Presidential candidate Barack Obama said if his pastor Jeremiah Wright wasn’t retiring and didn’t acknowledge that his comments were offensive, Obama would have left Trinity United Church of Christ:
“Had the reverend not retired and had he not acknowledged that what he had said had deeply offended people and were inappropriate and mischaracterized what I believe is the greatness of this country, for all its flaws, then I wouldn’t have felt comfortable staying there at the church.”
This announcement comes with the revelation that Wright had published articles in the church bulletin that were potentially anti-American and anti-Israel. At the very least, they were in poor taste and a little nuts. Obama denounced the articles and said they were “outrageously wrong.” Who knows what further damage this will do to Obama, but it really makes me wonder about the church.
What is Wright Saying?
All of these questionable comments in the church’s bulletin are again taken out of context, so it’s hard to see what Wright is really saying.
The nuttiest of the articles includes quotes from other sources “that maintain South Africa and Israel worked on ‘an ethnic bomb that kills blacks and Arabs.'” What?
Another of the articles seems like poor taste (at least taken out context like it is):
“Arnold Toynbee, the world-renowned historian, stated that what the Zionist Jews did to the Palestinians is worse than what the Nazis did to the Jews, because, as he stated, Jews should have learned from their tragic experience,” [Arab-American activist Ali] Baghdadi wrote.
The explanation at the end helps give some context—though it’s easy to read the initial part (in CNN’s article they left off the explanation at the end of the sentence when they first quoted it, but then included the full quote at the end of the article) at face value, that whatever oppression and death has occurred in the Israel-Palestinian conflict far outweighs the six million Jews rounded up and exterminated by the Nazis. That’s crazy.
I think what little context we get here points to the idea that Jews faced severe oppression under the Nazis (and that’s putting it beyond lightly) and so they should understand the predicament of the Palestinians who lost their homeland and live under occupation. But it also complicates matters that a number of Palestinian terrorist groups fight back by killing civilians. (On a side note, it’s bizarre to me that Wright speaks out so vehemently against anyone killing civilians, but doesn’t speak out against Palestinian terrorist groups, at least that I’ve seen. Part of that may be that I’ve only seen select, out-of-context material.)
At the very least you’d expect a little more balance and sensitivity. It’s one thing to recognize the oppression Palestinians face and push for peace. It’s not anti-Israel to speak up for the Palestinians. (Another aside, I’m full of those today: I’ve never understood why Israel got their homeland but the Palestinians got nothing. From what little I’ve read, it seems the Arab states could never agree on anything so Israel just declared their statehood, war ensued, and the Palestinians found themselves occupied. The two-state solution seems to me like a potential path to peace.)
But it’s another thing entirely to vilify Israel and overlook the Palestinian terrorism. You need to denounce terrorist attacks that ruthlessly target civilians (interesting connection to my recent renounce/denounce comment, though here it’s tactics being denounced, not people). When you speak up for justice, you need to do so fairly. That sounds so obvious, does it even need to be said? Apparently so.
The Church’s Response
The Truth About Trinity, a blog written by a member that’s standing up for the church, has an interesting response (it’s worth noting this is not necessarily the official response of the church). They don’t directly respond to the questionable articles other than to say people don’t always agree with their pastor. But they do go on to talk about the many great things Wright has championed, including fighting AIDS and decrying genocide in Darfur.
They also talk about how rare it is for a church publication to address real world issues (amen!) and that Wright has hardly been a bystander in important issues. That’s great, but it doesn’t help explain these statements. It’s just as bad to be a bystander while your pastor endorses a bunch of crazy stuff.
Where Do We Go From Here?
I’ve said before that Jeremiah Wright is hardly a saint (though who is?). But I’m still not sure if this qualifies for totally writing the guy off. We’re still getting out-context quotes. And we’re still not seeing a lifetime pattern of bigotry (even Billy Graham has made regrettable remarks at one point in his life, but I don’t think that warrants labeling him an anti-Semite). But it’s not easy to swallow.
Barack Obama makes it sound like these are rare and recent lapses in judgment on Wright’s part. I hope that’s the case. Because there will certainly be more scrutiny. I can understand sticking with a pastor you don’t entirely agree with, at least to a certain point. But I’m not so sure the general public will understand that, especially if this gets worse. My brother commented before that guilty by association is how the world works. I don’t agree with that for a number of reasons, but it’s certainly true for politics.