Sunday, May 11, 2008

Wright Matters & A New Definition of Hope

Barack Obama's Wright problems did not end when he denounced Rev. Wright two weeks and claimed, yet again, that he flatly had heard no racism, anti-semitism, nor anti-Americanism from Rev. Wright while sitting in Wright's pews for twenty years. It is a defense that may prove as damaging as his actual connections to Rev. Wright. Recently released exit polls showed that the Rev. Wright connection was a significant factor in the votes of many who voted in the Indiana and North Carolina primaries. And Stanley Kurtz has examined Rev. Wright's magazine, The Trumpet. He finds further reason to believe Obama is lying about what he knew and when he knew it. Further, Kurtz finds that "hope," as defined by Rev. Wright in his sermons, itself takes on a distinct layer of racism.

The Washington Post reported on a recent exit poll that shows the issue of Obama's twenty year relationship with Rev. Wright played a major factor in the votes of many in Indiana and North Carolina, suggesting that Obama's speech on race and then his denunciation of Wright in a subsequent news conference have in no way put this issue to bed:

. . . In network exit polling, about the same number of voters in each state said they considered the situation with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. "very important" to their vote as those who said it was "not at all important." And most who gave the issue a heavy weight voted for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.), while those who said it was not a factor went for Obama, the Illinois senator, by wide margins.

In both states, frequent churchgoers were more apt to say they were influenced by Wright than were less actively religious voters. In North Carolina, among those who said they attend religious services weekly, nearly six in 10 called Wright important to their vote, almost double the figure among those who never attend services. Even among Obama's own supporters in the Tarheel state, 45 percent who attend services weekly called the controversy important to their vote; among those, a third who rated it "very important." . . .

Read the article. If the above is any indication, Obama's Wright problem are not going to fade into obscurity. To the contrary, it may well be fatal in the general election, particularly if there are any further revelations to call into question the truthfulness of Obama's frankly unbelievable claims. In this vein, Stanley Kurtz, writing at the The Daily Standard, has been examining Rev. Wright's magazine, the Trumpet. What he finds goes beyond simply establishing that racism and anti-Americanism are at the heart of Rev. Wright's black liberation theology. It calls into question how, if Obama learned the "audacity of hope" from Rev. Wright, how Obama defines "hope:"

To the question of the moment--What did Barack Obama know and when did he know it?--I answer, Obama knew everything, and he's known it for ages. Far from succumbing to surprise and shock after Jeremiah Wright's disastrous performance at the National Press Club, Barack Obama must have long been aware of his pastor's political radicalism. A careful reading of nearly a year's worth of Trumpet Newsmagazine, Wright's glossy national "lifestyle magazine for the socially conscious," makes it next to impossible to conclude otherwise.

Wright founded Trumpet Newsmagazine in 1982 as a "church newspaper"--primarily for his own congregation, one gathers--to "preach a message of social justice to those who might not hear it in worship service." So Obama's presence at sermons is not the only measure of his knowledge of Wright's views. Glance through even a single issue of Trumpet, and Wright's radical politics are everywhere--in the pictures, the headlines, the highlighted quotations, and above all in the articles themselves. It seems inconceivable that, in 20 years, Obama would never have picked up a copy of Trumpet. In fact, Obama himself graced the cover at least once (although efforts to obtain that issue from the publisher or Obama's interview with the magazine from his campaign were unsuccessful).

. . . If you've heard about the "Empowerment Award" bestowed upon Louis Farrakhan by Wright, or about Wright's derogation of "garlic-nosed" Italians (of the ancient Roman variety), then you already know something about Trumpet. Farrakhan's picture was on the cover of a special November/December 2007 double issue, along with an announcement of the Empowerment Award and Wright's praise of Farrakhan as a 20th- and 21st-century "giant." Wright's words about Farrakhan were almost identical to those that, just four months later, led a supposedly shocked Obama to repudiate Wright. The insult to Italians was in the same double issue.

