“What did Barack Obama hear and when did he hear it?” is not just a Beltway parlor game. Americans have legitimate questions about the influence Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s Afrocentric, liberation theology has had on Obama. Does Obama believe that Jesus was a black man? That the brains of black and white children are “different?” That the U.S. government is capable of deliberately infecting his people with AIDS to wipe them out?

Obama says he doesn’t. But that he waited 20 years to make this declaration – and only under duress – doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.  It suits Wright and apologists like “journalist” Bill Moyers just fine to assert that any critical examination – and by extension, denunciation – of the precepts underlying Wright’s views, and the preaching that kept Obama going back for more, is “an attack on the black church.” But as black pastors go, how representative is Wright? Columnist Robert Novak asks two prominent black pundits – one conservative and one liberal – whether Wright is a “typical” black minister:  

My friend Armstrong Williams, the African American conservative, told me, “It is not unusual to hear in many black churches the same language that Reverend Wright is being criticized for.” I raised this with NPR reporter and Fox commentator Juan Williams (no relation to Armstrong). “Not at all,” replied Williams, who also is African American. “It’s ridiculous. I never have heard that in church.”

Not being a congregant of a black church – or of any church – The Stiletto is not in a position to determine which of these diametrically opposed statements is true. However, this doesn’t prevent her from taking issue with Wright’s offensive, over-the-top sermons and speeches – he is reading from a different bible than most Americans, one that Jews and Christians would find unrecognizable.

National Post columnist Fr. Raymond J. de Souza, parish priest of Sacred Heart of Mary Parish on Wolfe Island (Ontario, Canada) argues that Wright’s theology goes far beyond the Christian church’s tradition of “cultural transmission, of historical memory, of social service provision and even of political activism” in countries where “entire societies live under the political domination of another society”:

In the Catholic world, such a phenomenon has characterized at various times the experience of the Irish, the Poles and the French-Canadians. The danger for the churches in such situations is that, preoccupied with keeping alive a subjugated nation, they can become tainted by chauvinism and prejudice. The glory of the G-d is coloured [sic] by the blues.
Reverend Wright belongs to such a current in the black American experience. His chauvinism – to say nothing of his theories about racial differences and political conspiracies – is not representative of the whole black experience, nor does it reflect the black church as a whole. …

Reverend Wright boasts that he speaks as a pastor, and not a politician. It is as a pastor that his words more severely condemn him, for he must know that he is not telling the truth, the first obligation of one who would step into the pulpit. And the truth is that, while giving glory to G-d, the black church has too often tolerated giving truth, justice and America itself the blues. 

The Washington Post’s David S. Broder summarizes Wright’s dissertation on “African-American religious experience and its historical, theological and political context” during his appearance before the National Press Club Monday (“the rational part … before he got to the self-justification and the denunciations of our government and the nation’s values”):

These can be boiled down, he said, to three words: liberation, transformation and reconciliation.

To Wright, liberation means more than opposing oppression in all its forms. It also encompasses freeing oneself from any feelings of inferiority or superiority and recognizing that “being different does not mean one is deficient.”

Transformation, in his terms, is all-encompassing: “Changed lives, changed minds, changed laws, changed social orders and changed hearts in a changed world.”

Reconciliation, he concluded, “means we embrace our individual rich histories, all of them. We retain who we are as persons of different cultures, while acknowledging that those of other cultures are not superior or inferior to us. They are just different from us.”

Anyone who has heard Obama’s speeches in this campaign will recognize these three concepts as the roots of the senator’s thinking and the guiding principles of his life.

And that’s precisely the problem. Novak notes, “Obama’s danger is being perceived by white voters as representing a hostile, separate culture.” Ya think? 

At the NAACP dinner in Detroit on Sunday, Wright said:

I describe the conditions in this country. Conditions divide, not my descriptions. …

I come from a religious tradition where we shout in the sanctuary and march on the picket line. I come from a religious tradition where we give God the glory and we give the devil the blues. The black religious tradition is different. We do it a different way.

This is what Rev. Wright preaches and teaches (video link; transcript courtesy of Sweetness & Light) – he repeated many of these statements, purportedly based on radical Baptist minister Tony Campolo’s teachings, in his speech at the NAACP dinner in Detroit on Sunday:

Fact number one: we’ve got more black men in prison than there are in college.

Racism is alive and well. Racism is the American way.

Racism is how this country was founded, and how this country is still run.

No black man can ever be President.

No black woman will ever be considered for anything outside of what she can give with her body.

Fact number three: America is still the number one killer in the world. … We bombed Cambodia, Iraq and Nicaragua, killing women and children, while trying to turn public opinion against Castro and Qaddafi. 

Fact number four: we put Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there. … 

Fact number five: we supported Zionism shamelessly while ignoring the Palestinians, and branding anybody who spoke out against it as being anti-Semitic. 

Fact number six: we conducted radiation experiments on our own people. You’re just finding out about that. We care nothing about human life, if the end justifies the means.

