- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

The tone and ferocity of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s comments about American racism which came to national attention last week may not be typical in many mainstream black churches. The content — concerns that racism persists — still surfaces at many pulpits, however.

“Inflammatory rhetoric is certainly a minor approach to congregations within black Christian circles. That rhetoric needs to be criticized. But the larger agenda Reverend Wright is pointing to, the deep frustration over racism, is a common theme preached at black churches across the country,” said Anthony B. Pinn, a professor of religious studies at Rice University.

“The topic is viable. The rhetoric is not,” Mr. Pinn added.

“No one can rationally attribute to an estimated 56,000 black American churches the comments of a black pastor in a black church which is a member of a white liberal denomination — the United Church of Christ,” said the Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III of the Azusa Christian Community in Dorchester, Mass.

“Everyone gets the point that those quotes were indefensible and over the top. Everybody gets that,” he said.

Mr. Wright, who recently retired from the 8,000-member Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, has been family pastor and spiritual guide to Sen. Barack Obama for years. Mr. Wright’s sermons have included stark references to racism. In a highly publicized speech Tuesday, Mr. Obama affirmed his friendship with his pastor but repudiated his extreme opinions.

Isolated into video clips and showcased on news reports and YouTube, the comments now command center stage. More than two-thirds of Americans have heard about the “Rev. Wright videos,” according to a Pew Research Center study released yesterday.

The presidential race has been rattled: CBS News deemed Mr. Wright “the path to victory” for Republicans, as a new Rasmussen Reports poll noted “early data suggests [the Wright controversy] has already had a negative impact on Obama’s chances of winning the general election against John McCain.”

In addition, a campaign worker for Mr. McCain, the likely Republican presidential nominee, was suspended abruptly for e-mailing one of the more infamous videos — titled “Is Obama Wright?” — to an online gossip site.

The jury still may be out on the situation: 57 percent of Americans do not think Mr. Obama shares the views of Mr. Wright, according to a Fox News poll released yesterday. A third overall said the men’s friendship caused them to have doubts about the candidate — though the racial divide is pronounced. The number was 40 percent among whites and 2 percent among blacks.

There’s collateral damage, however.

“Reverend Wright helped found 70 outreach projects into neighborhoods around his church. Now he is known by a 3-minute YouTube video,” observed Mr. Pinn.

“It’s illogical to take a 40-year pastoral career and reduce it to a couple of 20-second sound bites,” agreed Mr. Rivers, who also wondered about fair play.

“When the clergy sex-abuse scandal occurred in the Roman Catholic Church, Catholic politicians were not raked over the coals and asked to denounce and repudiate the Catholic Church. Why is Senator Obama framed as guilty by association? Why is he raked over the coals?” he asked. “In this public discussion, we need one moral yardstick.”

The political campaign has become “hyper-racial,” said John Baugh, a linguistics professor and director of African and African American Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

“Obama has to be careful in how he speaks about race. I think the ‘race card’ is more of a hot-button issue than the ‘gender card.’ Or so it would seem in the wake of Geraldine Ferraro’s assertion that Obama would not be where he is today were he not black,” Mr. Baugh said.

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