Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Obama's Speech on Race and Politics

Today Barack Obama gave a speech for the ages, a historic statement on the issue of race in America. It was a speech he had to make in large part because of incendiary statements in sermons given by his pastor, Jeremiah Wright, but also because the election cycle was in danger of becoming polarized along racial lines. It was a speech that has important political implications. The long term effects will not be known for sometime, but the speech has given the nation an opportunity to talk about race, something we'd rather not do.
I only caught the final minutes of the speech this morning, but it was interesting to listen to the pundits discuss it. By and large people were impressed by its tone and substance. They saw it as a historic statement, perhaps the most important speech on race since Martin Luther King, Jr's "I Have a Dream Speech" nearly a half century ago. There were a few that suggested that this wasn't enough, but what they were asking him to do was throw his pastor under the bus. If he did that he would have lost all support in the Black community. He criticized the tone and substance of sermons that were divisive, but asked that his pastor be seen in context and in light of the wonderful work of ministry he has done over the years. Jeremiah Wright is much more than the clips that are on constant loop across the internet.
This evening, I finally sat down and read the text. I do believe it has the possibility of bringing the nation to the table for an important discussion. Whether it will empower his campaign to victory, no one knows at this point.
Here are a couple of excerpts from the speech. The first is a statement about why he stayed a member and the influence his pastor had on his life:

Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to
the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

But the truth is, that isn't all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and
seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God's work here on Earth - by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

He points to the contradictions in the speech, noting the divisiveness of the words, but pointing out that never in his presence had Pastor Wright denigrated anyone of another race.
He also spoke of a change of generational values, and a recognition that in Pastor Wrights words there was the sense that things could not change, but Obama said that his own life story is a sign that change has happened.
And yet, as he notes, we have reached a racial stalemate, one that an election cycle by itself can't overcome.

This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years. Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naïve as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy - particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice is we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.

The message of the speech is this -- we must come together and have this discussion, so that we can work on creating the more perfect union promised in our founding documents.

4 comments:

Drew said...

Don't you want to see a debate between this guy and McCain? I am kind of picturing Alford's sack of Brady at the end of Superbowl XLII.

JP said...

I like Obama, I really do. He is a powerful thinker, motivator and speaker. One thing that bothers me, and I am not sure how to overcome it. The old saying goes "you can tell alot about a person by the company they keep". I know if my pastor was preaching rhetoric of such on the pulpit, friend or not, I would not walk, I would run for the church doors. Its bigoted, hateful and does not help us move forward. Why oh why, would Obama spend 20 yrs going to this church with this guy spewing such hateful comments? Is that not support? It would be different if it were you and I, but this is a man running for the highest office and it makes me wonder. Your thoughts?

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

JP,

I think Obama has addressed this very well. Jeremiah Wright is a man of contradictions who is a powerful presence in the Black Community. He expresses the anger, resentment, and fears present in the community. Sometimes he channels them, sometimes he expresses them. I do think, as several commentators have pointed out, that we need to see Wright in his fullness. And remember that Obama isn't the only person affiliated with this congregation that is popular in the white community -- Oprah is a member as well.

Obama has called us to address the realities of race in America and to move forward in dialog. Yes, company is important, but don't let sound bites determine your thoughts about Rev. Wright.

JP said...

I understand and sometimes soundbites do not tell the whole story but hearing "God Damn America" or the government is responsible for 9/11 and for the HIV/Aids epidemic" is hard to sweep under the rug.

I personally would not associate or attend a church where the preacher is, I feel, pushing folks backward instead of looking to the future.