One thing is certain about Barack Obama’s speech on Monday morning about his relationship with Dr. Jeremiah Wright, his pastor for twenty years—nothing is certain!

1. We do not know the full nature of their private relationship and never will. Personally, I do not think we need to know about their friendship, in every detail. This has even been the legal position of America for many years regarding pastors and the private life of their parishioners.

2. Jeremiah Wright said some hateful and seriously wrong things. Everyone, generally speaking, agrees with this assessment unless they are radically to the Left. The question here is “context” and “hermeneutics.” What did he mean? Why did he say it? What do we make of his ministry in the larger picture of things? Pastor_wright
After watching this story for hours now I conclude that we will never agree on Wright’s ministry, and thus Christians ought to exercise both charity and righteous judgment in the process. We must not pit one of these against the other, which we must admit is our human tendency. Surely we can agree on this point. Yet this is where the debate grows the fiercest at times.

3. Is Obama telling us the whole truth? If you watch Fox News you will hear one argument, questioning Obama’s legitimacy and suggesting that he is insincere and should have pulled away from Jeremiah Wright many years ago. And if you watch CNN you will hear another angle, suggesting his speech was honest, fresh and even turned over a new opportunity for conversation about race and racism. (It should be obvious that my hopes are for the second, but the reality is that I am concerned we will not get this in many of our churches and private conversations. One thing is sure: race and racism is being discussed and it should be, especially by Christians.) I may be proven wrong in time but I feel Obama has told the truth, at least in the big picture. What is questionable is why he waited until now. Home
My educated guess is that he hoped this would never become an issue. He took a calculated political risk and it was a huge mistake. For some this places serious questions on his ability to lead a nation while for others it is seen as strength of character since he rejected Wright’s views without rejecting him as his friend and spiritual mentor. This is seen as impossible to one point of view and completely normal to another. Simply put, I agree with the latter view.

4. Almost all pundits, left and right, felt that his speech of Monday morning was very well written. (He wrote it personally, we are told. I believe he is bright enough to have done this entirely on his own, a rare quality in this time.) Only far right critics, like Rush Limbaugh, trashed him as the candidate of race. I found myself being moved deeply by watching him live. Then I wished this speech could have been given by a Republican as well as by a Democrat. (It was the GOP who was the party of freedom for blacks for more than century. Only in the modern civil rights era did this all get changed radically.) The last five minutes of Obama’s speech, when he laid out his political philosophy for how he would govern, I disagreed almost totally.

5. His speech, to my mind, was an eloquent plea for understanding in a new era of black and white relationships in America, an era that has the real potential to move us beyond the one his pastor lived through and I experienced as a young white boy in the old segregated South. My hopeful (prayerful) side says, “If we work for reconciliation in good faith, and if we hear the story Obama told with some measure of openness, we might actually make even more progress toward racial reconciliation in this great country.” I truly believe that John McCain and Barack Obama, if they run against one another, will not make race an issue. I do not expect McCain, or his campaign with his knowledge at least, to use dirty tricks to re-open the Wright-Obama story with new twists. (The press is another story, as always.) I fully expect that some pundits will keep this story alive. I am praying it provides a platform for discussion that moves us forward, not backward.

The most amazing comments on this whole twenty-four news cycle  came from the very lady I quoted on Saturday about John McCain, Peggy Noonan. She appeared on ABC this morning, along with the black commentator Juan Williams. Both Peggy and Juan are Christians. I always listen to them very carefully. Amazingly, Juan was a little harder on Obama, and especially on the political fallout of all of this, than Noonan. Peggy Noonan spoke of the speech itself as one of the finest moments she could recall in recent American speech-making. She felt it was a powerful address in both written form and in delivery. (Pollster Frank Luntz radically disagreed on Fox last evening, showing I think that he is less objective in his analysis of political speeches than he lets on. He is the “go-to-guy” for Fox on how people actually respond to speeches. I listened to him and thought, “I heard an entirely different speech!” If you go back to my opening statement in this blog you will get my point here.) Noonan said the speech made her proud of Barack Obama! (I seriously doubt she would vote for him.) Now, for those who do not recall, Peggy Noonan was Ronald Reagan’s speech writer. She is a biographer of John Paul II and a devout Catholic Christian with a very conservative Republican view of governance. And Juan Williams is one of the sharpest black voices among those who are generally non-partisan on Fox News. He is the author of one of the finest books about the civil rights era that I know, a book that properly roots the whole movement in Christianity.

So, what can we conclude from this debate?

1.Obama should never be called a Muslim again. Bo_praying_2
Those vicious rumors were terrible and believed by far too many Christians. No one in their right mind should use such a description of his personal faith given what he has affirmed and his relationship to the Christian Church publicly.
2. Obama will likely harmed by this politically with the so-called “Reagan Democrats” and Independents when the general election comes.

3. Obama may be harmed by this in his own party when super-delegates question if he is electable.

4. Obama could still be shown to be covering up a great deal if proof is found that he sat through the several offensive sermons Wright gave. This would destroy him politically, more than likely.

5. The discussion about race will go on. We are at one of those moments when Christians can try to listen and turn down the heat or simply stir up more anger by how they talk about this issue. I encourage a “cooling down” while we listen and pray.

