Barack Obama, in a way that recalls John F. Kennedy, a politician to whom he's frequently compared, has carefully controlled and burnished his image to create the impression of an independent figure, free from dogma and ideological entanglements. But there is one man who threatens to undermine Obama's appealing narrative as a man above the ugly quarrels and divisive partisanship of the past: his longtime pastor and spiritual adviser, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
On March 1, 1972, Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. became the pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), a position he still holds to this day. Because he has been a revered figure in the life of presidential aspirant Barack Obama for two decades, Wright's political views, which he commonly draws from the tenets of liberation theology, are worthy of some scrutiny—if only to shed light on the teachings that have had enough resonance to retain Obama as a TUCC congregant since 1988. So great is Obama's respect for Wright, that the former sought the Reverend's counsel before formally declaring his candidacy for U.S. President. Moreover, Obama and his wife selected Wright to perform their wedding ceremony and to baptize their two daughters. These are honors of considerable magnitude, and it is reasonable to speculate that if we learn more about Rev. Wright, we may gain some insight into the personal qualities and belief systems Barack Obama holds in high regard.
When we read the writings, public statements, and sermons of Rev. Wright, we quickly notice his unmistakable conviction that America is a nation infested with racism, prejudice, and injustices that make life very difficult for black people. As he declared in one of his sermons: "Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run!... We [Americans] believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God."
In a similar spirit, Wright laments "the social order under which we [blacks] live, under which we suffer, under which we are killed." Depicting blacks as a politically powerless demographic, he complains that "African Americans don't run anything in the Capital except elevators." On its website, Wright's church portrays black people as victims who are still burdened by the legacy of their "pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism," and who must pray for "the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people."
Wright detects what he views as racism in virtually every facet of American life. In the business world, for instance, he attributes the high unemployment rate of African Americans to "the fact that they are black." Vis-à-vis the criminal justice system, he similarly explains that "the brothers are in prison" largely because of their skin color. "Consider the 'three strikes law,'" he elaborates. "There is a higher jail sentencing for crack than for cocaine because more African Americans get crack than do cocaine." Notwithstanding Wright's implication that the harsh anti-crack penalties were instituted by racist legislators for the purpose of incarcerating as many blacks as possible, the Congressional Record shows that such was not at all the case. In 1986, when the strict, federal anti-crack legislation was being debated, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)—deeply concerned about the degree to which crack was decimating the black community—strongly supported the legislation and actually pressed for even harsher penalties. In fact, a few years earlier CBC members had pushed President Reagan to create the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
In Wright's calculus, white America's bigotry is to blame not only for whatever ills continue to plague the black community, but also for our country's conflicts with other nations. "In the 21st century," says Wright, "white America got a wake-up call after 9/11/01. White America and the western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just 'disappeared' as the Great White West kept on its merry way of ignoring black concerns."
Remarkably, no mention of jihad—the ageless Muslim tradition of aggressive, permanent warfare whose ultimate aim is to achieve Islam's dominion over the human race at large—managed to find its way into Wright's analysis. Rather, he assured us that the 9/11 atrocities were ultimately traceable to the doorstep of U.S. provocations. In fact, Wright apparently sees no reason to suspect that Islam may be incompatible in any way with Western traditions. "Islam and Christianity are a whole lot closer than you may realize," he has written. "Islam comes out of Christianity."
Apart from America's purported racism, Wright also despises the nation's capitalist economic structure, viewing it as a breeding ground for all manner of injustice. "Capitalism as made manifest in the 'New World,'" says Wright, "depended upon slave labor (by African slaves), and it is only maintained by keeping the 'Two-Thirds World' under oppression." This anti-capitalist perspective is further reflected in TUCC's "10-point vision," whose ideals include the cultivation of "a congregation working towards ECONOMIC PARITY." Dispelling any doubt that this is a reference to socialism and the wholesale redistribution of wealth, the TUCC mission statement plainly declares its goal of helping "the less fortunate to become agents of change for God who is not pleased with America's economic mal-distribution!"
