Is Obama’s pastor’s rhetoric relevant?

From a Mormon perspective, the rhetoric of Obama’s pastor is an extremely delicate issue. The reason, of course, is that there are those on the right and left who have basically disqualified a Mormon from being president because of their perceptions of LDS religious beliefs. So a Mormon has to be extremely careful discussing these issues.

But let me try to wade through them as best I can and invite respectful comments.

What has Obama’s pastor said that is causing all the fuss? Well, I think the best way to find out is to go to the link referenced above. I would also encourage people to look at the video of his comments, which is on the linked web site.

Are people focusing on Rev. Wright’s inflammatory comments rather than considering all the good he has certainly done over the years? Yes. It is relevant to bring up that Rev. Wright has helped probably thousands of people over the years and that most of the time he is preaching a self-help Gospel that certainly does more good than bad.

Obama has said he rejects the statements of his pastor. But is it relevant that he belongs to a church where the pastor, consistently over the years, has expressed hatred for the United States?

Let me be very clear: the statements of Obama’s pastor should not in any way disqualify Obama from being president. Article VI of the Constitution makes it very clear there should not be any religious test for office. So, Obama’s religion should not be relevant in the sense that his religion alone disqualifies him for office.

What is relevant, in my opinion, is the politics of Obama’s pastor and how it affects Obama’s worldview. The truth is we know very little about what Obama will do if he becomes president. But his spiritual mentor is a man who, while doing a lot of good, clearly has a worldview that is, in my opinion, extreme and filled with hatred toward the United States and many other things. His tirade after 9/11 is especially worth condemnation.

So, to sum up, anybody rejecting Obama specifically for his religion is off-base, in my opinion. Anybody concerned with how his pastor’s viewpoints may influence and affect how Obama would act as president has some room for concern.

I would like to point out that the same exact principle should apply for Mitt Romney or any other Mormon politician running for president: anybody rejecting Mormons because of their religion is off-base. Anybody saying that they could never vote for a Mormon because of the Church’s position on gay marriage has a respectable argument, especially if that candidate agrees with the Church’s position. I disagree with the argument, but I cannot deny that there are valid political reasons behind such a viewpoint.

So, as far as Obama’s pastor’s politics involve a worldview with which I strongly and heartily disagree, I believe his comments are indeed relevant.

I’m willing to be convinced that I’m wrong. Again, only respectful comments are welcome.

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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

29 thoughts on “Is Obama’s pastor’s rhetoric relevant?

  1. As much as I think an Obama presidency would be a disaster, I’ve always really liked the guy. If he won the nomination and went on to be president, I thought “at least I don’t hate him. I actually really like him.” He looks, behaves, and talks presidential.

    But his doublespeak of recent weeks has made me rethink my opinion of the man. It started with the debate with Hillary when he was pressed to denounce Louis Farrakhan. I detected lawyerspeak, and it concerned me.

    His ridiculously twisted words in response to his pastor’s looney rants was the last straw. I saw Bill Clinton all over again. Not only am I even more concerned about an Obama presidency, I no longer respect Obama. I’m sorry, I don’t care who you are– use the lawyer **** on me and I’m done with you.

  2. Wow, apparantly the software thinks I was cursing in that last sentence. I wasn’t, actually, but whatever.

  3. Well, religious test or no, a lot of folks would be worried if they knew a Mormon U.S. president were receiving a steady stream of political counsel from the concurrent church president. How would Romney’s campaign have faired had that kind of silly rhetoric come from LDS church leaders?

  4. Thanks for the link, Geoff. I love the American Thinker.

    I was kind of hoping this all would have come out after Obama takes out Hillary. My gut tells me Obama is a paper tiger- a political incarnation of the New Kids On The Block- today’s “unstoppable” rage, tomorrow’s ridiculous joke. While I’m delighted that His Holiness and Her Highness must continue to bloody each other, part of me just wants Hillary gone and out of the picture so that Obama can tank in the general election.

    Another thing that ticked me off about Obama- the Friday Media Dump. More political baloney. The “Yes We Can” crowd can only ignore this for so long.

