Or were they never allowed to close? More news articles and
commentaries are looking at the scorching, angry sermons of Rev.
Jeremiah Wright as the common experience in black churches in America
and saying that whites just need to understand their context. Is that
making an excuse to enable open-ended hostility?

This ABC News piece is provocative.

Wright, former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ
in Chicago, espouses a philosophy known as a black liberation theology,
a movement developed in the late 1960s that advocated for a more
militant approach to ending racism. The theology grounds the ideas of
the black power movement in Christian doctrine.

But beyond black liberation theology, scholars and his fellow
ministers put Wright in an even older tradition, in which black
ministers, like the biblical prophets, used their pulpits to chide the
nation into moral action.

And apparently still do, we’re learning.

Wright, however, did not come under fire for comments
made about discrimination or inequalities between blacks and whites. He
was criticized for saying the United States deserved to be attacked on
9/11, that God should not bless America but damn it. And he referred to
the United States in one sermon as the “United States of KKK-A.”

But while Obama rejects these views as extreme, he excuses them by explaining their context.

Parishioners raised in the church understand that preaching is loud, physical and theatrical.

“There is a performative style that accompanies black preaching,”
Erskine said. “You have to act it — take the way he was fanning
himself. How you say things is more important than what you say. There
is a power in words and the way they are expressed.”

That’s contradictory, which is the problem with this whole issue.
The ascendancy of Barack Obama has, until now, been one of great style
over known substance, the great delivery of words more than the message
they contain. Words mean things. Obama himself stressed that in a
heated reaction to some Clinton criticism of his rhetoric.

It is a fine line for Obama, who has made a point in the
election of stressing the power of words, saying “don’t tell me words
don’t matter” when Sen. Hillary Clinton criticized him for speeches
that she said lacked substance.

So which is it? Words are either very important and have
consequences, or they’re a stage prop to deliver a theatrical
performance? And….why the double standards?

[Professor Kameron] Carter, however, was unwilling to
extend the same context of culture argument to the Rev. Jerry Falwell,
who in the days after 9/11 blamed the attacks on “pagans, and the
abortionists, and the feminists and the gays and the lesbians.”

A recent article in NRO concludes that this selective responsibility keeps America mired in conflict.

We are losing yet another opportunity to talk honestly
about race, to hold all Americans to the same standards of public
ethics and morality, and to emphasize that no one gets a pass peddling
vulgar racism, or enabling it by failing to disassociate himself from
its source…

Which is raising the question all over the news world about Barack Obama’s judgment. Peter Wehner has a particularly good take on that.

I don’t for a moment believe that Senator Obama shares
Wright’s manifold and manifest hatreds. What bothers me — particularly
as one who has had good things to say about Obama in the past — is why
Obama apparently never raised any concerns with Wright about his
rhetoric or the black liberation theology being practiced at United
Trinity. This was the obvious and appropriate thing to do.

Reverend Wright clearly preaches from a particular cast of mind, one
with which Obama was surely familiar. If Obama isn’t willing to voice
his concerns and objections with Wright and stand up for his country as
it is being slandered by his pastor, what can we expect from Obama when
he is asked to stand up against some of the world’s worst dictators?

The options aren’t particularly good for Senator Obama. He either
agreed with the views and core beliefs of Reverend Wright, which would
essentially disqualify him as a serious candidate for the presidency;
or he didn’t agree with Wright but for decades sat passively by and
accepted Wright’s teaching and rants. Didn’t Obama consider, even once,
pulling Wright aside and pointing out — as any true friend would, in a
civil but forceful way — that hailstones of hate simply have no place
in a church and that the “social gospel” is not synonymous with
preaching bigotry and anti-Americanism?

These are the right questions for an aspiring commander-in-chief of
the United States. They probably aren’t going away anytime soon, as
long as they aren’t clearly answered….and they haven’t been yet.

Senator Obama’s speech on Tuesday was a brilliant effort
to deflect attention away from what remains the core issue: what did
Obama hear, when did he hear it, and what did he do about it? The
answers, as best we can tell at this stage, is that Obama heard some
very harsh things said from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of
Christ; that Obama heard them said a long time ago and probably
repeatedly; and that he did little or nothing about it. This from a man
who tells us at almost every stop along the campaign trail that he has
the “judgment to lead.”

One always wants to be careful about making sweeping conclusions
about any individual, particularly one as interesting and compelling as
Senator Obama. All of us, in replaying our lives, would change certain
things. We would all hope to show more integrity, more courage, more
honor. Nevertheless, in a presidential campaign we have to judge based
on the available evidence. And given his deep and long-standing
association with Reverend Wright, it is fair to ask whether Senator
Obama — a gifted writer and speaker and a man of obvious intelligence
and appeal — has the appropriate judgment and character to lead this
nation.

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....