Much has been made lately of comments made by a pastor at Barack Obama’s church. Among Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s quotes (which are on video) are:
"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye... We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant. Because the stuff we have done overseas has now brought right back into our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost." (Sept. 2001, after 9-11)
In 2003 Wright also said, “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme." In a sense, these are the least of Wright’s misstatements since there are elements of credibility interspersed among the criticisms of America.
For example it has been reported that an article appeared in a November/December 2007 edition of Trumpet, a magazine run by Wright's daughters where Wright described Italians as "garlic noses" and saying Jesus' crucifixion was "a public lynching Italian-style. Wright has also been reported to have said publicly that the AIDS virus was engineered by the US government to harm Africans and under something called “The Pastor’s Page” in his daughter’s newsletter was printed an open letter to Oprah (Winfrey) from Ali Baghdadi, a person who has who said “Mr. al-Bashir (the President of Sudan) is known to be gentle, kind, and pleasant. His smile is genuine. One can easily connect with al-Bashir for his humility, warmth, and frankness. He doesn’t play dirty games. He doesn’t speak in double tongues.”
This is what Time Magazine says about al-Bashir:
“A top-100 list gives Omar al-Bashir too much company. In a number of ignominious post-World War II categories, Sudan's dictator ranks in the top five: most deaths as a result of war strategies (2.5 million in Darfur and southern Sudan), most people rendered homeless by scorched-earth policies (7 million), most villages burned to the ground (at least 1,500 in Darfur alone). Bashir's one goal is to maintain power. He has sown discord in Darfur with a classic divide-and-conquer strategy. As a result, interethnic conflict is tearing the region apart, and attacks on aid agencies by government and rebel militias have left a million people beyond the reach of humanitarian aid. Bashir, 63, has blocked the deployment of a larger U.N.-led peacekeeping operation that would protect Darfur's civilians.” (Go to http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/time100/article/0,28804,1595326_1615513_1614671,00.html .)
So here is an excerpt from that article that Ali Baghdadi wrote and was placed on Rev. Wright’s Pastor’s Page:
“I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the White Supremacists of South Africa. In fact, South Africa allowed Israel to test its nuclear weapons in the ocean off South Africa. The Israelis were given a blank check: they could test whenever they desired and did not even have to ask permission. Both worked on an ethnic bomb that kills Blacks and Arabs.” (Go to http://tucc.org/upload/tuccbulletin_june10.pdf.)
Interestingly, a number of other pastors have defended Rev. Wright, for a number of personally unintelligible reasons. Few have thrown Rev. Wright under the bus. Why? More on this later.
Obama has said he was not present when these quotes were made. We assume he would say that he had not read the newsletters either.
In a March 25, 2008 column in Newsday, and typical of opportunistic critics of Barack Obama, Charles Krauthammer wrote, “The question is why didn't he (Obama) leave that church? Why didn't he leave -- why doesn't he leave even today -- a pastor who thundered not once but three times from the pulpit (on a DVD the church proudly sells) "God damn America"? Obama's 5,000-word speech, fawned over as a great meditation on race, is little more than an elegantly crafted, brilliantly sophistic justification of that scandalous dereliction.”
There is no doubt that Rev. Wright is off the wall factually and morally. And as a non-religious person, I believe that many religions, churches and religious institutions are worth leaving and rejecting, definitely including Sen. Obama’s church; but it is hypocritical for others to single out Obama’s church for an errant pastor whose angst and hysteria is probably the result of having lived through the era of Jim Crow, the Tuskegee Airmen, segregationand lynchings - while staying silent on the deep moral failings of numerous other religious institutions. Why shouldn’t the focus on the sins of religions and churches be more broad and meaningful?
What about members of mainstream religious institutions that have up until the recent past, as policy, covered up child sexual abuse, made treaties with the Nazis, opposed inter-racial marriage, supported slavery, Jim Crow, segregation and even Apartheid? Shouldn’t it be demanded that their members leave their churches also? Oh yes, these are not small congregational institutions we’re talking about – we’re talking about the largest two denominations in the country, Roman Catholicism and much of Southern Baptism!
What about members of churches whose founders were notorious anti-Semites (e.g.: Martin Luther), or who married their followers’ wives and daughters (e.g.: Joseph Smith); or were racists preaching that blacks had the “Mark of Cain” and could not be church elders (e.g.: Brigham Young), or had segregated churches (e.g.: United Methodists); or taught that Jews were “perfidious” (e.g.: Roman Catholic); thanked God they were “chosen” (e.g.: Judaism); subjugated women (e.g.: too many to list); or that one should not be friends with unbelievers, that to die a martyr for one’s religion would guarantee paradise (e.g.: Islam) and that all those outside the chosen faith were doomed to eternal punishment (e.g.: Islam, Christianity)?
Could this collective guilt be the reason why other pastors are loathe to criticize Rev. Wright – is it because their own institutions have too many skeletons in the closet?
Obviously these are all egregious and ethically unacceptable beliefs and behaviors. And yes, all their members should reject the beliefs, religions and institutions and leave their churches.
But of course, it is mere political cynicism to single out one congregant of one church on account of one pastor when almost all have much to account for. I wonder where, in the mainstream media, you might hear that story?