It's over. I'm in. I love Barack Obama.
Where I had been split on Hillary and Barack, Senator Obama's speech yesterday sealed it for me. I don't know that I have ever heard a politician or high profile figure give a call for such a genuinely honest conversation on race in this country. The only other figure I can think of who has has been our former pastor, a black man who successfully integrated a majority white congregation. It was not without struggle, but it was successful.
The furor over Rev. Wright's comments in some of his sermons kind of amuses me for a couple of reasons:
Firstly, it's naive, and frankly, insulting, to believe or imply that the purpose of a house of worship - at least in this country - is to uphold the policies of a government or the prejudices of a society. The church should always be challenging immoralities and injustices it sees around it. We may not agree on what those disparities are, but that's the job of each church. Plus, as my Dad was saying last night, he doesn't know a preacher out there that hasn't at least suggested that America will be judged by God somehow or another for something or another. "I've done it, your grandfather has certainly done it; all preachers do on some level, they just may not be as pointed or fiery as Rev. Wright." And, of course, not every pastor agrees on what draws the judgement of God, or what that judgement entails.
Secondly, it's insulting to the intelligence of people everywhere and the spiritual integrity of people of faith to imply, as the media hype has over this, and does over similar scandals, that if you are a parishoner of a church, then you agree 100% with 100% of the content - which apparently is devoid of nuance - that comes out of the mouth(s) of your church leader(s). Seriously? Give me a break. To paraphrase Barack: who hasn't sat in church, synagogue or mosque and at least, on occasion, thought I'm not sure I agree that's what God was trying to say? Reverend Wright may be Senator Obama's spiritual mentor, but give a person some credit; that doesn't mean Obama agrees with everything Wright believes. Wright merely led him to the table; they may not all use the same condiments. (The uptick of this is: this opens my eyes to my own prejudices against people on the other side of the aisle whose churches I disagree with. God, make me slow to judge.)
Thirdly, I feel like Wright's comments were not only taken out of context of full 40 minute sermons (you'll judge a man's whole outlook based on 30 seconds of one 40 minute sermon of over 4,000 sermons in his career?), but more importantly, were taken out of the context of the experience of the black church in America. Before we had attended our old church, I had worshipped in Spanish and with one or two black people, but never had my worship experience been influenced by the African American church experience. While our services were never as charismatic as described by Obama and as depicted in pop culture, our pastor preached with a style more characteristic of a Southern black minister than I had previously known and our worship was less staid than most mainline protestant churches. You can't have a 50% African American congregation and maintain a 100% white-traditional service - particularly since what many whites were looking for was more expression (and at least some of our black friends told us they wanted a little less). Nonetheless, I learned that righteous rage is part of the black church history. And why not? It's not like African Americans in the country were given the pass to build the country and set the story. Were it not for righteous rage born in black churches, my neighbors down the street would not be black; I never would've had a black boss, teacher or viable Presidential candidate. Righteous rage inspired my grandfather to rally with LULAC in the 50s for Mexican-American rights in West Texas; inspired him to demand respect for him and his family from retailers who denied them service. And frankly, the righteous rage that inspired the civil rights movement then further fueled the women's movements and gay rights movements of the 70s, 80s, 90s and today. Reverend Wright has said some out there things - that, I won't deny - but to be shocked (shocked, I say!) that a man who leads people with a history of neglect, who shepherds congregants who are homeless and downtrodden, would express anger or derision for the nation that lets people slip through the cracks, despite her vast wealth, is a little shocking in and of itself.
I agree with Obama that the furor over his pastor's remarks unmasks racial disparities in this country. Precisely for the last reason listed above. We may be the most church-going nation on the planet, but our churches are usually full of people that look and think just like us, so we aren't challenged, socially. One of the many blessings of our old church was that I had to be challenged every Sunday with preconceptions I had - some I didn't know I had, and many I still have, both good and bad - about people of color, homeless people, gay and transgendered people, old people and myself. How often do black and white people hang out together? Rarely. So if we don't hang out, we don't talk. And when we do talk, how honest are we about race? We usually suffocate under our own politeness.
Ultimately, what I love about Obama's speech yesterday is that he could've taken the easy, political road. He could have repudiated not just Wright's remarks - which he had to do anyway if he wanted to remain viable - but Wright himself. Then, he could've stumped and swept it under the rug and ignored the issue of race altogether. That would've been easiest. That's what most serious politicians would've done. Instead, he said, let's start a genuine conversation. For real. Let's be respectful, but we have to stop being so politically correct that white people are afraid to say anything. We have to stop being so anti-politically correct that racism concerns among black people are written off as whiny. Let's talk!
I suspected before that he may be the man who can bring this country together. Now, it's just up to the country to want it. Barack, you've given me a mission to heal and a charge to keep. Where do I sign?