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Wright Knew He’d Be Trouble For Obama

A year old interview from the Religion & Ethics News Weekly, brought to you by taxpayer funded PBS:

INTERVIEW: Rev. Jeremiah Wright

March 9, 2007    Episode no. 1028

Read more of R & E correspondent Deborah Potter’s February 7, 2007 interview in New Orleans with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright:

Q: Barack Obama calls you his spiritual mentor and role model.

A: He’s kind in his use and choice of language. Someone just asked me … about mentoring Barack and I said, you know, Barrack came here like he is now. I can’t take credit for that. Barack has always been someone committed to grassroots organization, committed to the poor, committed to all people, committed to trying to find common ground. In fact, when I met him I called him the dreamer, and I’m laughing because the night he was elected he asked me to deliver the opening prayer. And before I led his supporters in prayer I said I just want to say to you publicly — your dream has come true. And I said that because when I met him he came into my office with all these wonderful ideas. He was a community organizer … He was the organizer of all the churches in Chicago and got us all working together across the denominational lines. And I listened to him and I said, “Do you know what Joseph’s brothers said to him when they saw him coming across the field?’ He said, “No.” I said, “They said behold the dreamer. You’re dreamin’. This ain’t going to happen.” Well, the night he was elected I said your dream has come true, because he had pulled off bringing together disparate people, ethnicities, interests, from down-state — I’ve been in Chicago since ’69, and it’s always been Chicago versus the rest of the state. He’s been down-state and gotten miners, farmers, people in Cairo, Illinois, people who wouldn’t even think about Chicago much less a black person voting for them, because he’d shone an interest in them, because six years in the state legislature have show he really cares about people, that he’s not waving any banners or flags about my way or the doorway, you know, black power — no, people power. That we can — black, white, Hispanic, Asian — we’ve got kids to raise, we’ve got neighborhoods to keep safe, we’ve got women and children to be concerned [about]. We all have common interests. Well, that kind — he was like that, he was like that. And, you know, I’d like to take credit and say yes, I made him who he is. No, I didn’t. He was like that when I met him. He’s been like that 23 years now. And right after he was elected I was at the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. And they said what word of advice would you give to Senator Barack Obama now that he’s United States senator? That you please stay the same now that you’re in the United States Senate as you’ve been across the years, because that’s very important.

Q: He says that he believes one of your roles in his life today is to make sure he doesn’t get lost in the hype.

A: Well, he talks to me about spiritual things. Somebody asked me something about …oh, his first vote. It angered a lot of the African American community who had voted for him. His very first vote was to confirm Condoleezza Rice in her new position. And I said, well, let me answer your question two ways, ’cause they’d jumped on me. I said two ways. First of all, what committee is Barack on? What committee in the Senate? Well, Foreign. I said who’s sitting at the table every time they have to meet? Condi. Now, how can he get anything having voted against her? She knows he voted against her. That’s going to be — because his objective is benefiting the people in Africa and foreign countries over which his committee has oversight. That’s all going down the toilet because you’re mad at me when I walk in here [because] you know I voted against you, right? Now that’s just my first answer. I said now that would be my educated guess as an outsider. I’m not a politician. But secondly, I was saying to our members who were upset, Barack doesn’t talk to me about political things like that. You know, that’s not my role in his life, never been my role. He’s six years in the [Illinois] Senate. He never asked me anything about any piece of legislation whatsoever. He talks to me as his pastor, and I talk to him as a member. That’s the kind of relationship we have. So, when as he says “as a sounding board” — we talk about issues of life — parenting. You said he’s about to announce, and I’m laughing because of what I said to him when he came to my home. Right after he was elected, you remember the hype. They said, “You think he’ll run for the presidency?” So the news persons were asking me that, and my response up until the day they came to my home several months ago, I said, “Before Barack asks God, he will ask Michelle.” What do you mean by that? Barack — you don’t understand how important family is to him. And you don’t understand how — he hated the state legislature — not “that’s what I do for a living,” but that “it took me away from my girls” three nights a week. He really gets a kick out of putting them to bed. You know, the hugs and the huggables and all that. That’s Barack. And not being with his kids bothers him, alright. And I said — this is right at the week of his election — if you think Michelle’s moving to D.C. you’ve got another thing [sic] coming. She’s not leaving. And I know he’s going to have a hard time being down there three days a week and being here two days a week, that kind of thing, you know, four days, four and three. Before he made that kind of decision he would have to talk to her, and he would talk to her, because that’s a priority. Family’s priority for him.

Q: But I get the impression from what you said that he would also talk to God.

