CHICAGO â€” Members of Trinity United Church of Christ squeezed into a downtown hotel ballroom in early March to celebrate the long service of their pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. One congregant stood out amid the flowers and finery: Senator Barack Obama, there to honor the man who led him from skeptic to self-described Christian.
Twenty years ago at Trinity, Mr. Obama, then a community organizer in poor Chicago neighborhoods, found the African-American community he had sought all his life, along with professional credibility as a community organizer and an education in how to inspire followers. He had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met Mr. Wright, a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons.
I've never heard of "Afrocentric theology", and I can't really conceive of what it could mean within a Christian context. Other than Egypt, Africa doesn't feature prominently in the Bible (though mentioned a dozen or so times), so I can only assume that "Afrocentric" teachings aren't really about theology at all, but rather modern racial politics.
Few of those at Mr. Wrightâ€™s tribute in March knew of the pressures that Mr. Obamaâ€™s presidential run was placing on the relationship between the pastor and his star congregant. Mr. Wrightâ€™s assertions of widespread white racism and his scorching remarks about American government have drawn criticism, and prompted the senator to cancel his delivery of the invocation when he formally announced his candidacy in February.
Mr. Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate who says he was only shielding his pastor from the spotlight, said he respected Mr. Wrightâ€™s work for the poor and his fight against injustice. But â€œwe donâ€™t agree on everything,â€ Mr. Obama said. â€œIâ€™ve never had a thorough conversation with him about all aspects of politics.â€
A major presidential candidate who doesn't discuss politics with his closest spiritual adviser? I find that hard to fathom. In fact, the article goes on to describe a relationship between Obama and Wright with a very explicitly political foundation.
Still, Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. Mr. Obama had never met a minister who made pilgrimages to Africa, welcomed women leaders and gay members and crooned Teddy Pendergrass rhythm and blues from the pulpit. Mr. Wright was making Trinity a social force, initiating day care, drug counseling, legal aid and tutoring. He was also interested in the world beyond his own; in 1984, he traveled to Cuba to teach Christians about the value of nonviolent protest and to Libya to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, along with the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Mr. Wright said his visits implied no endorsement of their views.
The article portrays Wright as a left-wing nut masquerading as a Christian minister. He'll reap the rewards for his own heresy in the end, and it's tragic that he's leading so many followers into the maw of hell; more than anything, this article highlights the importance of digging deeper into the beliefs of those who claim the name of Christ. The world is full of charlatans like Mr. Wright. Obama may recognize the lunacy of his spiritual mentor, but no Christian could in good conscience associate with such a man or his church.
(Side note: I love that the NYT has started offering an option to view their articles as a single page. Thanks!)