Imagine if Mitt Romney’s church proclaimed on its website that it is “unashamedly white.”
The media would pounce, and Romney’s presidential candidacy would be over. Yet that is exactly what Barack Obama’s church says on its web site — except in reverse.
“We are a congregation which is unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian,” says the Trinity United Church of Christ’s website in Chicago. “We are an African people and remain true to our native land, the mother continent, the cradle of civilization.”
That’s just the beginning. The church has a “non-negotiable commitment to Africa,” according to its website, and its pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. subscribes to what is called the Black Value System.
While the Black Value System includes such items as commitment to God, education, and self-discipline, it refers to “our racist competitive society” and includes the disavowal of the pursuit of “middle-classness” and a pledge of allegiance to “all black leadership who espouse and embrace the Black Value System.” It defines “middle-classness” as a way for American society to “snare” blacks rather than “killing them off directly” or “placing them in concentration camps,” just as the country structures “an economic environment that induces captive youth to fill the jails and prisons.”
In sermons and interviews, Dr. Wright has equated Zionism with racism and Israel with South Africa under its previous policy of apartheid. On the Sunday after 9/11, Wright said the attacks were a consequence of violent American policies. Four years later, Wright suggested that the attacks were retribution for America’s racism.
“In the 21st century, white America got a wake-up call after 9/11/01,” Wright wrote in a church-affiliated magazine. “White America and the western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West kept on its merry way of ignoring black concerns.”
In one of his sermons, Wright said, “Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run!…We [in the U.S.] believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.”
As for Israel, “The Israelis have illegally occupied Palestinian territories for over 40 years now,” Wright has said. “Divestment has now hit the table again as a strategy to wake the business community and wake up Americans concerning the injustice and the racism under which the Palestinians have lived because of Zionism.”
Obama says he found religion and Jesus Christ through Wright, whom he met in the mid-1980s. He has been attending Wright’s church regularly since 1988.
The church occupies a tan building on West 95th Street near a public housing project and railroad tracks. Since becoming pastor in 1972, Wright has seen the church’s membership grow to more than 8,500. The church is the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ, a predominantly white denomination known for its liberal politics.
In 1991, Obama joined the church and walked down the aisle in a formal commitment of faith. Wright later married Obama and Michelle Robinson and baptized their two daughters.
The title of Obama’s bestseller “The Audacity of Hope” comes from one of Wright’s sermons. Wright is one of the first people Obama thanked after his election to the Senate in 2004.
But Obama’s life does not exactly support Wright’s thesis that blacks in America are oppressed. A Harvard Law School graduate, Obama married a black Princeton graduate who also has a degree from Harvard Law School. Obama is a U.S. senator from Illinois; his wife is a vice president of the University of Chicago Hospitals. With his wife, Obama has been making more than $1 million a year.
On a few points, Obama has sought to distance himself from Wright’s teachings or explain them away. While Wright is his pastor and friend, Obama has said, they do not see eye to eye on everything. In particular, Obama has said he “strongly disagrees with any portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that advocates divestment from Israel or expresses anything less than strong support for Israel’s security.”
As for Wright’s repeated comments blaming America for the 9/11 attacks, Obama has said it sounds as if the minister was trying to be “provocative.”
Just before Obama’s nationally televised campaign kickoff rally last Feb. 10, the candidate disinvited Wright from giving the public invocation. Wright explained: “When [Obama’s] enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli” to visit Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, “a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell.”
According to Wright, Obama then told him, “’You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we’ve decided is that it’s best for you not to be out there in public.’” But privately, Obama and his family prayed with Wright just before the presidential announcement.
To his credit, Obama so far has avoided race-specific appeals as part of his candidacy, accounting in part for his widespread appeal.
Obama “has taught the black community you don’t have to act like Jesse Jackson, you don’t have to act like Al Sharpton,” conservative commentator Bill Bennett said on CNN on Jan. 3. “You can talk about the issues. [Obama has] great dignity.”
But if Obama rejects Wright’s warped view of this country, why does he continue to attend his church, raising the question of whether Obama secretly agrees with his friend and mentor? At the least, Obama’s membership in Wright’s church suggests a lack of judgment and an insensitivity to views that are repugnant to the vast majority of white Americans who are not bigots.
That same lack of judgment has shown up in Obama’s gaffes—threatening to invade Pakistan and offering prompt negotiations with anti-American despots. More frightening, Obama voted last August to give Osama bin Laden and other terrorists the same rights as Americans when it comes to intercepting their overseas calls in order to pick up clues needed to stop another attack.
Jen Psaki, a spokesman for Obama’s campaign, has tried to paper over the candidate’s support of the Black Value System by saying that Obama “believes its basic tenets of commitment to God, to community, to self-discipline and self-reliance continue to have applicability not only to the African-American community but to all people.”
But that is not what the Black Value System says. One can only imagine the outrage that would erupt if a white presidential candidate like Romney subscribed to something called the White Value System. Yet while Obama has been referred to in the media tens of thousands of times in the past month, only one story in the Concord Monitor in New Hampshire offhandedly mentioned Obama’s church’s “unashamedly black” slogan.
In contrast, in an exquisite example of the double standard they apply to Democrats versus Republicans, the media love to focus on Romney’s religion, which is not relevant to how he would perform as president. Close to half the media references to Romney refer to the fact that he is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Very few of them mention that he is both a Harvard Law School and Harvard Business School graduate, credentials that are relevant to how he would perform as president.
When Romney’s father ran for president, his religion was not an issue simply because the media rightly recognized that it was not pertinent to his candidacy. Today, as part of their coverage of Romney, the media run denigrating quotes about Mormonism that they would never dare to run about any other religion. At the same time, the media have largely ignored or downplayed the clearly racist slogan of Obama’s church and the anti-American and anti-Israel stances of its pastor.
In two exceptions to the media blackout, Tucker Carlson of MSNBC described Trinity as having a “racially exclusive theology” that “contradicts the basic tenets of Christianity.” Sean Hannity of Fox News confronted Wright on TV and asked how a black value system is any more acceptable than a white value system.
If a white presidential candidate’s church had a similar statement and “you substitute the word black for white, there would be an outrage in this country,” Hannity said. “There would be cries of racism in this country.’”
“If your spiritual advisor makes outrageous statements, it’s incumbent on you as a leader to denounce those statements,” says Brad Blakeman, a former Bush White House aide who heads the conservative Freedom’s Watch. “Silence is an admission that you agree with what your spiritual advisor pronounces.”
If his church membership calls into question Obama’s judgment, the dichotomy in the coverage of his and Romney’s religious affiliations spotlights the media’s double standard and how its skewed reporting influences who will become president.
But media bias or not, if Obama is his party’s nominee, his Republican opponent will rightly be able to make use of Rev. Wright and his radical teachings as effectively as supporters of George H.W. Bush used Willie Horton’s furlough to help Bush win the presidency.