Monday, April 30, 2007

Between Barack and the Wright Place

Pastors can wield enormous influence in the life of someone seeking spiritual answers. Such was the case of Pastor Wright a U.C.C. minister in Chicago and Barack Obama-- a relationship that has been built over the last twenty years, and reveals a good deal about the interests and yearnings of Senator O'Bama, and why he came to embrace the Christian faith There is a very interesting article about this relationship in this morning N.Y. Times. Here is the link---

Jeremiah Wright is like many African American preachers of his generation. His especial strength is in the area of the social Gospel when it comes to his preaching. He sounds like a more flamboyant and less eloquent version of Martin Luther King Jr., with the benefit of hindsight that Martin did not have. Two things about Wright's preaching that did not much characterize King is his Afrocentric approach to theology and preaching, and his attempt to relate the Gospel to black music culture-- including R+B. Hip Hop is apparently too recent for Pastor Wright.

One of the interesting angles of this article is that it chronicles briefly the friendship between Barack and Jim Wallis. Here is an interesting quote from Jim about Barack--- “He comes from a very secular, skeptical family,” said Jim Wallis, a Christian antipoverty activist and longtime friend of Mr. Obama. “His faith is really a personal and an adult choice. His is a conversion story.”

In other words, all the rhetoric from the Fox Noise Channel about Barack's Muslim school education can be ignored. It was no more influential in his religious or spiritual life than the fact that he went to a Catholic school for a while when he was young as well. What is also clear about Barack's embracing of the Christian faith is that it was certainly not politically motivated. Barack spent a long time reflecting on whether to become a Christian or not during a period in his life where there was little or nothing to be gained politically by doing so. Obama is not a one dimensional figure, and his faith reflects his larger values in some respects-- particularly his attempt to find good in various different approaches to contentious issues.

For example Jodi Kantor, who wrote the article for the Times relates this-- "Mr. Obama reassures liberal audiences about the role of religion in public life, and he tells conservative Christians that he understands why abortion horrifies them and why they may prefer to curb H.I.V. through abstinence instead of condoms. AIDS has spread in part because “the relationship between men and women, between sexuality and spirituality, has broken down, and needs to be repaired,” he said to thunderous applause in December at the megachurch in California led by the Rev. Rick Warren, a best-selling author." ( thanks to the N.Y. Times for the use of the quoted material. Please read and cite the original article).

Obama's positions will not entirely please either the religious or secular right or the religious or secular left either. He is his own person, and so far as I can see, while he tries to listen to and relate to everyone, he panders to no one.

I do not know if Barack Obama is electable. To most white conservative Evangelicals he will surely appear to be a liberal Protestant at best, even if his faith is accepted as genuine. And of course there are genuine concerns about his lack of experience in Washington in very uncertain times, but of course that didn't prevent George W. Bush from becoming President.

What I do know is this--- all, and I do mean all of the Presidents since Nixon have been Protestant Christians who could or at least tried to relate to Protestant constituencies, including especially Evangelicals. We will see what happens come the fall, and the weeding out process of candidates. Rick Warren took enormous personal heat for having Obama at his AIDS conference at Saddleback. This may be a barometer of how Obama would be received in other large white Evangelical settings as well. Time will tell.

In the meantime, we should pray for all the candidates running for our highest office. The next four years promise to be rough ones for America with lots of hard choices, and a massive Federal debt thanks to the war in Iraq.


James Garth said...

I think Obama presents a fascinating choice for Christians who are tired of having their faith tied inextricably in the public consciousness to militarism, tax cuts for the wealthy, disdain for the environment, etc.

I thought Bush's concept of 'compassionate conservatism' was intriguing, and promised much, but in the end it has delivered precious little. Obama's 'audacity for hope' philosophy seems consistent with biblical ideals and, as Time magazine quips, he can certainly "talk the Christian talk".

And I think that his integrity over his vote to oppose the Iraq war may yet to prove to be a real ace up his sleeve as the war drags on...

In terms of his electability... I wonder how conservative Christians would go if faced with a toss up between Obama and divorcees Giuliani or McCain? Surely their public confessions of extramarital affairs would raise the ire of the conservatives? Or - as Warren's experience at Saddleback darkly hints - will conservatives choose to ignore Obama's otherwise fine character qualities because he dares to question the sacred pro-life cow?

Anonymous said...

Obama is even more liberal than Hillary Clinton. In fact he is the most liberal in the U.S. Senate. I think being on the far far left of the Democratic Party is not going to grab much positive attention from Evangelical Christians. It's not just abortion but him being in bed with the ACLU is not much help.


