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Posted by on May 2, 2008

The Prophet and the Politician: Sen. Obama and Rev. Wright

The Prophet and the Politician: Sen. Obama and Rev. Wright

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Many friendships have been lost on the rocks and shoals of political campaigns. The falling out between Senator Barak Obama and the Reverend Jeremiah Wright is the latest example of such casualties. What is most striking is the Rev. Wright’s strident message. He would probably say that this style is a cultural feature of the African-American church. In a response to questions at the Washington Press Club, Rev. Wright said that he had told Mr. Obama, that if he is elected President, Rev. Wright would be coming after him as the leader of a repressive government.

Is this prophecy – speaking truth to power – or is it an ego trip? Rev. Wright went to some effort in his address to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to stress the prophetic nature of his ministry and its African-American style. However, Rev. Wright appeared to have transgressed certain boundaries of acceptable political speech. His condemnation of the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, positing them as something that was the natural outcome of United States’ policies abroad, went too far in many people’s minds. His appraisal of Louis Farrakanh, the Black Muslim leader who advocates Black separatism and superiority, as one of the most influential persons in the 20th and 21st centuries raised additional hackles More alarming was his support for the idea that the United States had created the HIV/AIDS virus to decimate African-Americans.

It was all too much for Barak Obama and for most of the people of the United States.

So how far do you go in prophecy, especially in the prophecy of invective? There is an argument to be made that the 9/11 attack had a lot to do with American actions against Osama Bin Laden that drove him from exile in Sudan to Afghanistan. Any student of U.S. history knows that American policies in many parts of the world have been part of oppression. Yet do you condemn a nation that has also had a history of doing many good things on the world stage?

What struck me most was the Rev. Wright’s anger. Was it the anger of a prophet zealous for his God or was it the anger of African-American oppression, frustration, and futility? When Sen. Obama first addressed the issue of the Rev. Wright’s preaching in a landmark speech on race in America, his talk was full of restraint, understanding, and hope. The element of hope has been greatly reduced in the Rev. Wright’s recent speeches.

Ironically, the title of Sen Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope, is taken from one of Rev. Wright’s sermons. In fact, it actually concludes his autobiography, Dreams From My Father. It is clear that Rev. Wright infused Sen. Obama with a deep sense of hope over 20 years ago. The prophecies of Jeremiah and others in the Old Testament tend to hold out an element of hope of future redemption – of reconciliation.

Unfortunately, two roads are diverging in the wood and the nation must decide whether it will pursue the road of hope or the politics of despair, division, and personal destruction.

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