Jeremiah Overboard| 05/01/2008
Did I just see what I think I saw?
Did the media tell Barack Obama, “If you’ll denounce and disavow your pastor, we’ll let you continue running for President”?
I have two questions, one for the press, one for Obama.
First the press:
What happened to the Mitt Romney Agreement? What happened to “Isn’t it horrible that some people are attempting to get Romney to explain his belief that non-Mormons will be cast into outer darkness, that secret handshakes and passwords will transform him into a god, that dead people should be baptized into Mormonism, and that God was once a man who lived on another planet?”
Romney made a speech at Texas A&M in early December that was all but universally approved by the working press as the blueprint for moving forward. It could be summed up as, “No religious tests allowed.” Article VI of the Constitution was cited more times in the week following the Romney speech than it has ever been cited before, or is likely to be cited hence.
And then a religious test was applied to Barack Obama:
“Your spiritual leader said outrageous things (things almost as outrageous as the latter-day prophets of Mormonism). Will you defend these words?”
Obama then made his own version of the Romney Agreement speech. He said in Philadelphia, “He’s my pastor, not my political advisor. We disagree. I don’t endorse everything he says.”
Not good enough!
And so, two days ago, Obama cratered: "What became clear to me is that he Jeremiah Wright was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for. And what I think particularly angered me was his suggestion somehow that my previous denunciation of his remarks were somehow political posturing. Anybody who knows me and anybody who knows what I'm about knows that I am about trying to bridge gaps and I see the commonality in all people."
Okay, good, your campaign may continue. You passed the Religious Test. You also implied that Jeremiah Wright is a nut who doesn’t see the “commonality” in all people, and you put the country ahead of your religious affiliation. This is good. You win.
So if I may sum up the new Obama Agreement, an amendment to the previous Romney Agreement, it goes like this: You will not be subjected to a religious test if your candidacy involves unverifiable cuckooland supernatural claims. However, if you make the mistake of choosing a congregation that sails too close to a 19th-century-style social gospel, we’re going to pick apart what your pastor says about America and subject you to a religious test. You will be exempt from this requirement, however, if you follow the Hillary Path and cling to the staid middle-class pillars of conventional Protestantism, mainstream Catholicism, or anything short of pentecostalism. That was the problem with Huckabee—he kept scaring the crap out of us by poking around in the pentecostal wilderness.
(Brief digression: Does anyone remember Representative Robert Drinan of Massachusetts? He was a Catholic priest who served in the Congress in the 1970s—until the Pope ordered him to resign! The press has been very clear that Catholics are welcome in the political maelstrom, that no religious test is necessary for them, even though Drinan is the only clear example of a man in politics who put his religious leader’s views ahead of the electorate’s views! The fact that Huckabee is a Baptist pastor, therefore doctrinally beholden to no denominational leader, would seem to absolve him of all suspicion. Why doesn’t it?)
There was a lot of media talk on Monday and Tuesday about Jeremiah Wright “injecting” himself into the presidential race. For some reason everyone used this same word, “injecting,” as though he were some kind of toxic hypodermic needle. The fact is, he didn’t inject himself at all. Somebody posted some sound-bite clips of his sermons on YouTube and he was used as chat-show fodder—until he got sick of it and spoke out.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t say “This guy matters” when you’re showing the sound bites, and then “This guy doesn’t matter anymore” when he’s making substantive speeches and giving substantive interviews. If you’re going to make him the theological standard for the Obama Religious Test, then you’ve got to look at his entire corpus. The only way he was finally defeated this time is by combing through all the hours of videotape from the weekend, choosing the most out-there clips, like his conspiratorial ideas about HIV/AIDS, and then playing them over and over to make him come across as a kook and a racist. Among the distortions that were still circulating last night was the idea that he’s an exponent of some kind of Black Pantheresque “Black Liberation Theology,” even though he had disavowed that specific movement at the Monday news conference and explained how his own view of the Prophetic Church goes back to the time of his namesake, the Hebrew Jeremiah, and has little to do with the 1960s social revolutions in Latin America and Harlem. (His idea of “prophecy” is still too small for me—he thinks in terms of nation-states and social movements—but if I decide to argue with him about it, I certainly won’t claim he adheres to some kind of discredited shallow intellectual hooliganism from the sixties.)
The press showed a distinct lack of interest in engaging with Reverend Wright at all. From the moment he started speaking last weekend, everything was about a) telling him to shut up, and b) telling Obama to throw him overboard—when all they ever had to do was apply the Romney Agreement of early December, now breached forever.
My question for Barack Obama is much simpler:
Why did you cut off fellowship with your pastor? You didn’t call him. You didn’t appear on the same stage with him. You didn’t make any attempt to identify where you differ and where you agree. You wanted him to shut up because he was in the way. He was disposable.
Furthermore, you said just about the most divisive thing that a brother can say to a brother—that Wright “presents a world view that contradicts who I am and who I stand for.”
I had assumed that, if he’s your pastor, then the only world view that matters is the one from Calvary.
And, if he’s your pastor, then the only “I am” that matters is “he is.”
And, if he’s your pastor, then the only thing either one of you “stand for” is Christ.
And, if he’s your pastor … but he’s not your pastor anymore, is he? You deleted him from your Facebook page. You’ll find a new one.