Friday, March 21, 2008

BAraCK To The Future?

Earlier this week Barack Obama delivered what had to be the most important speech of his campaign and perhaps his life. He delivered it against the backdrop both of the Jeremiah Wright (his pastor) Youtube feeding frenzy and the surprisingly uncomfortable issue of race that persists as a politically divisive feature of american life.

There’s a lot I have to say about this speech and the polarized American political context in which it is situated. But I made a vow shortly after I began this blog to limit my posts to 1000 words. So, all I have to say about the speech won’t get said, at least not here.

Let me begin with Jeremiah Wright. Jeremiah Wright appears to be to a certain segment of the black community (and the black church community) what Jerry Falwell was and what Pat Robertson, James Dobson and others of their ilk (including the “pisseth against the wall” pastor) still are to a certain segment of the white community (and the white church community). Social and political polarizers are what they in fact are, but to their respective communities they are regarded as guardians of the truth and liberators of the marginalized.

If you are a member of the relevant segment of the white community, then the language of Wright is likely to strike you as anti-american, hate mongering, Farrakhan courting and dangerous. And there’s no doubt about it, Wright believes America is wrong, racist and evil. If you are a member of the relevant black community (or gay community or feminst community), then the language of Falwell, Robertson and Dobson is likely to strike you in just the way Wright’s language strikes the relevant segment of the white community. It will strike you as dangerously wrong, racist (or sexist) and evil.

One point perhaps more than any other that has been systematically overlooked in all the coverage that has followed on the heels of Obama’s speech, and the Wright vitriol on graphic display at youtube, is that an analogous sort of hate-mongering anti-american rhetoric to that of Wright's has been widely used in the past by Falwell, Dobson and other polarizers on the far right. Am I wrong to remember that some on the other side of the political spectrum of Wright have advocated that God RIGHTLY hates America and has given us 9/11 and Aids as punishment? Am I wrong to remember that some of the very individuals who spewed their gospel of bondage to hate and fear during the 80’s and 90’s were not only welcome in America but were even the invited guests of presidents at White House functions? Am I wrong about that?

My point here is simple: hate is an equal opportunity employer and how you hear the words of Wright or Dobson all depends on which pew in which church on which Sunday morning you find yourself sitting. Now for the record, from the pew on which I sit on Sunday mornings, I hear Wright’s rhetoric as all the things the relevant segment of the white community hears it as. And from that same pew, I also hear the rhetoric of Falwell, Robertson and Dobson as all the things blacks and gays hear it as. And that probably says a lot about my being a white, liberally educated, middle class man.

Well, anyway, MS Word informs me that I have just spent more than half of my 1000 word allowance . Perhaps I’ve spent enough on one post. Plus, I feel I have little to add to what has already been said in praise of Obama’s speech (it was spellbinding and moving, not mention honest, in ways few political speeches are these days). But I really did want to address two other issues related to the speech, i.e., the comparison by Obama of his relation to Wright to that of his white grand mother. The other issue I wanted to comment on is how someone could possibly remain in a congregation whose pastor preached sermons with which the member him or herself claims to disagree most vehemently.

But I’m going to leave that for another time and another place. I feel an overwhelming desire right now to head over to the Department of Secretary to do what I have been saying I would do for the past 8 years—change my party affiliation from Democrat to Independent. Because while the vision Obama has for this country is a vision that resonates with many of my deepest Christian commitments, I recognize that given the current political configuration there’s not a lot of on-the-ground change that will occur under an Obama administration. Then again, even if all he was able to accomplish was to restore to this country and to the presidency an image worthy of respect both here and around the world, that would be enough for me. So based on what I know now, I say, BAraCK to the future!!!!

But I say that with my eyes wide open. Eyes open to the fact that the kingdom of God--the only nation to which I will unreservedly and unconditionally pledge my allegiance, a nation without borders by the way--is a kingdom that will not be realized by any political party. And it won't be accessible for your 24-7 viewing pleasure at youtube either. No, I'm afraid you'll have to go instead to those small corners of our world and communities where that kingdom is lived and anticipated in all the invisibility of the ordinary. You'll have to cultivate different viewing habits if you hope to see it. But it is there. I've seen it.


Anonymous said...