Tortfeasor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tortfeasor said...

"Dares to question the sacred pro-life cow"?

Believe it or not, James, the abortion issue is more than "sacred cow" among many Christians. It's a tragedy that weighs heavy on their hearts and consciences. Why should they be asked or expected to compromise such a deeply held belief for the sake of a man with "otherwise fine character qualities"?

Jason Dulle said...

I agree with Nathan. Abortion is not some ideological sacred cow that conservatives like to use as a wedge issue. We actually believe it is the slaughter of defenseless, innocent human beings. As human beings, the unborn are of no less value than are the born. If we had a situation in which 1.3 million 6 year olds were being murdered by their parents in this country, a Presidential candidates position on the topic would take front and center stage. But when the human being is tiny and hidden behidn a veil of flesh, we are told to not be so concerned about the issue. Nonsense. Abortion is the decisive issue of our day, and while a candidate's view on the issue may not matter for some level's of government, there is no office in which it matters more than the office of President. I don't see how anyone who opposes abortion can vote for a pro-abortion candidate (assuming one of the candidates is pro-life). It's not about party; it's about valuing and protecting human life. That's more important than the war, and more important than the economy. It trumps all other issues.


Jay said...

don't you think abortion is more a crisis of public opinion than leadership, though?

I get the feeling more and more that single-issue voting is leading us down some very wrong paths in areas that are considered lower priorities. While a pro-life president may be inclined to influence legal matters regarding abortion, what needs to happen is ground-level shifting of public opinion, so that any favorable comments regarding abortion become as toxic for public figures to utter as a genocidal comment ought to be - meaning that if the general public doesn't consider abortion to be utterly horrific in every way, then there is a breakdown in communication happening, not a breakdown in leadership.

If the public overwhelmingly believes an issue to be reprehensible, politicians will follow suit. As it stands, abortion is considered by the mainstream to be a "necessary evil".

WE have to change that perception, not the politicians.

If a pro-choice president were to 'switch over' after what he percieves as a public outcry for a moral wrong, the effect would be much more profound than a man who has already been labeled "pro-life" simply preaching to the choir.

To me this is a matter of us christians as a group constantly trying to go over everyone's head and force them through legal means to masquerade as believers when they are fallen, rather than helping them out of their fallenness.

Tortfeasor said...


I understand your point, but thanks to Roe v. Wade, public opinion now matters very little with respect to restrictions on or the legality of abortion. Through non-elected judges, the abortion lobby has managed to snatch the abortion question away from the public and their elected representatives.

Because the President appoints federal judges, he/she is the most influential elected official -- by far -- when it comes to the abortion issue. As long as Roe remains good law -- an abysmal legal opinion by any objective measure, whether you believe abortion is murder or not -- a presidential candidate's position on abortion will, and should, remain *extremely* important to those who care about the issue.

It has certainly not been the pro-life lobby that has tried to force its view on the rest of the public. The pro-choice lobby achieved that goal in 1973.

That said, I agree that the "hearts and minds" battle remains exceedingly important.

Tortfeasor said...

And more to the point:

The *worst* way for pro-lifers to influence hearts and minds is to elect politicians who repeatedly refer to and ardently defend a woman's "right to choose." While the public often influences a leader's position, just as often a leader -- especially one with the presidential bully pulpit -- influences the public opinion.

James Garth said...

Actually for the record I do classify myself as pro-life in that I believe abortions should be illegal except for the cases maternal life, rape or incest...
The term 'Pro-life cow' is my own rhetorical sleight-of-hand, to be sure. But I'm still very interested to know whether Obama's stance should be sufficient grounds for Christians to overwhelmingly choose not to elect him. Surely Bush was the great white hope for overturning Roe, but it still remains there after two terms in the White House. In terms of seeking tangible results, its doubtful ANY of the contesting candidates would seek to overturn it. Hence, should Christians make their decision on whether to elect Obama on how he stands on other issues, not merely abortion?

What I do find fascinating is that issue seems to persistently be among the top two or three in American politics. It can really make or break a candidate.

In Australia, my home country, you'd be lucky if abortion registers once or twice in the media's eye over the course of a year... seriously, no one wishes to talk about it. A sad indictment of us Aussies perhaps?

Tortfeasor said...