I obtained the 2006 run of Trumpet, from the first nationally distributed issue in March to the November/December double issue. To read it is to come away impressed by Wright's thoroughgoing political radicalism. There are plenty of arresting sound bites, of course, but the larger context is more illuminating--and more disturbing--than any single shock-quotation. Trumpet provides a rounded picture of Wright's views, and what it shows unmistakably is that the now-infamous YouTube snippets from Wright's sermons are authentic reflections of his core political and theological beliefs. It leaves no doubt that his religion is political, his attitude toward America is bitterly hostile, and he has fundamental problems with capitalism, white people, and "assimilationist" blacks. Even some of Wright's famed "good works," and his moving "Audacity to Hope" sermon, are placed in a disturbing new light by a reading of Trumpet.

. . . Wright is the foremost acolyte of James Cone's "black liberation theology," which puts politics at the center of religion. Wright himself is explicit:

[T]here was no separation Biblically and historically and there is no separation contemporaneously between 'religion and politics.' .  .  . The Word of God has everything to do with racism, sexism, militarism, social justice and the world in which we live daily.

. . . [T]he pages of Trumpet resonate with enraged criticism of the United States. Indeed, they feature explicit repudiations of even the most basic expressions of American patriotism, supporting instead an "African-centered" perspective that treats black Americans as virtual strangers in a foreign land.

Although the expression "African American" appears in Trumpet, the magazine more typically refers to American blacks as "Africans living in the Western Diaspora." Wright and the other columnists at Trumpet seem to think of blacks as in, but not of, America. The deeper connection is to Africans on the continent, and to the worldwide diaspora of African-originated peoples. In an image that captures the spirit of Wright's relationship to the United States, he speaks of blacks as "songbirds" locked in "this cage called America."

Wright views the United States as a criminal nation. Here is a typical passage: "Do you see God as a God who approves of Americans taking other people's countries? Taking other people's women? Raping teenage girls and calling it love (as in Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings)?" Anyone who does think this way, Wright suggests, should revise his notion of God. Implicitly drawing on Marxist "dependency theory," Wright blames Africa's troubles on capitalist exploitation by the West, and also on inadequate American aid: "Some analysts would go so far as to even call what [the United States, the G-8, and multinational corporations] are doing [in Africa] genocide!"

. . . Again and again, Wright makes the point that America's criminality and racism are not aberrations but of the essence of the nation, that they are every bit as alive today as during the slave era, and that America is therefore no better than the worst international offenders: "White supremacy undergirds the thought, the ideology, the theol-ogy, the sociology, the legal structure, the educational system, the healthcare system, and the entire reality of the United States of America and South Africa!" (Emphasis Wright's.)

One of Wright's most striking images of American evil invokes Hurricane Katrina. Here are excerpts of a piece in the May 2006 Trumpet:

We need to educate our children to the reality of white supremacy.

We need to educate our children about the white supremacist's foundations of the educational system.

When the levees in Louisiana broke alligators, crocodiles and piranha swam freely through what used to be the streets of New Orleans. That is an analogy that we need to drum into the heads of our African American children (and indeed all children!).

In the flood waters of white supremacy .  .  . there are also crocodiles, alligators and piranha!

The policies with which we live now and against which our children will have to struggle in order to bring about "the beloved community," are policies shaped by predators.

We lay a foundation, deconstructing the household of white supremacy with tools that are not the master's tools. We lay the foundation with hope. We deconstruct the vicious and demonic ideology of white supremacy with hope. Our hope is not built on faith-based dollars, empty liberal promises or veiled hate-filled preachments of the so-called conservatives. Our hope is built on Him who came in the flesh to set us free.

Given Wright's conviction that America, past and present, is criminally white supremacist--even genocidal--to its core, Wright is not a fan of patriotic celebration. Predictably, Columbus Day is a day of rage for Wright. Calling Columbus a racist slave trader, Wright excoriates the holiday as "a national act of amnesia and denial," part of the "sick and myopic arrogance called Western History."

