Home Commentary Op-ed The Politics of Homiletical Hype

The Politics of Homiletical Hype


Has there ever been an election in which the religious affiliation of candidates came under such intense scrutiny as this one? It's great grist for the journalistic mills of religion-page columnists.
I am a registered Republican and will vote for John McCain unless he self-destructs before November, but Barak Obama scored some strong points with me in his excellent March 18 speech on race and religion. I found it impressive — even inspiring.
I admire brains well-used, elegant eloquence, grace under pressure, sensible reasoning and courteous chutzpah, whatever label they wear.
The candidate skated skillfully around the precarious pit of his relationship to his long-time pastor and spiritual mentor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright.
Wright's bellicose statements like …
— the United States brought the 9/11 attacks on itself;
— is inherently racist;
— invented AIDS to devastate the black race;
— Louis Farrakhan "truly epitomizes greatness"; and
— God should damn America rather than bless it
… have stirred up a firestorm of indignation and angry outrage from pundits of all political stripes, who think Barak's skating was not skillful enough and raised some flaming red flags about his suitability for the presidency.
Without an explicit denunciation of the Rev. Dr. Wright as a dangerous agitator, and withdrawal of his membership in Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama's speech seems to some to be a slick evasion of what should be a totally candid, forthright dealing with Wright's hate-filled declarations.
In his syndicated column Wednesday, veteran journalist (and my friend) Chuck Green mused about "… If I had written Obama's speech …" It's an acquired characteristic endemic among writers and public speakers. I have read few columns or heard few sermons that I could not have improved on.
The insertion of the controversial cleric into Obama's pursuit of the Democrat nomination clearly put him between a rock and a hard place. But it seems to me that he is smart enough to know that if he is viewed as endorsing without qualification the sentiments implied in Wright's inflammatory rhetoric, his political goose is cooked.
I spent most of today using Internet search engines to pull up, sort, and read everything I could find about the Obama/Wright/Trinity Church cause célèbre. I think the whole truth is a victim of soundbite journalism and, in some instances, just plain sloppy reporting.
Having been a pastor, and having more than a superficial knowledge of the ethos of African-American church congregations, I sense the nuances beneath the reported facts.
Exclusively black congregations almost always have a sense of community that is incomprehensible and impenetrable to most whites. That sense of community is a powerful bond which transcends doctrine or theology.
All popular preaching is theater. Otherwise the pastor/preacher could simply display the sermon electronically on a screen and save his voice. Preaching that touches people in the pews often employs a lot of hyperbole; the larger the audience, the more hyper the bole.
Pastor Wright's venomous vocabulary must be evaluated alongside other aspects of his pastoral persona, the way his people — and others of all races who have associated with him and know him well — evaluate him: as a black ethnic human package functioning in a black ethnic milieu.
This is not an apologia for either Wright or Obama. The would-be top leader of the United States should be looked at from every possible angle and examined on every piece of information about him that can be dug up.
And Obama's lame, transparently improbable comments that he didn't know about Wright's pyrotechnic political pulpiteering did not enhance his image as an incisive thinker or forthright truth-teller.
But to infer that what Mr. Obama said and did not say about Dr. Wright amounts to an implicit endorsement of the clergyman's noxious public statements suggests that the Democratic senator is a duplicitous closet anarchist, working to get in position to install Louis Farrakhan as secretary of State and pack the CIA with Black Panthers, demeans the whole election enterprise.
I don't think he is.

Editor's note: W. Jackson "Jack" Wilson is a psychologist, an Episcopal priest, a sometime academic and a writer living in Colorado. He writes with humor, whimsy, passion and penetrating insight into the human condition. And in Pushkin, Russia, a toilet is named in his honor.

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to [email protected].


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