Obama's Minister and Church:
I've been reading some recent blog posts, linked by Instapundit, about Barack Obama's church, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, an Afrocentric church that preaches what the New York Times calls Black liberation theology.
The senior pastor (and former pastor) of the church is one Jeremiah A. Wright. Rev. Wright, who, according to Obama, has had an incredibly profound influence on his life, has said many controversial things over the years, which a simple Google search will turn up. Browsing around I came across the fact that in November, the church's newsmagazine, The Trumpet, announced that it plans to "honor" Louis Farrakhan "this winter at its Sounds of the Shore gala with an Empowerment Award." Apparently, Rev. Wright himself heartily approves of Farrakhan.
"When Minister Farrakhan speaks, Black America listens," says the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, likening the Minister’s influence to the E. F. Hutton commercials of old. “Everybody may not agree with him, but they listen… His depth on analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye opening. He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest. "Minister Farrakhan will be remembered as one of the 20th and 21st century giants of the African American religious experience," continues Wright. "His integrity and honesty have secured him a place in history as one of the nation’s most powerful critics. His love for Africa and African American people has made him an unforgettable force, a catalyst for change and a religious leader who is sincere about his faith and his purpose." (emphasis added)
I disagree with Barack Obama on almost everything, but I find him to be a likeable fellow and a very engaging speaker, and instinctively a more promising choice for president than his Democratic opponents (which, admittedly, isn't saying much). However, having harshly criticized Ron Paul for his dubious associations [even before the newsletter scandal], and even Giuliani for sucking up to Pat Robertson, I certainly don't think that Obama deserves a pass for his membership in a church that, among other dubious things, holds Louis Farrakhan to be a heroic role model, especially given Obama's campaign theme of being a "uniter." (Evidence that Obama has quietly worked for change on such issues within the church would be welcome.)
Unfortunately, my suspicion is that the MSM won't touch this story until Hillary operatives inevitably spread it before the Florida and Northeast primaries, at which time it will become, improperly, another "black-Jewish" issue, when it should be a "is Obama upholding the standards he claims to believe in?" issue.
Cohen on Obama's Church and Farrakhan:
The issue is quickly hitting the mainstream, as the Washington Post's Richard Cohen has a column today that starts:
Barack Obama is a member of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. Its minister, and Obama's spiritual adviser, is the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. In 1982, the church launched Trumpet Newsmagazine; Wright's daughters serve as publisher and executive editor. Every year, the magazine makes awards in various categories. Last year, it gave the Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award to a man it said "truly epitomized greatness." That man is Louis Farrakhan.
Obama's close ties to Rev. Wright and Trinity United raise two related issues. First, as I noted yesterday, Obama campaigns as a "uniter." Yet his spiritual mentor, and longtime pastor of his church, is an ardent admirer of Louis Farrakhan. One can even argue that Farrakhan has done some admirable things, despite his racist demagoguery. Unfortunately, Rev. Wright's praise for Farrakhan is precisely based on Farrakhan's racist demagoguery, what Rev. Wright calls Farrakhan's "astounding and eyeopening" analysis of the "racial ills of this nation," a "perspective" that is "helpful and honest." Such as "White people are potential humans - they haven't evolved yet"? Or "they [the Jews] are the greatest controllers of black minds, black intelligence." For Obama to merely brush this all off as "I don't always agree with Rev. Wright" doesn't exactly satisfy. People are routinely judged, after all, by the company they keep, and one would think that someone running for president as a "uniter" would have kept rather different company.
Relatedly, one implication of electing a president is that his "circle" suddenly becomes much more powerful and influential. At the very least, if Obama wins, if his spiritual life remains constant, Rev. Wright will inevitably become one of the most influential ministers in the world, and his church one of the most important churches. Remember Rabbi Michael Lerner's moment in the sun when Hillary Clinton consulted him about the "politics of meaning"? And Hillary, of course, isn't even Jewish! Rev. Wright is not the most pressing issue facing Democratic voters, but given the relatively small policy differences among the Democratic candidates, it's certainly worth considering on the margin (as is, for example, the implications of returning to power such lovely members of the Clinton circle as Sidney Blumenthal).
