The Audacity of Rev. Wright

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Tuesday, April 29, 2008

THE REV. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose incendiary and controversial sound bites have knocked the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) off balance, strutted to the microphone of the National Press Club and made an audacious claim: "This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It is an attack on the black church." No. The harsh spotlight under which the Chicago pastor finds himself is exactly where it belongs.

As pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for 36 years (he recently retired), the Rev. Wright has a record of good works. From services for the homeless and the elderly to the poor and those in prison, his church has practiced the most giving and generous teachings of Christianity. But with the good came charged rhetoric that has come back to haunt him and Mr. Obama. Most famously, in a 2003 sermon, the Rev. Wright said, "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, not God bless America. God damn America, that's in the Bible, for killing innocent people."

Yesterday, the Rev. Wright was unrepentant. He refused to disavow his oft-repeated belief in the sinister myth that the AIDS epidemic is a genocidal government plot to exterminate African Americans. He stood by his blame-America-for-Sept. 11 stance, saying, "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back to you."

None of this is helpful to Mr. Obama, who could face more calls not only to denounce such inflammatory comments but also to renounce his longtime pastor. We will not join in that chorus. In his address on race in Philadelphia last month after video of the Rev. Wright's fiery sermons burst onto the national scene, Mr. Obama condemned, "in unequivocal terms, the statements of Rev. Wright that have caused such controversy." The candidate credibly explained how he could understand his minister's anger without sharing or approving of it. Having had a closer look at the Rev. Wright, voters will have to decide for themselves how much weight to give Mr. Obama's long association with the pastor. But it is the Rev. Wright, not Mr. Obama, who yesterday chose to further discredit himself.


© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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