Did Obama's speech help him or hurt him?
In my opinion it helped him at the expense of throwing his pastor under the bus, feeding into the media's portrayal of Rev. Wright as a demagogue, and exonerating himself of any culpability of being associated with Wright that makes Obama look like the good guy and Wright the bad one.
Let me explain why....
If religion did not play such an important role in a presidential candidate's bid for the White House, this conversation would not be happening. But given the collapsing of church and state since Bush came into office, the lines of private and personal barely exist. And with the collapsing of these two spheres, how and where and why a presidential candidate worships or not, unfortunately, speaks to his or her electability - which brings us to my recent piece about Obama.
There is a particular strand of black theology that Rev. Wright preaches. Both Obama and Wright got caught up in a pernicious game of race-baiting instigated no doubt by the right-wing media. And the game has drawn both Obama and Rev. Wright in where neither of them wins. If one is perceived to have won it, it's done at the destruction and denigration and denouncement of the other.
Obama's speech on race was brilliant not only it his elocution of it, but also in the difficult topic he had to address. He spoke about race from a much wider lens than we hear in our everyday discourse. And he's one of the few people of color who gets it that white people too are pained by our country's legacy of racism. However, where he fell short in his speech is that he did it at the expense of feeding into the media's portrayal of Rev. Wright as a demagogue. And while he denounced Rev. Wright's statements, with attempts to contextualize their origins, he played into the race-baiting nonetheless, at the expense of exonerating himself of any culpability of being associated with Wright that make Obama look like the good guy and Wright the bad one.
While it is true that Obama may have missed some of Wright's sermons, it is impossible for him to have missed them all. And even if he did, when he joined the church and was baptized and married in it, Obama attended classes that explained the church's mission, its theology, and its set black values.
Black Theology is a liberation theology in that is looks at black suffering from the lens of the Exodus narrative where Moses leads the Israelites out of Egyptian oppression. Black Theology also look at the prophets in the Bible and their jeremiads about injustice. One jeremiad many of us know is the Amos text we heard Martin Luther King utter when he said, "Let justice roll down like a mighty stream." And with these biblical prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, they all speak about God's wrath, God cursing or damning a people or a nation as we see in the Exodus narrative where God cursed Egypt with several plagues. Wright's homilies follow the tradition of the biblical prophets that were woefully misunderstood. But I am not saying that all that is Black Theology is good. It's myopia around gender issues and LGBTQ civil rights is just some of the reasons why I am not a proponent of it, which is why my essay first and then book How the Black Church Endangers the African American LGBTQ Community will soon be out.
Rev. Wright is problematic on the above mentioned issues, which is why I lifted up the voices of two of his LGBTQ parishioners in this piece. However, in this media frenzy to discredit Obama's electability Wright has been the sacrificial lamb for our country's needed public discourse on race while excusing Obama of his active involvement with Trinity until he ran for office. And like any politician - black or white - they know in order to win the black Christian vote you go to the black church.
In explaining his relations to the media about Wright, Obama described him as a crazed uncle we all have in our family. And in his address Obama stated that he "can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother." However, I beg to differ. There is a distinct difference between the biological family you are born into and the church family you choose to worship with.
And so too is there a distinct difference between telling the truth to the American public and telling us a lie.
Where Obama got caught is that he didn't think his involvement with supposedly an Afrocentric church would weigh in so heavily on his electability. And because it does he has done it at the expense of throwing Wright under the bus.