Jeremiah Wright and Race in America


Jeremiah Wright and Race in America

Will the controversy over Barack Obama’s former pastor ignite a racial explosion?

Thanks to extremist sermons by the black preacher of a black presidential candidate, race is front and center in American discussion. And that discussion is quickly getting hot.

Barack Obama is doing his best to lower the temperature. Not an easy task. And far more is on the line than merely his chances for the presidency. This could prove to be a turning point in U.S. race relations—for the worse.

Obama’s success must be attributed in part to Americans’ desire to transcend racial divisions. His upbeat, inclusive message—admirably devoid of race politics—has garnered impressive support from a broad spectrum of voters. Many view his mixed-race ancestry as a symbol of the racial harmony an Obama presidency might engender, a theme he has embraced.

“I have brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, uncles and cousins, of every race and every hue, scattered across three continents,” he said yesterday. Thus, he said, it is “seared into my genetic makeup … that this nation is more than the sum of its parts—that out of many, we are truly one.” He said his campaign has proven “how hungry the American people were for this message of unity.” Without a doubt, that message resonates with mainstream America.

Little wonder, then, that revelations about Jeremiah Wright—Obama’s pastor and spiritual adviser for 20 years—have raised serious concerns, particularly as videotaped clips of his sermons have recently surfaced. Wright’s anger and indignation (“Racism is the American way!”) as he spews out profanity-laden, conspiracy-theory-based screeds (“The government lied about inventing the hiv virus as a means of genocide against people of color”) cloaked in spiritual language (“Jesus was a poor black man … who lived in a culture that was controlled by rich white people!”) contrast harshly with Obama’s positive rhetoric.

These clips—in which Wright’s most slanderous statements receive the wildest cheers from his congregation—are now everywhere thanks to their link to presidential politics. They have lifted the lid on a raucous, hostile subculture many Americans knew little about and are deeply disturbed by.

Barack Obama’s association with this man is too intimate and too deep for an “I never heard him say those things” defense to be plausible. Many people have been pressuring Obama to make a strong, clean break. Tellingly, he hasn’t obliged them. “This is somebody who was a former U.S. Marine, who was a biblical scholar, who preached and taught at theological seminaries all across the country, and has had a reputation as a preeminent preacher in the country,” Obama recently told cnn. In a 37-minute speech yesterday, while he condemned Wright’s “profoundly distorted view of this country,” he also said, “As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. … I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community.”

This fundamental loyalty to a figure as divisive as Wright is remarkable. Here is an enormously popular black presidential candidate with strong ties to a ranting, Afrocentric, government-hating religious leader. Prominent Democrats are calling this a “distraction” from the real issues; the mainstream press is downplaying the story. But it seems unlikely that an earthquake of such proportions, involving a figure so prominent and an issue so explosive, will just fade away.

Far likelier is that the Obama candidacy—in which many saw the promise of national unity—will become very polarizing and messy. And, like it or not, at the heart of the dispute will be race.

On one side will be those for whom the Wright relationship connects all the dots on a candidate with a thin public record and about whom little is known. Many are sure to fight virulently to keep anyone associated with Wright’s jeremiads against “white supremacy” in “the U.S. of KKKA” out of the White House.

On the other side, people will view the damage to Obama’s campaign by the Wright kerfuffle as proof positive of racism in America.

Obama says he wants everyone to unite. In yesterday’s speech—the senator’s first major public statement on the race issue—he seemed ready to turn this controversy into an opportunity to lead a national discussion. It seems, however, that his chances of success with many Americans are irreparably damaged by his association with Jeremiah Wright.

These people’s mistrust will hardly be assuaged by his efforts to put his pastor’s incendiary comments in context: “For the men and women of Reverend Wright’s generation,” he explained, “the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away; nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years. … [T]he anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races.”

How many Americans are going to take this occasion to “understand the roots” of vile statements like Wright’s now infamous “God damn America—that’s in the Bible—for killing innocent people”?

Fueling the other side is exactly the kind of “view that sees white racism as endemic”—to use Obama’s words—preached by the likes of Obama’s former pastor. Many prominent civil rights leaders today contend that white Americans are substantially just as racist today as they were in the Jim Crow South. They encourage us to see racism everywhere, in everything. They search for—and invariably find—signs of conspiracy, and use them to stir up feelings of injustice among minority groups. They fan the flames of resentment and prejudice in order to serve what they consider just political purposes.

Imagine what could happen in the time ahead if Obama’s popularity wanes because of recent events. Electoral gaffes in Michigan and Florida are already complicating the question of who the nominee will be. Victor Davis Hanson wonders whether the Wright scandal will taint Obama to the point where super delegates, rather than nominating a candidate “who will bleed all spring and summer,” would instead “‘steal’ the nomination from the ‘people’ and ‘hand it over’ to Hillary.” Whatever happens, it is not at all difficult to imagine circumstances that would provide a big circus tent for opportunistic civil rights ringleaders.

The potential is great for that “chasm of misunderstanding” between the races to widen. But the “chasm” analogy fails to illustrate just how dangerously combustible relations between the two sides can get.

Using the Bible to justify racial hatred is beyond the pale. The truth of the Bible is that “God is no respecter of persons: But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” It is that God “will have all men [and women] to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” God has a plan that includes people of every race, tongue, nation, creed and religion! You can read about that plan in Herbert W. Armstrong’s book Mystery of the Ages.

Still, our world today is ruled by human nature. And God’s prophecies, recorded millennia ago, speak plainly of racial discord seizing America—and reveal its explosive outcome. They are explained in Chapter 4 of Gerald Flurry’s book Ezekiel—The End-Time Prophet.

Whether or not this presidential race proves to be a trigger to those events, keep watching. Tragically, we can expect today’s racial tensions very soon to explode into full-scale race wars.