Finally, it strikes me as completely fair to raise this issue, at least given the current accepted role of religion in politics in the U.S., and the widespread importance placed on tolerance. Pres. Bush has (properly) been criticized for giving a speech at Bob Jones University, which had a ban on interracial dating based purportedly on its leaders' interpretation of Christian scripture. (I say purportedly because after all the bad publicity that attended Bush's visit, the policy was dropped). Mitt Romney has felt obligated to address the Mormon church's past history of bigoted teachings and policy. Giuliani and McCain have been criticized for playing footsie with Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, respectively; imagine if they had announced that these men were their close friends and spiritual mentors! If there's some reason Obama deserves a special pass on this, I can't think of it.
UPDATE: An interesting angle that I noticed perusing some related commentary. Rev. Wright is obviously a smart, savvy individual. He knows that many of his views are controversial, and told the NY Times last year that he understood he could cause some problems for Obama. So why have his magazine honor Farrakhan, and why be quoted praising Farrakhan, in the middle of Obama's campaign for president? Odd.
FURTHER UPDATE: Here's the video created to honor Farrakhan at the Trumpet Gala. After a clip of Farrakhan discussing his willingness to die for "truth," The narrator explains that Farrakhan is being honored for his commitment to truth, education, and leadership. Thanks for ruining my breakfast...
Obama Responds to the Farrakhan Controversy:
Obama: "I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decisions with which I agree."
The Senator assumes wrong. As I noted previously, Trumpet Magazine, published by his church, explicitly explained [in the video it prepared for the banquet at which Farrakhan was honored] that it was honoring Farrakhan for his purported dedication "truth, education, and leadership." Obama's spiritual mentor, Rev. Wright, [quoted in The Trumpet last Fall] praised Farrakhan for his "astounding and eyeopening" analysis of the "racial ills of this nation," a "perspective" that is "helpful and honest."
If the magazine and reverend had merely honored or praised Farrakhan for "his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders," it might have raised an eyebrow or two, but I don't think anyone would have found the story of much interest. So, give Obama some credit for forthrightly rejecting Farrakhan's anti-Semitism (though Farrakhan's bile goes beyond Jews to gays, whites in general, and others), and subtract some credit for his failure to address the true underlying concern, which is that the magazine and reverend say that they are honoring and praising Farrakhan precisely because of his stated political and racial views, which they claim are "honest" and reflect "truth."
By the way, last week I criticized Prof. DiLorenzo of LewRockwell.com for invoking a conspiracy theory centered around the Cato Institute to explain the controversy over the Ron Paul newsletters. Over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall similarly blames the messenger by referring to Richard Cohen as an "odious slime peddler" and wondering, "Who do you figure pitched Richard Cohen on the Obama/Farrakhan column?" [And here's a rather bizarre defense of Obama by M.J. Rosenberg. Rosenberg points out that he stopped attending his synagogue on the High Holidays when it started inviting what he describes as a hate-filled rabbi to services. This somehow means that Obama is off the hook for not taking such a stance regarding his church.]
UPDATE: A reader, quite fairly, asks what I would have Obama say. How about something along these lines: "I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. Trumpet Magazine erred in honoring Farrakhan, who has made blatantly false statements about Jews and others, for his purported commitment to truth. The Rev. Wright similarly erred in his praise of Farrakhan, which could be read as endorsing Farrakhan's noxious ideas. I am of course not responsible for every action undertaken by my church or my minister, but as a member of the congregation and a religious follower and friend of Dr. Wright's I have made my displeasure known to the relevant parties, in private correspondence that I think would be inappropriate to share." There, that wouldn't satisfy everyone, but I think it would be enough to end the controversy.
FURTHER UPDATE: Andrew Sullivan goes ballistic on Richard Cohen for raising the issue of Obama's church and pastor honoring Farrakhan. Yet here's what Sullivan wrote with regard to Mitt Romney in 2006:
Romney was part of a church that barred blacks from the priesthood for his first 31 years. ... The only sect I can think of as equivalent is the Nation of Islam - in reverse. I don't know if Romney has addressed the question of Mormon racism in its historical practices, or whether he has a record of opposing it in his twenties, when he was a missionary for a racist church. But it strikes me as a matter that will require addressing.
Admittedly, Sullivan's accusation is that Romney belonged to a racist church, while Cohen's complaint is that Obama belongs to a church that honors racists. On the other hand, Cohen's complaint is about current church and ministerial behavior, Sullivan's about decades-old practices. I don't see how Sullivan can logically question Romney as he did, and then be so outraged regarding Cohen.