Obama’s Church

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On the one hand, there’s Richard Cohen’s column in today’s Washington Post chastising Obama for belonging to a church that put Louis Farrakhan on its cover last year. It’s guilt by association and smells strongly of Clinton oppo research and doesn’t reflect very well on Cohen–but is reasonably fair game nonetheless. If your church singles out Farrakhan for that kind of acclaim, well, you’ve got to respond. On the other hand, here’s Jonathan Raban’s account of what Obama got in the way of homiletic vision from the pastor of that church, Jeremiah Wright. It”s the opposite of the Farrakhan message of exclusivist black nationalism, stressing the coming together of all humankind. What Raban appears not to recognize is that Wright hardly came up with that millennial ideal himself. In the black church it’s just a recent, impressive
articulation of an African-American civil religious trope that is at least a century old–the most important articulation of which is, of course, Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.”
Update: Greg Sargent of Talking Point memo obtained this unequivocal response from Obama:

I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan. I assume that Trumpet Magazine made its own decision to honor Farrakhan based on his efforts to rehabilitate ex-offenders, but it is not a decision with which I agree.

Sargent, along was various other netrootsters, takes Cohen to serious task for tarring Obama with the Farrakhan brush even as he claims not to.

  • Asinus Gravis

    Obama’s belonging to Trinity UCC in Chicago pales in comparison to McCain, Romney, Huckabee, Giuilani, et. al. belonging to a political party that gives credence to Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Gonzales, et. al. It is difficult to imagine a more arrogant, wrong-headed, destructive, criminal group.
    Those candidates have an enormous amount of bad judgment and horrendous actions for which to apologize. But by and large, rather than distance themselves from that administration and apologize for it they have ardently embraced almost all of the rotten mess.

  • Jonathan Raban

    “What Raban appears not to recognise…” Your condescension is unjustified: I was entirely aware of what you say, but it just happens that I was writing about Obama’s encounter with liberation theology at one particular church in Chicago. (Before he joined Trinity United, he seems to have had little or no interest in the subject.) So–interesting as it might have been to detour via King, Cone, Tillich, Bonhoeffer, etc–my focus was on Obama and Wright, not on the evolution of the theological line of which Wright is, as I said, an “apostle”, by which I meant a follower, not the founder. There is no evidence in my essay for the charge of ignorance that you so casually lay at my feet.

  • Mark Silk

    Excuse me, but you called him an “apostle of black liberation theology,” not of the black civil religion that I was referring to. That would make him more an apostle of James Cone than of Martin Luther King, Jr.–or, to be more precise, a latter-day exponent of a creed and style of discourse that emerged from the A.M.E. church in the late 19th century. But my point was simply that Obama (and Wright in his inclusive mode) should be seen in the long line of black civil religionists–and your useful piece does nothing to suggest that that’s case, or that you recognize it.