  5. In more of the history repeating itself news, word is that Obama is going to give a speech defending his religious leader. Should be interesting to see him take this on directly, shades of Mitt. Frankly, I don’t care if his pastor is a political extremist, only if Barak is. Smearing by association is Sooooo easy, and your weak disclaimer aside, you really, really should know better. Why is it that politics turns people so quickly into such angry animals. What do think Obama is going to do, put Farakhan in the cabinet? Please. Sounds to me Obama has extremists in his camp he feels he must be careful not to step on the toes of, much like Mitt’s pandering to the religious right.

  6. I think Yglesias has it about right.

    Obama’s going to have a hard time explaining that I take to be the truth, namely that his relationship with Trinity has been a bit cynical from the beginning. After all, before Obama was a half-black guy running in a mostly white country he was a half-white guy running in a mostly black neighborhood. At that time, associating with a very large, influential, local church with black nationalist overtones was a clear political asset . . . . Since emerging onto a larger stage, it’s been the reverse and Obama’s consistently sought to distance himself from Wright, disinviting him from his campaign’s launch, analogizing him to a crazy uncle who you love but don’t listen to, etc.

    Of course he also said, “I see this as a basically trumped-up issue.”

  7. I’ll go ahead and be politically incorrect here. I absolutely believe a person’s religion should be taken into account in elections to high power (in this case, the highest power).

    Being active LDS, my LDS faith bleeds into every facet of my life- peronally, at work, at play. Not that I’m a walking discussion pamphlet or anything. It’s just that I’d have to stretch to find any daily decision not somehow influenced by my faith. In short, I am my faith. Were I running for high public office, I would expect my faith to be fair game.

    If Obama is as active in his church as he says he is, and is as close to this preacher as he has claimed to be, I have a tough time believing that the mainstream beliefs of his church and its pastor don’t bleed into at least his major decisions.

    Some have argued that Rev. Wrights words have been taken out of context or are rare deviations from thousands of uncontroversial sermons. The news outlets bought these tapes from the church itself. The videos are what they are- in context as presented by the church. Just as a music album is a clear example of a musician’s style and work, these videos are examples of the message the church preaches. They are what they are, and they’re racist and extremely offensive.

    Obama could have outright denounced them, denounced the pastor, and washed his hands from it a long time ago. The fact that he continues to defend Wright- while simultaneously denouncing him with Clintonesque loophole statements- all while remaining an active member of the church– is enough for me to make a personal judgement.

  8. I know the “guilt by association” is often invalid, but we have to remember that Obama has been sitting in this congregation listening to this guy every Sunday (OK most Sundays) for decades. So I can understand why it might be a concern.

    Even still, I’d normally give Obama the benefit of the doubt. I mean, surely he doesn’t rant like this every Sunday. However, combined with his wife’s comments about how this is the first time she’s been proud of her country, make me wonder. I’ve heard the argument that Michelle just mispoke, but I never heard her or Barack officially correct the statement. The thought Michelle Obama expressed seems to reflect somewhat what their pastor thinks, which might indicate that the Obamas could privately be somewhat simpathetic to their pastors views.

    Let me be clear. I don’t want to jump to conclusions. Asking the question, “Is his pastor relevant” and “Does Obama believe the same things” are two different questions. My point is just that it is a relevant issue that should be considered, but not that Obama can’t overcome it.

    And as far as the comparison with Mitt, the issue here is the anti-American things the pastor said, which would be directly relevant to his presidency. The issues with Mitt mostly dealt with historical problems with various doctrines that didn’t have much to do with him being president, other than the “how could any smart person believe it?” argument.

  9. “Obama could have outright denounced them, denounced the pastor, and washed his hands from it a long time ago.”

    Yeah, I’m sure many felt the same way about Romney refusing to denounce the Church when Tim Russert tried to corner him on the Priesthood Ban. But for me the real question remains, will the Priesthood Ban really have anything at all to do with how Mitt runs the country? I know better, again, so should you.

