16 March 2008 - Obama's denunciation doesn't cut it
On Friday, Senator Barack Obama denounced his minister’s offensive, anti-American statements. Obama claimed that the things Jeremiah Wright said “were not statements [he] personally heard him preach,” but that he knew about some of them when his campaign started. Obama nevertheless decided not to leave Trinity United Church of Christ because Wright was on the verge of retirement anyway.
This doesn’t fly with me, because I have personally left synagogues when I have found sermons to be unpalatable. For example, I once attended a synagogue where the rabbi was pro-peace until Ariel Sharon was elected in 2001. Then the rabbi started attacking Arabs, Muslims, Christians, you name it. He even used his pulpit to denounce another rabbi who had met with critics of Israel—to debate them!
When I confronted my rabbi about his statements, I told him that I no longer felt comfortable bringing my curious Muslim and Christian friends to the service. He said something like: “I wouldn’t bring those people here. The fate of the Jewish people is at stake.” When I asked him whether his statements about the other rabbi were not lashon hara (the evil tongue), a grave sin, he told me he didn’t care.
So I left. It wasn’t hard to do. There were lots of synagogues in town, just like there are lots of great churches in Chicago. If Obama wanted a “progressive” African-American congregation with a commitment to family values and social causes on the South Side, he needn’t have gone far. There were many other choices. And people of conscience make those choices all the time (as this pastor points out).
I agree that Obama could not dump Wright during, or on the eve of, his campaign. It would look purely expedient, and would open him to charges of “selling out” from the sizeable number of voters who expect their candidate to embody some kind of authenticity. The problem is that Obama did not leave Trinity years ago. That says something about his values—something voters will surely take into account.