Although Roe still stands after almost two full Bush terms, the appointment of Alito and Roberts to SCOTUS has no doubt shifted the balance of power on the Court. Perhaps you missed the recent SCOTUS decision upholding the federal Partial Birth Abortion Act. Were O'Connor still on the Court rather than Alito, I have little doubt that it would have come out the other way.

Alas, a president can only nominate as many justices as retirement or death allows.

Personally, I am very interested in the whole candidate and his/her entire catalogue of views. But my conscience says that abortion is a deal-breaker. I'm not interested in a pro-choice president. Congressman? Perhaps. Governor? As long as Roe stands, it matters little. But as a presidential candidate, if you're pro-choice, you will not get my vote as long as Roe is the law of the land.

(If the Democrats were capable of nominating a pro-choice candidate, I would give him/her a long, hard look. Unfortunately, the pro-life national Democrat has gone the way of the dodo.)

And Christians who feel the same way should not be castigated as simple-minded robots for refusing to compromise on such a deeply held religious principle.

Tortfeasor said...

The above post should say: "If the Democrats were capable of nominating a pro-LIFE candidate..."

See? It's become difficult to put the words "Democrat" and "pro-life" in the same sentence, even. :)

The Vegas Art Guy said...

I'd pick Guliani over Obama in a heartbeat. Guliani has seen terrorisim up close and personal and understands the true nature of the threat we face. He's not the perfect canidate, but he's far better than Obama.

Unknown said...

I still like Edwards......I like Obama, but I couldn't tell you one thing he stands for...

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Ray:
You are wrong about Obama. You should look at the voting record of folks like Barney Frank or Ted Kennedy or Nancy Pelosi if you want to see what the liberal left edge of the Democratic Party looks like. Obama is there on numerous issues.

Go Sox,


Ben Witherington said...

oops, I meant isn't there on numerous issues.


Tortfeasor said...

Actually, Dr. Witherington and Ray, you can check for yourself how different interest groups have assessed Obama's voting record here:

Obama gets a 100% rating from Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal interest group. For comparison's sake, Pelosi and Kennedy both get a 95% rating.

Obama gets 100% ratings from NARAL and Planned Parenthood, and a 0% rating from National Right-to-Life.

Obama's voting record is among the most liberal in Congress. That is a fact. Whether that's a good thing or not, I guess, depends upon your political leanings.

Nick said...

I tend to agree with James. I'm as pro-life as they come, but I feel like I voted for the best chance we had at reversing Roe v. Wade in GWB, and put him in for 2 terms, but it has not happened. There are other issues like finances and the environment that i think the Dems do a better job of addressing, so should we continue to put Repubs in the seat just because they are pro-life, even though they are not doing anything about it (or at least accomplishing very little)? I understand there were some judges appointed, which is good, but is it as close to being overturned as some republicans would lead us to believe?

I am reading Obama's book, and what i like about him is that he seems to be a strait shooter. At least that is how he has come across to me.

Unknown said...

It's funny how everyone gets so up in arms over abortion but no one seems to care too much about the killing in Iraq because the war is "just". The senior Bush was in charge when our army managed to poison the water in Iraq which caused countless of child deaths post-war. But because he was a Republican Pro-Life Christian, just like his son, who cares.

W. has managed to change the face of the Supreme Court and a landmark case against abortion was ruled on just recently. However, it was really just a moral victory. The procedure outlawed isn't even the dominating procedure for late term abortions. And to James, an abortion in the case of incest and rape is still abortion.

We Christians love to hold hands across the city with signs in our hands once a year saying abortion is wrong and abortion kills babies. Then we go home and blog about how terrible abortion is and feel that our job is done.

What if abortion was completely outlawed? What would happen to those children that were then birthed? There are over 500,000 children in the foster care system in this country with over 100,000 of them waiting to be adopted. How many foster parents does your middle class white church have?

Maybe before we get so proud of ourselves for voting only for the Pro-Life candidates, we should actually do something. Adopt, foster, volunteer to counsel pregnant teens.

I am against abortion as much as the next guy but I am also committed to doing more than talking and picketing. We are commanded to care for the least of these (including specifically orphans - James 1:27) and that extends to more than just single issue voting. What about how the candidate views the poor - abortions have actually risen under our wonderful Christian conservative president.

Abortion is a wedge issue and is used as such just like that joke of amendment to ban homesexual marriage. Maybe being Pro-Life is not the only way to reduce abortions in this country.

Tortfeasor said...

What can one say to such histrionics?

That's quite a broad brush you've got there, Kev.

Jason Dulle said...