Have you seen the 80's incarnation of the movie 'Brewster's Millions'? It stars Richard Pryor and John Candy. In it Monty Brewster (Pryor) is offered a 300 million dollar inheritance from his dead uncle, on the condition that he spends 30 million in 30 days, with not assets to his name. There are all sorts of rules (only a certain amount can be given to charity, for instance; he cannot tell anyone what he is trying to do), so Brewster has to invent strange ways of blowing an average of 1 million dollars a day (80's currency no less!). One of the ways he does it is by running for mayor of New York as a protest candidate. His campaign slogan reads, 'None of the Above.' It is one of the better plots of the movie, and (maybe unsurprisingly) has a lot to say about our current race for President. Circumlocutious though it may be, this reference has a point; do you want to lie in the bed made by John McCain and John Hagee, or Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright? My vote: None of the Above.

Kevin Corcoran said...

ffaideas (aka Stephen):

Give me the bed made by Obama in his speech over the bed made by any of the other candidates in any of theirs, any day. The bed made in Obama's speech is not the bed made by the youtube videos that portray Wright as anti-american and racist. But let me add and also correct something I said in the original post. I said that from the pew on which I sit I hear the rhetoric of Wright as all the things the relevant segment of white america hears it as--anti-american and racist. But--and this is no doubt going to piss a lot of people off--let me add that in the videos of Wright I've seen, he seems to me to speak a lot of truth. For example, this country is run by rich white men. And I think it has to be admitted that American policies in the middle east made some sort of contribution to 9/11. This is not to say that we deserved 9/11 or that fundamentalist Islam is innocent of the blood spilled on that day. It’s just to say that when President Bush said in his speech shortly after 9/11 that he could not understand why people in other parts of the world don’t like us, he demonstrated an enormous amount of arrogance and either a spectacular lack of awareness or a stunning degree of self-deception, or maybe a bit of both.

In any case, I'm sure Obama also believes that there is a lot of truth in Wright's critique of america. But--and this is the really important thing--unlike the Wright I've seen on the youtube videos, Obama articulates a vision of hope, a vision for a new day in america, one that I think is resonating with a generation of men and women tired of the old dichotomies, binary oppositions and paralyzing polarities. I’m among that generation and unashamed to say that I am eager to sleep in a new bed made by Obama. I am also aware, as I mentioned in the original post, that the kingdom I long for is not going to be realized by an Obama presidency or any other. So my eagerness is a chastened eagerness; it's chastend by that recognition.

Anonymous said...

Hey Kevin,
I think your mention of how can someone go to a church for so long if they stand against much of what is said is right on. The issue raised is not why did he go speak at Wright's church or why did he talk to Wright's church, but rather, why did he not only go there for decades, but consider Wright a mentor. That's the difficulty, because past presidents have courted votes with Falwell and the like, but haven't been long-time members of their churches. I think the press Obama is getting is more akin to questions about Mormonism and their teaching on people from Africa than it is to presidents meeting with Falwell.
Also I like your link back to the Kingdom of God. Maybe I'm too cynical, but my hope for politics grows less and less; even when someone seems to say the right things I figure as soon as they get to Washington it will be more of the same.
Hey, if we can't remember that our membership is in a different Kingdom over Easter weekend, when can we?
Hope you're well.
William Jensen

Rachel said...

You're right to point out the similarities between the rhetoric spewed by the far left and far right against America. Actually Frank Schaeffer pretty much said as much in a recent blog post about his dad. I'm squarely in the middle, so I don't like it coming from either side.

I thought Obama's speech was incredible and I want very much to give him the benefit of a doubt, but like you said, there's still the question of why Barack allowed Wright to be his mentor for 20+ years. Another thing is that he brings his kids to this church. It's one thing for a grown man to disagree with his pastor, but he's also subjecting his children to some frankly scary views during their most formative years.

And there's the thing with politics coming from the pulpit. I hate that. Any preacher who puts political polemics ahead of preaching Christ crucified has no business being a pastor.

As I said, I want to give Barack the benefit of a doubt, but this issue raises a lot of red flags for me. You can't pick your grandma, but you sure as heck can pick your pastor. For a guy who's campaigning with a "words matter" slogan, he seems awfully quick to say that Rev. Wright's hateful polemics aren't actually that harmful.

Quinn said...

Interesting topic: With my background at a right-of-center Christian institution, I can say that I'm very suspicious of all types of Christian Americanism, i.e., attempts to conflate the Christian message with the American dream, whether from right or left. But I'm equally suspicious of secular Americanism: those who have no religious beliefs and see patriotism as the highest loyalty. In this regard, I think the media's reactions to Wright's comments is enlightening. Apparently, self-criticism of one's nation, even if misguided and more than a tad bit off-center, can scarcely be fathomed.

That said, one who would be the leader of a nation has different allegiances than those who are simply its members.

All that said, Christ's kingdom is not of this world as he reminded his followers that night he was betrayed, and I think that if His kingdom is recognized in this world (on earth), it will not be recognized by any one kingdom or government in this world, i.e., no politician or candidate or government or administration will usher it in.

