Barack Obama is struggling to catch up to a story which I predicted a year ago would sink his campaign: he's denouncing the "Reverend" Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.'s statements but doesn't seem to understand the big picture.

On Friday, Mr. Obama called a grab bag of statements by his longtime minister, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., “inflammatory and appalling.”

“I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue,” he wrote in a campaign statement that was his strongest in a series of public disavowals of his pastor’s views over the past year.

These words must have been chosen very carefully, so let's analyze them a bit. First, "inflammatory". Obama thinks the racist, insane rantings of his pastor might "arouse anger, hostility, passion, etc.", but the word doesn't carry any implication that Obama disagrees with Wright's views. "Appalling" is a bit better, but are only the statements "appalling"? What about the man who made them?

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of this story isn't what it says about Barack Obama, but what it may say about the beliefs of American blacks more generally.

Mr. Wright, 66, who last month fulfilled longstanding plans to retire, is a beloved figure in African-American Christian circles and a frequent guest in pulpits around the country. Since he arrived at Trinity in 1972, he has built a 6,000-member congregation through his blunt, charismatic preaching, which melds detailed scriptural analysis, black power, Afrocentrism and an emphasis on social justice; Mr. Obama praised the last quality in Friday’s statement.

His most powerful influence, said several ministers and scholars who have followed his career, is black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as a guide to combating oppression of African-Americans.

He attracts audiences because of, not in spite of, his outspoken critiques of racism and inequality, said Dwight Hopkins, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, in an interview last year.

But Mr. Wright’s blistering statements about American racism can shock white audiences.

“If you’re black, it’s hard to say what you truly think and not upset white people,” said James Cone, a professor at Union Theological Seminary and the father of black liberation theology, who has known Mr. Wright since he was a seminary student.

Cone is attempting to defend Wright and Obama by asserting that the beliefs behind Wright's racist, hateful, evil sermons are widespread. In doing so, rather than acquiting Wright and Obama Cone broadly indicts all American blacks. If these beliefs are really as widely shared as Cone asserts (which I refuse to believe) then the peddlers of this malicious evil need to be called to account and their followers need a severe reality check.

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