Fact number seven: we do not care if poor black and brown children cannot read and kill each other senselessly. …

Fact number eight: we started the AIDS virus, and now that it is out of control …

Fact number nine: we only able to maintain our level of living by making sure the Third World people live in grinding poverty. …

Fact number ten: we are selfish, self-centered ego egotists, who are arrogant and ignorant. We pray at church and do not try to make the kingdom that Jesus talked about a reality.

And, and, and… in light of these in fact God has got to be sick of this shit!

Here’s what he said in Detroit about how he views all G-d’s chillun (attributing his twisted views this time to Dr. Janice Hale):

In the past, we were taught to see others who are different as being deficient. We established arbitrary norms and then determined that anybody not like us was abnormal. … 

[In her] first book, “Black Children their Roots, Culture and Learning Style.” … Dr. Hale showed us that in comparing African-American children and European-American children in the field of education, we were comparing apples and rocks.

European and European-American children have a left brained cognitive object oriented learning style and the entire educational learning system in the United States of America. Back in the early ’70s, when Dr. Hale did her research was based on left brained cognitive object oriented learning style. …

Left brain is logical and analytical. Object oriented means the student learns from an object. … From a block to a book, an object. That is one way of learning, but it is only one way of learning.

African and African-American children have a different way of learning. They are right brained, subject oriented in their learning style. Right brain that means creative and intuitive. Subject oriented means they learn from a subject, not an object. They learn from a person.

Talk radio host Michael Medved is aghast by “the Ranting Rev” and the implications of his beliefs:

If he thinks of black kids as “rocks” (on which teachers might break their teeth) he’s recycling hateful white supremacist ideology. If it’s white kids who are only rocks, he’s a black racist. …

Wright makes the same sick and silly claims about fundamental, genetically determined, unbridgeable difference between “left-brained” whites and “right-brained” blacks that white racists have advanced for years. …

I believe that the idea of racial segregation in the classroom is evil, outrageous, un-American, un-Constitutional and in every way unacceptable. … But if Wright is right …  blacks and whites really do possess such vastly different styles of learning (according to Wright, “logical and analytical” vs. “creative and intuitive”) then wouldn’t they actually benefit from the segregation that the NAACP itself so conspicuously (and nobly) worked to end?

But there was worse to come. Broder notes that, “[o]nce the question-and-answer period began at the [National Press Club], it became clear that – for all the academic tone of his formal speech – Wright was seething with resentments that overwhelmed any possibility of reconciliation.” Here are some salient examples: 

Moderator: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan? Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

Wright: [A]s I said on Bill Moyers, when Louis Farrakhan speaks, it’s like E.F. Hutton speaks, all black America listens. Whether they agree with him or not, they listen. … Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn’t make me this color. …

So what is Wright saying? That G-d is his enemy for making him black? If being black is somehow “punishment” from G-d, doesn’t this contradict his mantra that “different is not deficient?” And isn’t it, um, curious, that a pastor can believe – and preach – that G-d is his enemy?

Moderator: In light of your widely quoted comment damning America, do you think you owe the American people an apology? If not, do you think that America is still damned in the eyes of God?

Wright: It’s about policy, not the American people. … G-d doesn’t bless everything.  G-d condemns something – and d-e-m-n, “demn,” is where we get the word “damn.” G-d damns some practices. And there is no excuse for the things that the government, not the American people, have done. That doesn’t make me not like America or unpatriotic. …

As is the case with every superpower going back to antiquity, the U.S. is not above reproach. However, the generosity of the American government and of individual Americans to the poor, the sick and the hungry worldwide is unparalleled in all of human history. If Wright is a Christian, he should believe in redemption. Clearly, he does not.

Moderator: In your sermon, you said the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. So I ask you: Do you honestly believe your statement and those words?

Wright: [B]ased on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything. …

Although The Stiletto was thinking along the same lines, Jonah Goldberg beat her to disproving this calumny:

In 1932, public health researchers set out to study syphilis, particularly among African-Americans, who had higher infection rates than whites. They recruited 399 black men who already had syphilis. The doctors infected no one. In fact, the patients were selected in the first place because they were tertiary-stage syphilitics who were no longer contagious.

The researchers studied the progress of the disease, without treating it, for 40 years.

Prior to the availability of penicillin in the 1940s and 1950s, the researchers couldn’t have treated the men even if they wanted to. Even after standardized penicillin treatments were available, it wasn’t clear that the patients could have been helped. Some of the doctors believed that treating the decades-long infections would kill the men.

Among scholars who’ve studied Tuskegee, there’s a lot of debate about how much – if any – racism was involved in the experiment. But no one disputes that Tuskegee had nothing whatsoever to do with genocide or even a desire to spread the disease among the black population. …

[I]t’s worth noting that the Tuskegee study … “emerged out of a liberal progressive public health movement concerned about the health and well-being of the African-American population,” writes University of Chicago professor Richard Schweder. He adds: “The study was done with the full knowledge, endorsement and participation of African-American medical professionals, hospitals and research institutes.”

