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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Obama and His Pastor

As Barack Obama has gotten closer to the Democratic presidential nomination, he has, predictably, become subject to a lot more media scrutiny, in part because of his Democratic and Republican opponents, but also because he’s been reasonably open about his personal background and past affiliations.
This scrutiny has become especially intense over the last few weeks, but at present, if you ask ten Obama supporters and ten Obama detractors about the issue that could most damage the Illinois senator, most of them would cite his relationship with Jermiah Wright, long-time (but recently retired) pastor of Obama’s Trinity UCC Church.
A brief video clip from Wright’s “God Damn America” sermon is getting viral attention. Obama has said he wasn’t present for this sermon, and vehemently disagrees with its sentiments, but he has remained in Wright’s flock for 22 years. Wright consecrated Obama’s marriage, and baptized his children.
Jack and Jill Politics (a leading African-American political site) blogger Rikyrah published a valuable post at Open Left over the weekend placing the Wright controversy in the broader context of Trinity UCC’s highly affluent, culturally and politically mainstream congregation. Beyond that, anyone familiar with the African-American preaching tradition–or for that matter, the shaper edge of recent Protestant and Catholic homiletics generally–will recognize Wright’s more provocative rhetoric as emblematic of a long-standing Christian effort to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” from a thousand pulpits.
Still, the Wright controversy clearly undercuts Obama’s effort to stand for racial, partisan and ideological reconciliation, and it’s no accident that he’s decided to make this the subtext of a major speech tomorrow in Philadelphia. It will be an interesting moment. Personally, the first time I really paid attention to Barack Obama as something other than a rising political star and outstanding speaker was back in the summer of 2006, when he delivered an address to the Christian Left Call for Renewal conference that was one of the most nuanced and interesting set of comments on the subject of religion and politics heard in a long, long time. It didn’t get that much attention. But what he says tomorrow will be heard by the whole political world.

2 comments on “Obama and His Pastor

  1. kent on

    I didnt realize how inflamatory the sermon was. I read the speach first. As an aging white male I found the sermon alarming and imagined what damage this might cause Barack in the election process. I was reconsiled as a result of his speach. I cant imagine a more difficult issue at this point of the contest. I didn’t see a politcal song and dance here, he tackled the issue head on, he was sincere and brillant.


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