This view is entirely consistent with Rev. Wright's devotion to the tenets of liberation theology, which is essentially Marxism dressed up as Christianity. Devised by Cold War-era theologians, it teaches that the gospels of Jesus can be understood only as calls for social activism, class struggle, and revolution aimed at overturning the existing capitalist order and installing, in its stead, a socialist utopia where today's poor will unseat their "oppressors" and become liberated from their material (and, consequently, their spiritual) deprivations. An extension of this paradigm is black liberation theology, which seeks to foment a similar Marxist revolutionary fervor founded on racial rather than class solidarity. Wright's mentor in this discipline is James Cone, author of the landmark text Black Power and Black Theology. Arguing that Christianity has been used by white society as an opiate of the (black) masses, Cone asserts that the destitute "are made and kept poor by the rich and powerful few," and that "[n]o one can be a follower of Jesus Christ without a political commitment that expresses one's solidarity with victims."
Many of Wright's condemnations of America are echoed in his denunciations of Israel and Zionism, which he has blamed for imposing "injustice and … racism" on the Palestinians. According to Wright, Zionism contains an element of "white racism." Likening Israel's treatment of Palestinians to South Africa's treatment of blacks during the apartheid era, Wright advocates divestment campaigns targeting companies that conduct business in, or with, Israel.
Given Wright's obvious low regard for the U.S. and Israel, it is by no means surprising that he reserves some of his deepest respect for the virulently anti-American, anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. "When Minister Farrakhan speaks, Black America listens," says Wright. "Everybody may not agree with him, but they listen … His depth on analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye opening. He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest. Minister Farrakhan will be remembered as one of the 20th and 21st century giants of the African American religious experience. His integrity and honesty have secured him a place in history as one of the nation's most powerful critics. His love for Africa and African American people has made him an unforgettable force, a catalyst for change and a religious leader who is sincere about his faith and his purpose."
Wright's paean to Farrakhan was parroted in the November/December issue of TUCC's bimonthly magazine, the Trumpet, which featured an interview with the NOI "icon" who, according to the publication, "truly epitomized greatness." "Because of the Minister's influence in the African American community," the Trumpet announced that it was honoring him with an "Empowerment Award" as a "fitting tribute for a storied life well lived."
This seems an odd distinction to confer upon someone whose anti-American, anti-white, anti-Semitic statements are numerous. For example, in 1996 Farrakhan told a Tehran newspaper that God would "bestow upon Muslims" the honor of "destroy[ing] America." In February 1998, he sent a cordial and supportive letter to Saddam Hussein, calling him a "visionary" who had earned the Iraqi people's "love," and whose demise would "mean a setback for the goal of unity [among Muslims]." In July 2002, he declared that America, "with blood dripping from [its] hands," had no moral authority by which to overthrow Saddam. In February 2005, he condemned the United States for waging a war "against Islam," adding: "[T]here's no way that I, as a Muslim, could countenance my children or grandchildren fighting a war against fellow believers in any part of the world."
Farrakhan also has a long, well-documented history of venom-laced references to the white "blue-eyed devils" and Jewish "bloodsuckers" who purportedly decimate America's black communities from coast to coast. Moreover, he has referred to white people as "the skunks of the planet."Notes:
On a 1984 trip to meet with the Libyan dictator (and America's arch enemy) Muammar Qadhafi, Farrakhan was accompanied by none other than Jeremiah A. Wright.
Farrakhan has long considered Qadhafi to be his trusted "friend," "brother," and "fellow struggler in the cause of liberation for our people." In 1996, the NOI leader formed a partnership with Qadhafi, who pledged $1 billion to help Farrakhan develop a Muslim political lobby in the U.S. Said Qadhafi: "We agreed with Louis Farrakhan and his delegation to mobilize in a legal and legitimate form the oppressed minorities—and at their forefront the blacks, Arab Muslims and Red Indians—for they play an important role in American political life and have a weight in U.S. elections." "Our confrontation with America," added Qadhafi, "was [previously] like a fight against a fortress from outside, and today [with the NOI alliance] we found a breach to enter into this fortress and confront it."
