Obliteration and Wright

Which is the greater threat to humankind,  the sermon snippets of Jeremiah Wright or the promise by Hillary Clinton that she will obliterate Iran if it attacks Israel?  The answer should be obvious. Except that by the strange political and media standards currently at play in the presidential primaries, the answer is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  

When Clinton uttered her televised threat that she would  ”wipe Iran from the face of the earth”–the Iranian version of obliteration–she ignited little response from the keepers of the political narrative.  Maureen Dowd took a mild disdainful slap at Clinton in her New York Times column dismissing the “obliteration” comment as “inane”. The political culture has decreed that there will be no obliterate gate in future stories on Clinton’s primary defeat. 

The Obamas have been parishioners in Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ for the past 20 years. Wright, the church’s pastor during those years, is a charismatic preacher whose sermonic style in carefully isolated snippets, “shocks” (as in Casablanca ) politicians, pundits and a secular media that remains completely tone-deaf to traditional black preaching.

You have to wonder, which journalist or opposition research staffer spent all that time and examined all those sermons to find a few harmful snippets? Twenty years of once a week sermons adds up to roughly 1000 sermons, allowing for two vacation Sundays a year.  That is a lot of preaching, which might even have led to some conversions. Future historians who want to trace the start of this episode should start by interviewing any recently converts to the faith. Or better yet, just ask, who stood to gain the most from publicizing the snippets? 

Sermons by Barack’s pastor became a You Tube favorite. The problem is that Wright, not Obama, is responsible for the snippets. The sermons were preached by a man who has been a friend of the Obama family and who developed a congregation which focused on service to the community. He was also a pastor who helped Obama combine his personal faith with public service. 

It was difficult for Obama to turn away from Wright. He waited several weeks before making the painful separation, which was easier to do after Wright spoke at the Washington’s National Press club and elevated his rhetoric from sermon snippets to an emotional defense of prophetic preaching. 

A prophet brings judgment against power–”Hear ye, and give ear; be not proud: for the Lord hath spoken. Jeremiah 14:15). Barack Obama is not a prophet, he is a politician, which is a role distinction, not a criticism of either the prophet or the preacher.

Newspapers cover political campaigns as sports events. The Boston Celtics enter the NBA playoffs “embattled” with older players (or blessed with talented veterans, depending on the point of view of the writer). The language chosen is appropriate to the sports metaphor. The morning after Obama won the North Carolina primary, the Times continued to designate Wright as an Obama’s “embattled” burden:

“In winning North Carolina by 14 percentage points, Mr. Obama whose campaign had been embattled by controversy over the incendiary remarks of his former pastor recorded his first primary victory in nearly two months.”

Obiliteration is a policy issue, as in, when, why or how to go to war. The Wright snippets, on the other hand, touch on deeper cultural issues which involve racism and religion-bashing. Will John McCain ever suffer from the endorsement he received from the Rev. (”The Catholic church is a whore”) John Hagee”? 

He might, on a slow news day. But the Hagee story won’t reach the level of a McCain embattlement. White fundamentalist preachers are known in media circles for their offbeat observations.  Besides, McCain was not a Hagee parishioner; he was a white politician looking for right-wing white support.

Barack Obama, Wright’s most famous parishioner, will continue to be embattled with the “Wright issue”. Meanwhile, as long as Hillary Clinton insists on “fighting” for the nomination, more than 63 million Iranian men, women and children remain under a threat of future obliteration.      

Obama told a San Francisco fund raising gathering that some Pennsylvania voters are “bitter” and cling to their churches and guns, a sure sign, his political opponents and the media insisted, that he is an “elitist”. His unfortunate offhand analysis became an explanation for his drop in popularity. Wright and bitter gate become political and media short hand for Obama as anti-American and an elitist.

Who among us will ever forget that memorable interview when, asked if she believed Obama was a Muslim, Hillary Clinton paused dramatically and responded, “He says he is not and I believe him.”  The doubt was planted.  The media doesn’t touch it, but emails abound with the false allegation that Clinton did little to dispel. 

Watch to see which issues emerge in the general election that attach themselves to Obama or McCain with the suction power of one of those hideous blobs from the movie Aliens. Expect Wright to be one of them. Once fixed in the public mind negative embattlements rarely go away.  










About wallwritings

From 1972 through 1999, James M. Wall was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, lllinois. He was a Contributing Editor of the Century from 1999 until July, 2017. He has written this blog, wall writings.me, since it was launched April 27, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years. James M Wall died March 22, 2021 at age 92. His family appreciates all of his readers, even those who may have disagreed with his well-informed writings.
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