. . . Hostility to capitalism is another of Trumpet's pervasive themes. As we've seen, Wright blames multinational corporations for conflict and poverty in Africa. Trinity Church urges parishioners to boycott Wal-Mart, and Wright decries what he calls "the "Wal-martization of the world." In another one of his regular Trumpet columns, Reginald Williams criticizes McDonald's for failing to heed leftist advocacy groups by voluntarily raising the price it pays for tomatoes (so as to raise the wages of tomato pickers). Williams apparently wants to replace market mechanisms with a pricing system dictated by "human rights groups."

. . . Wright's swipe at Italians is actually directed toward the Romans who crucified Jesus (in what James Cone calls a "first-century lynching"). Following black liberation theology, Wright emphasizes that the black Jesus was "murdered by the European oppressors who looked down on His people." In a sense, then, disclaimers notwithstanding, Wright turns the crucifixion into a potential charter for "anti-European" anger.

. . . Wright opposes "assimilation," expressing displeasure with the likes of Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas, and Colin Powell. He dismisses such blacks as "sell outs." Wright's hostility to assimilation goes beyond classic American expressions of pride in ethnic or religious heritage. For example, Wright claims that "desegregation is not the same as integration. .  .  . Desegregation did not mean that white children would now come to Black schools and learn our story, our history, our heritage, our legacy, our beauty and our strength!" This, for Wright, is genuine "integration."

One of the most striking features of Wright's Trumpet columns is the light they shed on his longstanding theme of "hope." Wright's "Audacity to Hope" sermon is built around a painting he describes of a torn and tattered woman sitting atop a globe and playing a harp that has lost all but a single string. In that sermon, Wright's allegory of hope amidst despair concentrates on our need to soldier on in faith amidst personal tragedy. Yet the "Audacity" sermon also features allusions to South Africa's Sharpe-ville Massacre (1960) and "white folks's greed [that] runs a world in need."

In Trumpet, the political context of the "hope" theme is harsher still. Instead of counseling determination amidst personal tragedy, Wright uses "hope" to exhort his readers to boldly carry on the long-odds struggle against white supremacist America: "We deconstruct the vicious and demonic ideology of white supremacy with hope." Here's another passage in the same mode:

[O]ur fight against Wal-Mart's practices has not been won and might never be won in our lifetime. That does not mean we stop struggling against what it is they stand for that is not in keeping with God's will and God's Kingdom that we pray will come every day.

In that earlier striking passage on the post-Katrina flooding in New Orleans, Wright speaks of his determination to "drum into the heads of our African American children (and indeed, all children!)" the idea that America is flooded with the "crocodiles, alligators and piranha" of white supremacy. That image creates the context for one of Wright's most energetic invocations of "hope":

We are on the verge of launching our African-centered Christian school. The dream of that school, which we articulated in 1979, was built on hope. That hope still lives. That school has to have at its core an understanding and assessment of white supremacy as we deconstruct that reality to help our children become all that God created them to be when God made them in God's own image.

The construction of a school for inner city children undoubtedly falls into the category of the "good works" which nearly everyone recognizes as a benefit bestowed by Trinity Church on the surrounding community, Wright's ideology notwithstanding. But is a school that portrays America as a white supremacist nation filled with predatory alligators and piranha a good work?

. . . Radical politics is no sideline for Wright, but the very core of his theology and practice.

There can be no mistaking it. What did Barack Obama know and when did he know it? Everything. Always.

Read the entire article.

(H/T Dr. Sanity)

1 comment:

Jimmy J. said...

Has it never occurred to Rev. Wright just how fortunate he is to live in a country where he can insult it on a regular basis and still remain a free man?

Does he not see the connection between capitalism and the sumptious new mansion he is set to occupy as his retirement digs?

It seems to me that the oppressive white slave masters of this country would be perfectly willing to raise funds for all who believe in Black Liberation Theology to decamp to some other country that would be more hospitable to them than this racist, oppressive, capitalistic, imperialistic place. In fact, I'll contribute myself.