What I saw from the Christian right is that, often when we rely on a party to do kingdom work, we as individuals neglect our part or adopt questionable means to a desirable end.

But perhaps my views will change with time. And it sounds as though I'm in full agreement with you on this aspect anyway.

Anonymous said...

A bit off topic, but reminds me of a recent Jay Leno joke
As you know, yesterday, Barack Obama gave a big speech on race, and there was one heckler in the audience who kept screaming crazy stuff the whole time. Turns out it was his pastor.

Kyle said...

I'm glad that you made a bit of a distinction between Robertson/Falwell and their ilk and what Wright said. Are both sides rhetorically overblown? Obviously. But at least Wright is trying to draw attention to potentially-verifiable cause and effect chains (b/c Middle East policy, surprisingly, actually does have real world consequences!), whereas all Falwell and Robertson were doing was using 9-11 to try to score cheap shots against moral opponents.

As for the whole "Why did Obama go to this church and, gasp!!!!!!!!, allow his kids to walk through the door?" question, it seems incredibly naive, both in considering how much a church influences kids compared to the influence of parents and the culture at large, but also is a judgment made in a small amount of information. We've seen maybe six minutes of preaching of Wright's entire career, yet we somehow think we know what he and this church are like; how do we know these aren't just a few of the rhetorical excesses in an otherwise reasoned and spiritually in-depth career. My most influential college professor was an atheist who literally stomped on the Bible (as a mis-guided illustration on the effect of the Enlightenment), but otherwise he was a calm, respectful, and highly engaging professor, whose influence pushed me to go to grad school.

mike c said...

I like when someone creates a blog that tackles the real issues that face both Christians and non-christians. It is still strange to read what my little brother (Kevin) writes. I refuse to call him professor or doctor...Love you bro.

Will any man or women olane change America and therfore make a difference in the world? Maybe not as much as we would like to think. As for Barack, I see a man who truly wants this county to be a better place. We as Americans must step back and look at ourseleves to see the real problems in the world.

Media plays a big part in all this. For the past 18 years I have been m,arried to a strong and opinionated black women. That's right black women she was a black women when I married her and that will not change to African American or anything else because the media wants it to change. I love her and respect her and most of all I learn from her.

Long ago she pointed out to me the way media protrays black America and we as white America don't wnat to see it. Or we are to ignorant to see it.

Now back to Barack and his pastor. Barack's speach was from the heart and whether we want to believe him or not is up to the indivdual. I for one had made up my mind long before this ever made the news.

I keep all the canidates in prayer because it is a no win situation and they we never please everyone. Praise GOD first and all else will not seem as important.

mike c said...

Sorry for the spelling mistakes on last post. I will try to do better. I was just happy I finally figured out how to post to a blog...DAH!

Kevin Corcoran said...

Thanks for the comments all!

Rachel/Wm: The issue of Wright being Obama's mentor for 20 years is complicated. I don't know Wright, but I do know that I have only about 8 minutes of youtube video with which to form my judgment. I also know that one's words--one's very words uttered out of one's very mouth--can be taken and used to say things one never meant to say in the uttering of those words. Just look at the McCain "response" to the Obama "Yes, We Can" music video on youtube. I also think Obama has acknowledged that the rhetoric is very harmful.

Quinn and Kyle: Amen!

Anon and Leno's heckler: Funny!!!

Brother Mike: Love you, man! Thanks for commenting.

Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree more regarding the middle east. How could our meddling there not affect us here? Are we to believe that Iran, after suffering a Anglo/American coup of a democratically elected (and pro western) Prime Minister in 1953, is going to all-of-a-sudden hate the Soviets, buy American goods and love Democracy? Can we blame them for 1979? This is the most terrifying aspect of war or of government intervention in general. Governments are largely myopic. They cannot see beyond the immediate, largely because human beings lack any robust sense of prescience (try as I may, and I have tried, I cannot foresee the future). The events at Versailles played no small role in the events leading to World War II. In 1953 all we could anticipate was Soviet control of middle eastern oil fields, we had no idea that Iran might one day be a theocracy with a chip on its shoulder. Who knows what enemies we are making now, who will use our current intervention as a rallying cry 10, 15, 20, or even 50 years from now? We are simply in no place to know the effects of our interventions today and bull-headed dogmatic cries for freedom and democracy world wide will not persuade tomorrow's enemies; they're hardly persuading today's allies. I suppose all I can do is not live in big cities, which will likely be the target of future attacks. Maybe I'll Scranton, PA. I like the Office.