Yes, we have to change public opinion as well, but you are creating a false dichotomy in your “either the public or the politicians.” You are correct to say that when public opinion changes politicians follow suit (sometimes; think of cloning), but that doesn’t mean we disregard the political players. If we did, we wouldn’t have all the legislation being passed that puts restrictions on abortion. We have those laws because pro-lifers are working to convince the public and the legal system of our viewpoint.

And being against abortion has nothing to do with one’s faith, logically speaking. No one is trying to get politicians to feign religion. We are trying to persuade them to do what they can to protect innocent human beings from slaughter.

Nathan said the rest of what I wanted to say, so I’ll stop here.


Jason Dulle said...


Yes, Obama’s stance on abortion is justification to reject him from office. This is particularly so if the purpose of government is to promote justice. If killing innocent and defenseless human beings is a moral wrong, and Obama wants to protect the right of people to commit that moral wrong, then he is not fit for public office. A vote for Obama would be a vote for injustice.

By no means is this analogy exact, but think of Hitler. Let’s say we had the opportunity to vote for him in an election. Would his stance on the killing of Jews disqualify him from being elected to office? Of course it would. He killed some six million Jews, the same number of people who are killed during a four year tenure of a President through abortion. I sure hope you wouldn’t vote for Hitler. He may have the best economic policies, the best foreign policies, etc., but his support for the killing of millions of innocent people trumps every other quality he may have. You might say, “But that is different!” How so? The only thing that differs between the murder of Jews in Europe and the murder of babies in America is their size, location, level of development, and degree of dependency, none of which are morally relevant to their moral status as members of the human race. Abortion is the defining issue, particularly for the office of President.


Jason Dulle said...


I love your posts!


Jay said...

Good points guys...

I guess I just have an incredibly cynical attitude towards politicians. I'm concerned that a politician who is interested in forwarding dangerous and irresponsible legislation in other areas can effectively get a free pass from pro-life voters in the absence of other pro-life candidates.

I feel that many politicians have decided that christians are just a large special interest group that can be bought for the low price of feigning opposition to abortion, with no intention of actually sticking their necks out in any way.

The republican party basically owns us because they make the most promises and occasionally throw us a bone that some progress is being made. However (and this is the cynic in me speaking) knowing that politics is more about power than doing what is right to most politicians and political parties, they are also aware that the moment Roe v Wade is actually overturned, they have lost their trump card for "the guaranteed christian vote". This will drag on indefinitely if we leave it up to elected officials to effect change.

I would hate to think we'd elect someone who could start WWIII because we all turned a blind eye towards everything but abortion.

Nick said...


You say A vote for Obama would be a vote for injustice. What about the countless other justice issues? The war? The AIDS Pandemic that we are hardly involved in? Wordlwide poverty? If you take your statement as fact, not only would it not be possible to vote for anything other than injustice, but every president we have ever had has certainly turned his back on injustice at some point, so they all must be remembered as unjust as well?

Abortion is horrible and rediculous and evil, but their are other issues. I share in a bit of Jays cynicism.

Tortfeasor said...


I don't disagree with a lot of what you say. And I've been very disappointed with Bush's leadership on many issues.

But with respect to abortion and judges, he's done more than "throw a bone" -- he has appointed two very competent, strict constructionist (for lack of a better term) jurists who have already made their presence felton the Court on the abortion issue. As I said above, you only get to appoint justices when there is a vacancy.

Rest assured, you will find no one more cynical of politicians and their motives than me. (It has taken every ounce of restraint I can muster to keep from railing on Dr. Witherington's child-like acceptance of Sen. Obama as a man incapable of political calculation. Oops.) Indeed, when I encounter any politician, especially a presidential candidate, I start from a position of total distrust: what makes this person insane enough to run for office, exposing himself and his family to the ruthlessness of a national campaign? What makes him/her think he/she is qualified to lead the free world? Truth be told, I really dislike politicians, the whole desperate lot of them.

But I digress. The Republican Party is by no means a perfect home for conservatives or Christians. It is, after all, a political party bound together by a desire for power, not a commitment to principle -- just as the Democratic Party is.

JJ said...

Nick writes,

"What about the countless other justice issues? The war? The AIDS Pandemic that we are hardly involved in? Wordlwide poverty?"

Since so much Bush-bashing goes on on this blog, particularly from Dr. Witherington, I think the following remarks from Bono of U2 to Pres. Bush at the National Prayer Breakfast last year are appropriate to keep some perspective:

"Here's some good news for you, Mr. President. After 9-11, we were told America would have no time for the world's poor. We were told America would be taken up with its own problems of safety. And it's true these are dangerous times, but America has not drawn the blinds and double-locked the doors.

