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Jewish World Review
March 20, 2008
/ 13 Adar II 5768
Should people of faith empathize with Obama?
I have known my rabbi for more than 20 years. The synagogue he serves as
spiritual leader is one I have attended for a quarter-century. He officiated at
my wedding and was present for the circumcision of each of my sons. Over the
years, I have sought his advice on matters private and public, religious and
secular. I have heard him speak from the pulpit more times than I can remember.
My relationship with my rabbi, in other words, is similar in many respects to
Barack Obama's relationship with his longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright
Jr. But if my rabbi began delivering sermons as toxic, hate-filled, and
anti-American as the diatribes Wright has preached at Chicago's Trinity United
Church of Christ, I wouldn't hesitate to demand that he be dismissed.
Sen. Barack Obama and his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.
Were my rabbi to gloat that America got its just desserts on 9/11, or to claim
that the US government invented AIDS as an instrument of genocide, or to urge
his congregants to sing "G-d Damn America" instead of "G-d Bless America," I
would know about it straightaway, even if I hadn't actually been in the
sanctuary when he spoke. The news would spread rapidly through the
congregation, and in short order one of two things would happen: Either the
rabbi would be gone, or I and scores of others would walk out, unwilling to
remain in a house of worship that tolerated such poisonous teachings. I have no
doubt that the same would be true for millions of worshipers in countless
houses of worship nationwide.
But it wasn't true for Obama, whose long and admiring relationship with Wright,
a man he describes as his "mentor," remained intact for more than 20 years,
notwithstanding the incendiary and bigoted messages the minister used his
pulpit to promote.
In Philadelphia, Obama gave a graceful speech on the theme of race
and unity in American life. Much of what he said was eloquent and stirring, not
least his opening paean to the Founders and the Constitution a document
"stained by the nation's original sin of slavery," as he said, yet also one
"that had at its very core the ideal of equal citizenship under the law; a
Constitution that promised its people liberty, and justice, and a union that
could be and should be perfected over time." There was an echo there of Rev.
Martin Luther King Jr., who in his great "I Have a Dream" speech extolled "the
magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence" as
"a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir."
The problem for Obama is that Wright, the spiritual leader he has so long
embraced, is a devotee not of King who in that same speech warned against
"drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred" but of the poisonous
hatemonger Louis Farrakhan, whom the church's magazine honored with a lifetime
achievement award. The problem for Obama, who campaigns on a message of racial
reconciliation, is that the "mentor" whose church he joined and has generously
supported with tens of thousands of dollars in donations is a disciple not of
King but of James Cone, the expounder of a "black liberation" theology that
teaches its adherents to "accept only the love of G-d which participates in the
destruction of the white enemy."
Above all, the problem for Obama is that for two decades his spiritual home has
been a church in which the minister damns America to the enthusiastic approval
of the congregation, and not until it threatened to scuttle his political
ambitions did Obama finally find the mettle to condemn the minister's odium.
When Don Imus uttered his infamous slur on the radio last year, Obama cut him
no slack. Imus should be fired, he said. "There's nobody on my staff who would
still be working for me if they made a comment like that about anybody of any
When it came to Wright, however, he wasn't nearly so categorical. Oh, he's
"like an old uncle who says things I don't always agree with," Obama
indulgently explained to one interviewer. He's just "trying to be provocative,"
he told another. "I don't think my church is actually particularly
controversial," he said. Far from severing his ties to Wright, Obama made him a
member of his Religious Leadership Committee a tie he finally cut only four
Such a clanging double standard raises doubts about Obama's character and
judgment, and about his fitness for the role of race-transcending healer.
Tuesday's speech was finely crafted, but it leaves some serious and troubling
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