Obama immediately condemned the remarks and then gave a well-received speech in which he discussed the contradiction of condemning the offending sermons without condemning the man: “I can no more disown him than I can disown the Black community.”
Now Wright is all over the Georgia airwaves.
Loeffler, who faces a Jan. 5 runoff election against the Rev. Raphael Warnock, senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, is decrying Warnock as a “radical’s radical” in an ad that twice repeats the “God d--- America” clip, with the word “d---” bleeped out. But her case relies largely on a 2008 Fox News interview that has been mischievously clipped.
There are three key claims in the ad — that Warnock defended Wright’s hatred, that he celebrated anti-American hatred and that he gave Wright an award for truth-telling. Let’s examine each of those assertions in turn.
The ad relies on the shock value of Wright’s “God d--- America” comment but does not include his full statement, made in the course of a 2003 sermon titled “On Confusing God and Government.”
“When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. … 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, God d--- America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God d--- America for treating our citizens as less than human. God d--- America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme! The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent. Think about this, think about this. For every one Oprah, a billionaire, you got 5 million Blacks who are out of work.”
The ad, drawing on an interview with Greta Van Susteren, appears to quote Warnock as saying, “We celebrate Reverend Wright.” (The ad clips an “uh” before Reverend.)
But that snippet leaves off a long, nuanced explanation from Warnock. “We celebrate, uh, Reverend Wright in the same way that we celebrate the truth-telling tradition of the Black church, which when preachers tell the truth very often it makes people uncomfortable.” He went on to say that “the country had been done a disservice” by the airing of clips of Wright without the context in which he made these remarks.
Wright added that Martin Luther King Jr. had made remarks that might be similarly viewed as hateful, without the right context. He noted that before King was assassinated, he was crafting a sermon titled “Why America May Go to Hell.” (King had told his mother, in explaining the title, that “America is going to hell if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty and make it possible for all of God’s children to have the basic necessities of life.”)
We did not get a response to requests for comment from the Loeffler campaign. But the campaign has a website, RadicalRaphael.com, that details its claims about Warnock’s supposed defense of Wright.
As another example, the campaign cites a 2013 speech to Yale Divinity School, where Warnock suggested people should read the “very fine homily” in full. He said the sermon only became noteworthy in the context of Wright being the pastor of the first Black man with a good chance to become president, as it revealed a “disconnect between White and Black Americans.”
“The burning question within mainstream America was, what kind of church was this? What was the meaning of this kind of hate-filled preaching?” Warnock said. “For those who were beginning to open themselves up to the idea of a President Obama, this strange Black theology was most unwelcome in the new post-racial America that some believed has suddenly emerged.”
The Loeffler campaign also notes that in a 2013 book, “The Divided Mind of the Black Church,” Warnock called the 2003 sermon “a very thoughtful and compelling discussion on how a Christian should view government.” But in that same book, Warnock criticized Wright’s “public pronouncements and manner” after the controversy erupted for having contributed to what he called a caricature created by the media.
In the video, the campaign uses another artful clip to back up the claim that Warnock “celebrated anti-American hatred.” The video shows Warnock saying Wright is “a preacher and prophet.” But, again, that’s out of context. Warnock was merely contrasting him to Obama, to explain why Obama distanced himself from the comments: “Senator Obama is doing what he should do; he’s running for president. And Jeremiah Wright is doing what he should do; he’s a preacher and a prophet.”
Obama, in his book, notes that distinction. “For me to believe I could bridge those [Black and White] worlds had been pure hubris, the same hubris that had led me to assume that I could dip in and out of a complex institution like Trinity [United Church of Christ in Chicago], headed by a complex man like Reverend Wright and select, as if off a menu, only those things that I liked,” he wrote. “Maybe I could do that as a private citizen, but not as a public figure running for president.”
As for the award, the ad suggests Warnock gave it to him because of the “truth-telling” in the controversial sermon. But in reality, Brite Divinity School, which is affiliated with Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, had decided months earlier to give the award — and chose to stick to that plan even though the TCU chancellor had said he would have withdrawn it. Warnock’s campaign said he had no role in deciding the award, and Brite President Newell Williams told PolitiFact that he does not believe Warnock had any prior connection to the school. (Wright in the end canceled his appearance.)
It’s worth noting that before Loeffler faced Warnock in an election, she had visited his church on Martin Luther King Day this year. “She called Warnock’s church a ‘sacred place’ and, with Warnock seated just behind her, said she was ‘surrounded by men and women who advance the cause of freedom,’" according to a report in Popular Information, an online newsletter. “She specifically praised Ebenezer Baptist Church, under the leadership of Warnock, as a place that ‘puts words into action.’”
The Pinocchio Test
In his appearances, Warnock certainly tried to put Wright’s comments in context and suggested people read the whole sermon, not just watch the controversial snippet that appeared in a loop on cable television. But it’s a stretch to say that he defended hatred or “celebrated anti-American hatred.” He also had nothing to do with the decision to give Wright an award.
Moreover, regular readers know we frown on attack ads that rely on out-of-context video clips. Warnock’s comments on Wright were much more nuanced than snippets suggest. The Loeffler campaign earns Three Pinocchios.
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