts the Reverend among his spiritual advisers. When a reporter asked Wright what advice he would give Obama upon election to the Senate, Wright said, "My advice to him: Please stay the same as you've been ever since I've known you."