Facts aside, Goldberg is likely to have as much luck fighting this baseless belief as Wellesley College classicist Mary Lefkowitz has had in puncturing the myths of Afrocentrism, chronicled in her new book History Lesson (Yale University Press).

Moderator: Can you elaborate on your comparison of the Roman soldiers who killed Jesus to the U.S. Marine Corps? Do you still believe that is an appropriate comparison and why?  

Wright:  We have troops stationed all over the world, just like Rome had troops stationed all over the world, because we run the world. That notion of imperialism is not the message of the gospel of the prince of peace, nor of G-d, who loves the world. 

As Sen. John McCain so pithily put it: It is “beyond belief” Wright’s “comparing the United States Marine Corps with Roman legionnaires who were responsible for the death of our Savior” and “that Al Qaeda and the American flag were the same flags.”

Incredibly, just a few days after Wright made her husband out to be a liar (about those racist, incendiary statements, Holy Hope Heritage Church pastor Rev. William Revely stated flat-out, “Anybody who has heard Jeremiah preach has heard that”), Michelle Obama complained to NBC’s Meredith Vieira “this conversation doesn’t help my kids, you know,” and then told CNN:

“We’re confident that the American people are ready to move to a different place. We just have to be confident and give them the benefit of the doubt, that they get all the information and we sort of come out of the muck [and] that they’ll be ready to embrace the truth.”

The more pertinent question is, having been exposed to Wright’s histrionic, historically inaccurate hatemongering sermons for 20 years – and having exposed her children as well – is the woman who could potentially be our First Lady ready to “embrace the truth”?

Here are some truths for Michelle Obama to consider as she rethinks how best to help her kids grow up without the bitterness and victim mentality that Wright wants to burden then with for all their born days:

† Pundit and radio talk show host Larry Elder:

While most Americans feel sympathy for the “black plight,” they do not feel responsible for slavery, Jim Crow or legalized segregation. They resent those who continue to blame past injustices for current problems and inconveniences. And recoil at the apparent widespread victicrat mentality that forms the psyche of so many blacks, including, but not limited to Jeremiah Wright, Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, et al. This includes much of the Democratic Party, that tacitly and explicitly endorses this mindset in order to get the monolithic black vote, without which the party cannot prevail.

† Time magazine political analyst Joe Klein:

For all the palpable good that Wright has done his community, his parishioners have paid a subtle price, especially the younger, poorer, less educated ones. When he spreads canards like the one about the AIDS conspiracy, he is telling them that white power is so overwhelming that it’s almost impossible to succeed. The success of Obama’s candidacy sends the very opposite message, which may be why Wright is so threatened by it. If Obama wins the presidency – if we can break past the barrier of race – there won’t be much of a market for oppression-thumping orators like Jeremiah Wright.  

† Rev. Harry Jackson Jr., pastor of the multiracial Pentecostal Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD:

You can’t keep bringing up the anger of black power or black theology without a vision or plan to address those issues. There is a desire for the first time in post-civil rights history among large white churches to integrate in cities like D.C. that are predominantly black.

† The National Post’s Fr. de Souza: 

Too often the black church has rallied ‘round its own rather than put aside the clowns and crackpots. Tolerance for the excesses of Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton makes it possible for Jeremiah Wright to remain too central a figure. … 

[It was a mistake] equating the shadow side of the black church with the entire black community. … The Obama-Wright controversy has brought light to those shadows and to the need for the black church to purify itself of the temptation of the vulgar politics which has corrupted its witness. 

† Kerman Maddox, who worships at LA’s First AME Church in an interview by the Los Angeles Times:   

He had listened to hundreds of sermons in black churches nationwide as part of his political and community work, and that Wright’s messages did “not represent mainstream black thought on Sunday morning.” He said he had never heard pastors curse America or proclaim, as Wright had, that the U.S. government caused AIDS among blacks. He said the common pulpit themes had long been unity, personal responsibility, loving your neighbor and improving your neighborhoods. 

Make no mistake about it: Rev. Jeremiah Wright used his moment in the spotlight to give America – white Americans, in particular – the middle finger. The funny thing is, that finger turned and poked him in the eye.

Revulsion over Wright’s toxic, delusional worldview is not racism, and certainly is not an attack on “the black church.” Wright’s own words are an attack on the black church, on black Americans and on the millions of Americans who were enthusiastic about electing a black man president.

Only when Michelle Obama is ready to “embrace the truth” about Aftocentrism, liberation theology and black separatism and tells it to her children – and when congregants at churches like Trinity United Church of Christ do the same (Wright’s demagoguery at the NAACP dinner got a Standing O from a crowd that was not unfamiliar with such theological stylings) –  can we achieve the post-racial society that her husband claims is his audacious hope for America.

Note: The Stiletto writes about politics and other stuff at The Stiletto Blog, chosen an Official Honoree in the Political Blogs category by the judges of the 12th Annual Webby Awards (the Oscars of the online universe) along with CNN Political Ticker, Swampland (Time magazine) and The Caucus (The New York Times).

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