  10. Apples and oranges, Doc. A better comparison (though there is none) would be if President Hinckley had screamed racial hatred from the pulpit, taped it, and sold it as doctrine representative of the church. Even that isn’t a good example because Hinckley wasn’t the church’s founder. But were that the case, yeah, I’d expect Mitt to denounce and leave the church, and I’d question his judgement to have ever baptized into it.

    I think the politico put it best tonight:

    “The comments of a pastor who married him, baptized his children, inspired the title of his book, advised him politically and ministered to him personally for two decades might not strike many voters as compatible with Obama’s post-partisan aura.”

    Yeah, statements like “*** **** America” and the palpably hate-filled anti-white statements don’t necessarily evoke thoughts of reconciliation and bridging the gap. Call me crazy.

    Any comparison of Rev. Wright’s lunatic ravings and an abandoned priesthood ban is irresponsible.

  11. Lunatic perhaps, but the reverend does make a few good points in his rantings. The point about our actions bringing 9/11 on is one supported by the 9/11 commission findings, as asserted by Ron Paul in early Republican debates (an assertion that caused Guiliani to be quite offended). The crack cocaine thing has some merit to it as it is fairly well established that the CIA was invovled in facilitating its entry into the USA in the 80’s (our ex-Chief of the DEA just blurted that one out).

    Actually, Reverend Wright’s rantings were just about the only thing I liked about Obama. Oh well.

  12. Doc, I think you would have a decent argument if Obama were only peripherally involved with the Trinity church and had gone there twice a year or something. But Rev Wright is intimately tied in to who Obama is and thus does reflect on how he would govern.

    From an LDS perspective, let’s say you had a bishop who is involved in some scandal, and he was your bishop for four years and you served as a gospel doctrine teacheer in your ward. If you ran for a political office, it would be completely off-base to associate you with this bishop. However, Obama’s realtionship with Rev Wright is much, much closer than that and by all accounts (including Obama’s) the candidate is who he is today because of Rev Wright’s influence.

    I guess I would ask you to turn the tables a bit and examine a politician you don’t like. What if that politician had a pastor like Rev Wright but from a different political perspective? Wouldn’t his viewpoints become relevant?

  13. I thought this was quite a reasonable take on the issue:

    I don’t for one second believe Barack Obama shares the anger or resentment towards whites that is evident in his pastor’s statements. He has no reason to. He may have struggled with his racial identity growing up, but his life story is an American success story, the “skinny kid with the funny name” who has gone from a rocky childhood to a serious contender for president of the United States. His father grew up poor in Kenya and was able to come to the United States and get an education due to the generousity of the United States government. That is the story Obama told when I went to see him speak at American University last month, and everything I have heard him say, as well as what he wrote in his books, conveys nothing but pride and gratitude for this country.

    There is no doubt in my mind that Obama does not share his pastor’s resentment towards whites, but his pastor’s resentment is shared by many in the black community, particularly among the older generation. When Martin Luther King moved to Chicago in the 1960’s, he characterized the response to his open housing marches as the most “hostile and hateful” display of white racism he had ever witnessed, worse than anything he had witnessed in the South. In the book Bearing the Cross, David Garrow quotes Martin Luther King as saying that northern whites were practicing “psychological and spiritual genocide” when reflecting on his experience in Chicago. That is the climate in which his pastor and many of the parisioners of his church grew up. It is unrealistic to expect Obama, who spent years working with inner-city blacks and black churches on the streets of Chicago, not to have any ties to people who harbor more militant views.

    Obama’s pastor made comments that are inexcusable, but he is also a respected figure who has done a lot of good for his community. He was not some radical pariah, as the media is now making him out to be in questioning Obama’s decision to associate with that particular church.

    Martin Luther King, Jr. is revered today, but some historians argue that he has been sanitized by history. In 1964, King wrote that “our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race…We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population.” In 1967, King spoke out against the Vietnam War, calling America the “greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.” This statement is not all that different from Wright’s post-9/11 comments. So one has to wonder, if Obama had grown up 20 years earlier and marched with King in Chicago or looked to him for spiritual guidance, would we be questioning his judgment and calling on him to denounce King?

    for the whole thing:

  14. Geoff,
    That is exactly the point. The reason we are tempted as voters to use guilt by association is that it seems more valid because we don’t like the politician in the first place. It is self justification. I am at a loss for how to really evaluate how someone is going to govern prior to seeing them in office. I voted for GWB (the first time only) and that has been an unqualified disaster. Seems I trusted him by association when he took on Colin Powell as Secretary of State. The company people keep may or may not be valid indicator. Turns out it would have been much nicer to know about Rumsfeld. It’s episodes like this that just make me fed up with politics in the end.