In fact, you have doubled aid to Africa. You have tripled funding for the global health -- for global health. And Mr. President, your emergency plan for AIDS relief and support of the Global Fund -- you and Congress -- has put 700,000 people onto life-saving anti-retroviral drugs and provided eight million bed nets to protect children from malaria.

Outstanding human achievements. Counterintuitive, I think you'll admit, but -- but -- but historic. You should be very, very proud."

He goes on to encourage the U.S. to do more, but the point is that this administration has done a lot more to fight poverty and HIV/AIDS than they are given credit for.

Like many people posting here, these issues are very important to me. The abortion issue is also very important. But I get rather tired of being accused of not caring about other social justice issues simply because I care deeply about the abortion issue.

I really look up to people like Mother Theresa who stood up to all forms of injustice including, but not limited to, abortion.

kamatu said...

Your foster/adopt position isn't relevant and is commonly used by the abortionists to avoid the main issue. IOW, it is a cheap debating trick of the ad hom variety.

The only relevance is human life. Part of the problem with the foster care system is that it has introduced the usual bureaucratic nightmare that anything turned over to State control gets us. For example, to get registered in the system, not only would I have to get an anal probe by standards not set by the social worker (who is usually real reasonable and can apply common sense), but by the standards of some lard bottom several levels higher who doesn't see the public and simply wants to keep his cushy job without getting investigated, so some serious silliness ensues.

For example, I'm disabled and the manner of my disability means I cannot pass a public system home study. Period. Doesn't matter how I can adapt, overcome and improvise to work with my disabilities. So when my wife and I did adopt, it had to be through the private system.

Jason Dulle said...


You think the war is unjust. I don’t. We toppled a ruthless dictator who was anything but just, and we’re currently fighting terrorist groups there. What is unjust about that? AIDS is not an injustice, and it’s not the fault of any government. It is a disease, like so many other deadly diseases. Governments are not responsible to prevent people of dying of disease, but they are responsible to protect their citizens from being purposely killed. That’s what abortion is: one citizen killing another innocent human being. It’s bad enough to turn a cheek to it, but any leader who supports its continuance is not fit for office.

Poverty is not an injustice either. And in America, there is no reason one must remain poor. There is every opportunity in the world to rise above poverty. Besides, helping the poor should be done mostly by private citizens.

Yes, no President has been entirely just. No government has. That’s not the point. The point is eliminating the greatest injustices. Abortion is clearly the greatest injustice. Killing 1.3 million babies is nothing when compared against the thousands who die naturally of disease, or even 1.3 million poor people. It’s better to be alive and poor than be dead.

Yes, there are other issues than abortion, but they are not as important. Like I said earlier, would your response be different if it were 1.3 million six year olds who were being killed in this country? Would that issue then take center stage for you in an election? If so, why?


Nick said...

I appriciate your comments Jason and Jordon.

Jason, we could disagree about the war...each person has his own opinion. I would say that there are no easy answers when it comes to the war in Iraq. I choose to think of it as an injustice issue, because so many innocent people are suffering and dying at our hand, but more might be if we were not there. Again, it is a tough issue with no easy answers. i wont go there here.

About poverty, though, I think it is an injustice when we dont "love our neighbor" as we should. I would put both AIDS and poverty in that category. For example, lack of access to clean water is the number one killer of children worldwide, killing 20,000 people everyday, which totals more than 7 million every year. Many of these are 6 year olds, per your example (which is a very valid way to think of abortion by the way). Do we as Americans, in an incredibly rich nation, have the responsibility to love our African neighbors and help them dig wells and provide clean water? I think we do, and I call it an injustice that we don't do more. Do we have a responsibility as fellow humans to help more than we are with the AIDS situation? Again, i think we do. That is why i think they are justice issues.

You mentioned the poor in America and how there is no reason to remain poor in america...That is easy to say, but the sad reality is that so many of the poor and homeless are products of destructive systems. things like alcohol abuse (by them or a family member) can be enough to start and continue the spiral into poverty. Even though much of the blame falls on the homeless alcoholic, he is essentially trapped in his addiction. what if a support group or a shelter came along side him and helped him get back on his feet? that is what is needed, not finger pointing and shame.

I am getting off track. I feel, though, that there are many justice issues that are being ignored in addition to abortion that we need to wake up to. Thanks for the dialogue.