- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 25, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Having commenced the holiest week on the Christian calendar, the nation has also spent a week encompassed by faith and politics. More spent on race and politics — as it relates to Sen. Barack Obama and his embattled pastor — than the faith part. Putting aside the race factor (for now), it is worth noting how pastor Jeremiah Wright’s remarks impact faith in American politics and the presidency.

From the beginning of our nation’s history — religion and politics have been intertwined. The Founders were men of faith. We’re all familiar with the frequently referred to “separation of church and state”; words you will not find in the Constitution. What you will find, among the only two religious references in the Constitution, is Article VI, section 3: “[N]o religion test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” No religious test — yet — the media seems hellbent on setting one.

The press (and some evangelical leaders) put a lot of time into chastising Mitt Romney for his Mormonism and what that “would mean” to the presidency — so much so that he was forced to put his faith on display in prime time — in a way no other candidate has ever had to. Shameful.

The press nitpicked over the beliefs of 2004 presidential hopeful Sen. Joseph Lieberman, an Orthodox Jew. Despite the fact that only 4 percent of Americans polled thought that his faith mattered, the press pressed on with questions that included whether Mr. Lieberman would be able to campaign on the Sabbath. Ridiculous.

Before the Jeremiah Wright incident, the only mention about Mr. Obama’s faith was to correct the misconception that he is Muslim. Curious. Yet, ironically, there hasn’t been a word about who Sen. John McCain or Sen. Hillary Clinton pray to when their knees hit the floor at night. Why is one man’s (or woman’s) faith under scrutiny and not another? Who decides?

Again — there is no religious test to qualify for public office. So why does it even matter? It shouldn’t, but in some ways it does, and the media seems to get it wrong every time. Far too much “air time” time has been spent on what a candidate’s religion “means” and not enough on the hate speech — being passed off as biblical doctrine — coming out of the pulpit from one Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Don’t get me wrong, freedom of speech is just as fundamentally essential as religious freedom. We can’t just go knocking down church doors because someone doesn’t like what’s being said. That said, there should be no tolerance for hate or racism masquerading as religious speech.

Outside of the media’s fascination with some religions and not others — the politicians and candidates themselves have been known to inject faith into the discussion. That, some would argue, makes it fair game. Mr. Obama regularly makes reference to his faith as he did at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, when he said: “We worship an awesome God in the blue states.” He’s recently spoken about how the Mr. Wright brought him to accept Jesus Christ. During his impressive speech on race in Philadelphia last week, the senator characterized his church as: “Like other predominately black churches across the country, Trinity’s [United Church of Christ] services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing… shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear… the church contains in full… the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.”

I share some of Mr. Obama’s “experiences.” I also attended a very large “black church” (whatever that means). Like Mr. Obama, I was counseled, mentored and instructed by the same pastor for 25 years. But that’s where the similarities end. Unlike Mr. Obama — who suggests this kind of speech is characteristic among black churches — I have never heard such hate come out of the pulpit. And if this is commonplace at other “black” churches — it shouldn’t be. If Mr. Obama’s “one America” is to come to pass — condemning this kind of speech is only the first step.

While I don’t believe that Mr. Obama is the bigot that his pastor is — he does seem to have a problem letting go of Mr. Wright and the church — and that is troubling. So too, is the fact that Mr. Obama doesn’t seem to acknowledge his pastor’s impact on his life. With my experience, outside of my parents, my pastor has made the greatest impact to help shape who I am today. Despite his tip-toeing around the subject, I have no doubt that after 20 years, Mr. Obama’s pastor most assuredly had an impact on his life too.

The senator’s own comments give us a glimpse of some of that influence. Last week, he told a radio host that his grandmother was a “typical white person.” Mr. Wright has said this county is “run by rich white men.” You may also recall Mr. Obama’s wife, Michelle, recently stated that until now she had not been proud of her country. A country condemned by Mr. Wright when he professed: “Goddamn America.” His words are racially divisive, hateful and bigoted. Words that go beyond the surface of race, to the very core of what one might infer Mr. Obama faithfully believes. It does impact how a man running for our highest office views this county and his “love of country.” No one would (or should) expect Mr. Obama to preach from the presidential podium, but his faith in this case, is pertinent and relevant. The majority of Americans wouldn’t want a bigot as a president, and rightfully have reservations about someone who was “guided” by one.

Mr. Obama’s “unifying” remarks certainly struck a cord and resonated with every black person in America, myself included. But for “faithful” Americans, it doesn’t takes us far enough in the reconciliation needed to heal racial or religious wounds — or to answer the greater question of what role his faith plays in his politics.

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