  15. This is not comparable to people not wanting a Mormon to be president. nobody is saying a member of the UCC should not be president. It is Obama’s close association with this particular pastor that is troubling. If Romney had had a similarly close relationship with Ezra Taft Benson over the years, any criticism that came Romney’s way as a result would have been well within bounds.

  16. “Obama’s pastor made comments that are inexcusable, but he is also a respected figure who has done a lot of good for his community.”

    I love it. So he’s a racist bigot, but look beyond that. He’s done so much good. Yeah, like Chavez and Castro and Ahmadinejad. Kos loves them too.

  17. I read the text of the entire Obama speech, and I thought it was a very well-written speech and actually made me think about some things differently regarding Rev. Wright. I don’t think it’s the right spin to concentrate only on Rev. Wright’s inflammatory comments without the context. I think we can appreciate this in our own history. It is impossible to understand the Mt Meadows Massacre without understanding what Mormons (including many of my ancestors, btw) had to go through in Missouri. If we are truly charitable, we need to understand that feelings were at a fever pitch because the Saints had suffered so much just a few years earlier at the hands of seemingly heartless people in Missouri.

    So, you cannot truly understand Rev. Wright and his church without understanding and feeling the suffering of hundreds of years of institutional racism in the U.S. today. Obama’s speech helps convey that context, and I believe that is important.

    But at the end of the day, the MMM was a horrible event and something that cannot be excused. And at the end of the day, many of Rev. Wright’s comments are horrible, divisive, ugly, racist and hateful, and they cannot be excused.

    I will not be voting for Obama because his politics are diametrically opposed to what I believe. So, there is nothing he could say to win my vote. But, he did an excellent job, in my opinion, of explaining and giving context to the situation, and for that I salute him.

  18. I liked his speech over all. There’s something very likable about Obama–the man. I’m impressed with his ability to talk about the complexities of social divisiveness and yet bring it all together into a unified message of hope.

    That said, I’m not convinced that his politics–the down-right mechanical aspects of getting the job done–will do much good in the long run. And I must say, also: I didn’t care for his slam of corporate America–which he did more than once. If you want to get this country in good financial shape you need to make corporations your allies–not your enemies.

    I guess I have a secret longing to have someone like Obama stand as a beacon of hope to minorities in the U.S.–even if he does nothing else. But then I’m not sure that it’s worth the potential costs in other areas (such as the almost certain full-scale war that would arise in the middle-east, or the horrific economic policies that would strangle the market, etc.).

  19. Curtis,

    IMHO, any scaling back of our efforts at this time would push us over the precipice of disaster–we simply cannot afford to lose any momentum. If we were to do so then I think we’d find ourselves in the same kind of political war that caused so much confusion over Vietnam (though some would argue that we’re already there). We wouldn’t be able to stomach the realities of a larger military engagement–and so we’d see decreased political support culminating our complete withdraw. This would leave region in utter chaos–and, to me, the potential costs of such are unthinkable. We cannot allow another “fall of Saigon.”

  20. Jack,
    I see. Obama’s plan is for gradual withdrawal of troops while leaving some there for the long haul to protect embassies and attack Al Queda etc.
    Personally I am for listening to the wishes of the Iraqi people of whom 73% say, in the most recent BBC poll, that they want US troops out of their country. The Iraqi parliament has also voted for the US to leave their country. I think their wishes should be paramount if our desires to bring democracy and freedom to Iraq are genuine.

  21. OK, a legitimate question was asked, it was answered. As much as I would love to drive up M*’s traffic with a 100-comment discussion of Iraq policy, it’s not really relevant to this post. Can we get back on topic?

    Thanks folks.

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