03/22/08 — Pulpit and pew: Obama explained Wright, but not delayed reaction

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Pulpit and pew: Obama explained Wright, but not delayed reaction

Before you begin any substantive discussion of Barack Obama’s pastor and his controversial sermons, you need to understand why so many are so bothered by not only what the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. said, but also by the fact that Obama would even begin to try to explain away his continued allegiance to his pastor.

Everyone understands having someone in your life whose viewpoints you do not agree with. Lots of people have relatives who might be racist, sexist or otherwise offensive. You really cannot control what members of your family say, think or do.

But the difference between Wright and Obama’s relationship and that of a crusty uncle with a tendancy to run off at the mouth is that associating with Wright’s church is a choice.

You can’t do anything about family. But you can choose where you go to Sunday services.

When you align yourself with someone who makes statements like those of Jeremiah Wright, you are saying that you support those viewpoints. It is your choice to be a member of the church, so it is your choice to abide by the principles espoused by the preacher.

Religion is personal — an expression of faith. It is not a dispassionate activity. Those who believe do so strongly with passion and commitment — as they should. They make life decisions based on the Bible and use their religious background and church teachings to help guide them through the intricacies of life.

They don’t just sit in a pew.

Wright’s statements are not just casual opinions posed at a dinner party among friends. They were shouted from a pulpit to a chorus of “hallelujahs” and “amens.” They were a call to action of sorts — an expression of belief and faith. They were spoken with the passion of a preacher trying to educate his flock and with the conviction of a man who believes he has a duty to spread the word of truth to others.

And to those who do not agree with his views on Sept. 11, 2001 — and to those for whom religion takes another form — Wright’s statements were patently offensive, irresponsible and reproachable.

It doesn’t matter how good a man he is or what he has done for his community in the past. It matters how he conducts himself when he is speaking as a representative not only of God’s word, but as a leader of a congregation.

That’s what has made people pause and wonder why a man running for president under the mantle of uniting people and putting an end to the strife and anger that have crippled this nation in years past would even be associated with a man who could stand at a pulpit and express so much vitriole against others.

Obama is right to say that you cannot abandon those with whom you disagree, especially if you love them.

But he is wrong not to have stepped in and said something to a pastor whose words he says he so passionately disagrees with. He was wrong to sit in that pew without having stood tall and saying “this is wrong.”

It is good that he has finally stood tall, addressed the issue and even used to opportunity to talk about the greater issue — race.

But what would have happened if no one had ever seen that video?

It is something to think about.

Published in Editorials on March 22, 2008 11:45 PM