Farrakhan's October 16, 1995 Million Man March ranks among the events about which Rev. Wright has written most extensively and passionately. Wright attended the rally with his son, and has described it as "a once in a lifetime, amazing experience." When a number of prominent African Americans counseled fellow blacks to boycott the demonstration because of Farrakhan's well-documented history of hateful rhetoric, Wright derided those critics as "'Negro' leaders," "'colored' leaders," "Oreos," and "house niggras" whose most noteworthy trait was their contemptible "Uncle Tomism." "There are a whole boat load of 'darkies' who think in white supremacist terms," added Wright. "… Some 'darkies' think white women are superior to black women…. Some 'darkies' think white lawyers are superior to black lawyers. Some 'darkies' think white pastors are better than black pastors. There are a whole boatload of 'darkies' who think anything white and everyone white is better than whatever it is black people have."
In the book titled When Black Men Stand up for God, a collection of sermons and reflections on the Million Man March, Wright identifies Kwanzaa founder Maulana Karenga as an attendee of the rally. In the end notes that follow a transcript of one of Wright's sermons, Karenga is described as "an internationally acclaimed social activist and scholar in Pan African Studies"; "the founder and creator of Kwanzaa, the well-known African American holiday"; and "the director of Pan African Studies and Visiting Lecturer in Ethnic Studies at the University of California, Riverside." Unmentioned is the fact that Karenga is a self-identified "African socialist" whose "Seven Principles of Blackness," which are observed during Kwanzaa, are not only the Marxist precepts of parity and proletariat unity, but are also identical to those of the 1970s domestic terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army. Nor is it noted that in 1971 Karenga was convicted of torturing two women who were members of United Slaves, a black nationalist cult he had established.
On its website, Wright's church describes itself in distinctly racial terms, as being an "Unashamedly Black" congregation of "African people" who are "true to our native land, the mother continent, the cradle of civilization," and who participate in TUCC's "Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community."
Some have suggested that such seemingly exclusionary assertions, coupled with Wright's own racially loaded statements and his close affiliation with Farrakhan, indicate that Wright is guilty of racism. But Wright casually dismisses this charge, stating: "I get tickled every time I hear a 'Negro' call me a racist. They don't even understand how to define the word. Racism means controlling the means." In other words, Wright employs a rhetorical escape hatch that permits him to evade all charges of racism simply by claiming that only the "dominant" (i.e., white) demographic is capable of such ugliness. The implication is that no deed or utterance, however hateful or vile, is egregious enough to qualify any black person as a racist; that blacks are always the victims of racism, never its perpetrators.
American voters ought to have more than a passing interest in the fact that when Barack Obama formally joined TUCC in 1991, he tacitly accepted this same Jeremiah Wright as a spiritual mentor. Moreover, he pledged allegiance to the church's race-conscious "Black Value System" that encourages blacks to patronize black-only businesses, support black leaders, and avoid becoming "entrapped" by the pursuit of a "black middle-classness" whose ideals presumably would erode their sense of African identity and render them "captive" to white culture.
In addition, voters should examine carefully the question of whether Obama shares Wright's socialist economic preferences. They ought to be aware, for instance, that the Democratic candidate is on record as having said that his religious faith has led him to question "the idolatry of the free market." Moreover, Obama's voting record and his issue positions show him generally to favor high spending and increased government intervention in all realms of life.
When Rev. Wright's controversial statements and positions recently became more widely publicized, Obama said, "There are some things I agree with my pastor about, some things I disagree with him about." It is the duty of every American voter to determine exactly where those agreements and disagreements lie.
 When Black Men Stand up for God (Chicago: African American Images), 1996, p. 17.
 Ibid., p. 102.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 John DiIulio, Jr., "My Black Crime Problem, and Ours," City Journal (Spring 1996), pp. 19-20.
 When Black Men Stand up for God, p. 16.
 Blow the Trumpet in Zion (Minneapolis: Fortress Press), 2005, pp. 8-9.
 When Black Men Stand up for God, p. 10.
 Ibid., pp. 11, 37.
 Ibid., p. 80.
 Ibid., p. 11.
 Ibid., p. 81.
 It should be noted that Wright's church has conducted Kwanzaa programs for its congregants. See When Black Men Stand up for God, p. iv.)
 When Black Men Stand up for God, p. 25.
 Ibid., p. 102.