Like him or not, Barack Obama is a most amazing political person. Only now, in this time in our history, could such a person rise to this level of national discussion about the presidency. (The fact is that either the gender or color line will be crossed by the nomination of a candidate by a major party who actually has a chance to be elected in November. This was going to happen in time and this makes these events a part of our history in a major way.) Even if I do not agree with him (or Clinton) on a number of political positions, I will pray for him and her and listen to them both with respect and civility. I hope you, if you are a Christian, will do the same. I think we can coarsen our society over this issue or we can enlighten it by how we respond. We can be salt and light in our speech or we can create more anger and deep resentment. In reality I expect both to happen, to varying degrees, but I am doing what I can to foster the second, at least among Christians. This is a strong part of my missional strategy for the whole Church so the only way you can understand me is to factor this into this debate.

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  1. Dave Moorhead March 19, 2008 at 2:13 pm

    I would beg Christian friends to approach this entire issue from a Christian and biblical perspective. Sadly, what I am hearing is a hateful and combative attitude from far too many. The Bible seems to give us all kinds of guidance for such difficult matters.
    We need to approach Rev. Wright and others with whom we disagree with love. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” So can we please stop for a moment and ask, “Am I acting in love?”
    Rev. Wright is not my enemy. But even if he were I would be obliged to love my enemy and do well by him.
    “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” Paul does not say, “Live peaceably with everyone who agrees with you in the church.” We are to make every effort to live at peace with all people whether we agree or not. How can we come to a place of peace, if not agreement, unless we listen with respect to one another? I am amazed at those who say we should not listen carefully and lovingly to Rev. Wright and Mr. Obama.
    Jesus prayed, “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” Jesus prayed for us to be united! How can we dare refuse to listen to other Christians, regardless of ethnicity, when Jesus made unity so central? How will we ever become one?
    During this Holy Week, as we anticipate our Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter services, let us remember that our Lord went to the cross and died to redeem THE church. One church. Not a black church and a white church and an Asian church and a Latino church. THE church.
    His resurrection testifies to his victory over the forces which would continue to divide us!

  2. Mike Clawson March 19, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    So why is only Obama being asked to answer for the extreme things his pastor has said? Why don’t Republican candidates ever have to answer whenever ministers like Pat Robertson say something crazy, especially when they’ve been endorsed by those ministers? Why doesn’t McCain have to answer for every hateful thing Falwell has ever said after speaking at a school a few years back? Or why didn’t Pastor Huckabee have to answer for his own statement that he’d like to replace the Constitution with the Bible?

  3. Emil March 19, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    After the speech I felt I could vote for this guy if his solutions were not standard liberal failed solutions. But then maybe we ought to do some searches on Black Liberation theology.
    Given the large mainline churches in Chicago, Obama could have joined many of them, some with politically prominent members. So, we can say that it appears he was sincere in his selection of congregations. It wasn’t as though he was born into this congregation and just stayed; he chose it.
    I have asked for a Jeremiah Wright book on interlibrary loan. I’d like to know just what he says “normally”?

  4. Rick Schnetz March 20, 2008 at 2:05 am

    You wrote:
    “…I feel Obama has told the truth, at least in the big picture. What is questionable is why he waited until now.”
    What Dick Morris had to say today shed some more light on it for me:
    “Wright’s rantings are not reflective of Obama’s views on anything. Why did he stay in the church? Because he’s a black Chicago politician who comes from a mixed marriage and went to Columbia and Harvard. Suspected of not being black enough or sufficiently tied to the minority community, he needed the networking opportunities Wright afforded him in his church to get elected. If he had not risen to the top of Chicago black politics, we would never have heard of him. But obviously, he can’t say that. So what should he say?”

    “… if he handles the situation with subtlety and lets what he cannot say — that it was opportunism that led him to stay in that church — sink in among the electorate, he can and will survive this battle.”
    Read it here:
    I also support a “cooling down” while we listen and pray.

  5. Tom Lyberg March 20, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    I’m at the point I really don’t trust much of what I see on the news anymore because no one cares about context, only conflict because of the belief that conflict sells. What do we see of Pastor Wright? The same clip from years ago over and over again. Nothing recent. No new comments. No recognition of two decades of ministry in a mainline denomination.
    Do we see the best parts of Barak Obama’s speech? No, only the parts that Hillary Clinton or Republicans mention to score political points.
    As some have pointed out, we all have friends and family that openly hold views different than our own, views that we may find repugnant. However, unless our preference is that of the Amish and we engage in shunning all those near to us who disagree or offend, we will find ourselves in a very lonely and ineffective place.
    My sense is that the collateral damage in this whole situation is the case for the irrelevance of the church in postmodern life. Hatemongers on the right or left, intolerant, the press paints a picture of Christian leaders that is disconnected from reality and the Gospel.
    Can’t say I agree with a number of Barak Obama’s positions. What I do agree with is someone who stands for hope, who seems to stand for his faith and pastor in difficult times, and doesn’t seem to pay back like for like. I think that says more about the future of race relations in the US and the need for the press to get over the fact times have changed.

  6. Mike Clawson March 22, 2008 at 11:34 am

    I agree with those who say we need to hear both Wright and Obama in context. Don’t let Faux News or CNN do your thinking for you.
    Here’s a website that has more of Wright’s comments in greater context:
    And here is where you can find the whole video and text of Obama’s speech. Read it for yourself and decide:

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