Posted by Adam @ 10:40 am on March 18th 2008

Jeremiah Wright is Wrong: so what?

I posted about Obama and Jeremiah Wright after I saw one of the sermons linked at the Campaign Spot. Incidentally, the reason I haven’t posted any more about this issue, even whilst it grew, was that I don’t think that anything’s actually been added to it other than volume (with a few exceptions, such as the Sully piece that Brad mentions, which isn’t that far from my opinion). Watching Morning Joe this morning, there was some talk of the speech that Obama will make today and that, combined with seeing Brad’s post, encouraged me to expand a little more.

It’s a fair question to ask the candidate what he thinks of the views of the guy giving sermons at his Church, but we can’t expect the level of ringing denunciation he gave Louis Farrakhan, or Ron Paul should have given some of his less savoury supporters, or Bill Clinton delivered to Sister Souljah, or George W Bush should have directed at the ‘Swift Boat Veterans For Peace’, etc. Church isn’t a political rally (although there can and often should be a lot of political content involved), it’s generally about spiritual issues and communal worship. If you believe that the Church in question is fundamentally right on some important issues pertaining to your immortal soul, you’re going to put up with a bunch of sermons you disagree with; for example, Catholics have beliefs about the sanctity of the communion and the ontological change effected by joining the priesthood, meaning that you have to attend the mass and take communion from an ordained priest* of the Catholic Church. In some areas, there may be enough Catholic churches for you to attend one where you also like the sermons, but that may not be the case and, in any case, there are other, social, factors to consider. I imagine that most of the Catholics reading this know what I’m talking about but I can’t believe that it’s just Catholics; there’s a lot more to a Church than what the guy up front says in his sermon. Indeed, pretty much all religions are clear about the fact that whilst God is perfect, we are not; that clearly includes the priesthood (something of which, alas, Catholics have also become recently and expensively aware).

To mount another of my hobby horses while I am at it, this is another example of why churches shouldn’t take tax breaks from the government; there is a clear overlap between political and religious speech and as the former disqualifies groups from some tax breaks, in order to make those speeches when they deem it necessary, churches should eschew the tax breaks. Otherwise, they’re hostages to whomever is in government if that government plays by the rules, and that’s an unacceptable situation.

Incidentally, I think that McCain’s need to condemn Pastor Hagee’s more spiteful utterances is greater, because he’s not actually in Hagee’s Church (he did condemn the words, incidentally; the bone he tossed Hagee was the ‘context’ issue and invited reporters to go and ask Hagee what he meant). Because people do take condemnations of religious leaders more personally than just about any other condemnation of an individual, he still has to be careful — Hagee’s Church doubtless contains many decent people — but when you get up on a stage and embrace the support of someone, you may also have to say something, if questioned, about that person’s public statements. I’m happy enough with McCain’s statement and I’m happy enough with what Obama’s said and done so far on the Wright issue; Obama’s speech today is necessary because of political pressure, but I don’t think that it’s demanded by the underlying logic.

I am bemused at anyone that wanted Romney’s Mormonism off bounds, perhaps wanted Huckabee’s sermons released and is getting all excited about Wright. They’re not the same issue, but they’re related because religion isn’t about rational statements of fact (it’s about faith and involves relatively intangible factors beyond our control and, it is often claimed, understanding). Furthermore, religion isn’t a club where you agree with everything or you leave, but many Churches, for various reasons, do act rather as if that’s the truth of it; pushing someone to openly admit their disagreement with some of the Church teachings is likely to create problems for them in the Church that they consider to be their spiritual home. Given that we all know that most people don’t swallow all their Church’s dogma, and given that we know that it creates problems for the individual to announce that to the world’s video cameras, we should at least understand why political candidates are careful about so doing. Sure, maybe in an ideal world Churches would welcome dissent and we’d all be showered by rose petals for twenty minutes a day before sitting down to a healthy and non-fattening meal of steak with butter sauce, but in the meantime, until that comes to pass, we can understand why candidates are tight-lipped about this stuff.

I don’t get excited by Obama. I don’t think he’s turning the political world upside-down and I don’t think that he’s right on a lot of important issues; I certainly don’t support him for the presidency and I no longer care who wins the Democratic nomination. On this Wright issue, however, many people are talking arrant nonsense.

Regarding the title, allow me to plug the Luther Wright and the Wrongs bluegrass cover of the entire Pink Floyd album “The Wall”, entitled “Rebuilding the Wall”, which is actually pretty good.

*Actually, your minimal requirement is to take communion once a year, at or around Easter. Of course, people also let that slide and many remarried divorcees, who are excommunicate, still attend so as to be there for the mass, the Sunday attendance of which is also an obligation.


  1. I watched Obama’s speech. It was nothing short of amazing and deserves every ounce of praise lavished upon it. He really is a brilliant, gifted politician.

    Comment by tessellated — 3/18/2008 @ 5:35 pm

  2. you don’t get excited by obama?

    you silly little man.

    Comment by weltschmerz — 3/19/2008 @ 1:28 pm

  3. I don’t get excited by any politicians. Excitability isn’t much in my nature.

    Comment by Adam — 3/19/2008 @ 1:36 pm

  4. Seriously. Ask his wife.

    Comment by Leotie — 3/19/2008 @ 9:49 pm

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