A: When he came to see me and he started talking about the election I said, “I see you’ve already talked to Michelle because you’re here now to hear what God might think about this kind of run.” “I’m assuming that’s the role I’m fulfilling because I know you wouldn’t be here had you not talked with Michelle.” And he started laughing, because they had talked about it. Oh yeah… but he’s the kind of person, again, whose interest is the people: “If I can’t serve the people then why am I doing this? Why am I doing this?” He had said — I don’t know if you know this or not, I think it might be in his book, second book — that he had made a decision if he didn’t win to come out of politics. That he and Michelle had talked about that, had talked that through. After the drubbing with Bobby Rush thing, he said well, I’m going to make this run, but if it doesn’t work I’m coming out and just going to, you know, teach and law practice and be home.

Q: I read that when he first came to your church that you actually warned him that it might not be a good idea for him to associate with your church. Can you talk about that?

A: Yeah, I am not popular. I’m really not known. People have perspectives about me. In fact, one article recently said that I was a maverick. I am not your typical garden-variety African-American clergy person, and because I’m not — he was talking about organizing the churches in those early days. I said, man, you don’t know who you’re talking to. They don’t like me. I’m not well liked in the city of Chicago, so you tell them you’re a member of Trinity, you’re going to turn off preachers before they ever get to know you, ’cause they’re going to associate you with me, and just that association could be a negative in terms of how you are perceived in their eyes before you open your mouth — “Oh, you go to Jeremiah’s church.” That kind of negative imaging I said might be harmful to him in terms of what he was trying to do in building coalitions and getting other churches to do things, again, for the benefit of the people. That would never happen just because they’re going to associate your name with mine. That could be detrimental, I told him back then. It holds just as true, even more so, now. In fact, I just shared with, I was trying to remember who it is, somebody in public life was asking me about Barack, and I said listen, Barack might be forced by the media and/or by supporters to be very absent from this church and to put distance between our church and himself. As a politician, he might be forced into that. I have not talked to him about that at all. It’s just that my read just of the blogs and what the right-Christian-wing leaders have said about him being a part of our church over past three months says this is — you think it’s ugly now, it’s going to get worse, it’s going to get much worse. For survival’s sake, as a politician he just might have to not — not that I love you less, I love me more. I’ll never get elected as long as they keep harping on this. And that’s — again, I haven’t talked to him about that at all.

Q: How do you feel about that?

A: I would understand. I really would. I would understand. For instance … he can’t afford the Jewish support to wane or start questioning his allegiance to the state of Israel because I’m saying the position we’ve taken in terms of Palestinians is wrong, and I think we need to revisit that. Just that kind of statement would cause negative repercussions in some quarters in terms of some supporters, in terms of some people he needs to support his election campaign.

Q: So you’re willing to distance?

A: Yeah. I don’t want to hurt him. …

Q: Talk to me about the power of faith in his life, if you will. How should we understand that?

A: I think he said it probably best at the Call to Renewal speech that he gave at National City Christian Church, when Jim Wallis’s group had that, I think it was called Call to Renewal, that conference there. … His position across the years has been I know who I am, I know what I believe, but I don’t disrespect you or diminish you because you have a different belief, and we don’t have to believe the same thing to get along and to build a better world — that we can coexist. That he happens to believe that Shiites and Sunnis and Orthodox Jews and Conservative Jews and Catholics and Protestants can all live in the same neighborhood and have their kids go to school together without fighting and killing each other. That doesn’t we stop praying at home or stop going to church or teach our kids our faith. … Yes, this is who we are, this is what we believe, but that doesn’t mean that somebody else who believes differently is inferior or that we hate them. That’s how I’ve seen faith operate in his life, and that’s one of the reasons I think he’s so successful in moving across the aisle, in moving across denominations, in moving across interfaith, talking to people who are not Christian without beating them over the head with his Christianity. It gets him trouble with the hard-rights on both sides — the hard-core left people, the hard-core right people — but that’s how I see his embracing the faith and how faith informs his life as a public servant.

Q: He knew you a long time before he responded to an altar call. What do you think moved him to do that?

A: I don’t know. I would like to — somebody said last week did you ever think one of your sermons would be used as a mantra in a Democratic convention speech and a title to a book of a presidential candidate? No, I did not. I think, okay, if I were a person caught up in ego I would say “my powerful preaching.” I think it’s that he found a church that — and you know he checked out a lot of churches. And probably more the conversations we had outside of church, and outside of the sermons, than my preaching or worship experience –he found a church that was firmly committed to both arms of the cross. The personal spirituality, the personal piety, and the social action — that when the benediction was over, what are you doing? As he mentions from time to time, the Free South Africa sign caught his attention. What’s a church on South Side Chicago? Most people don’t even know where Johannesburg is. They think it’s in Mississippi somewhere. Steve Biko? You’re talking about Steve Biko? Black consciousness movement? Who’s Nelson Mandela? Well, after Tutu and Mandela became media events — but here we were in the ’70s talking about it. That fascinated him, because the average church was talking about the pastor’s anniversary and chicken dinners and car washes. And here we are talking about the connectedness of the people of God across the globe. That intrigued him.

Interesting, is it not?

Yeah, I am not popular. I’m really not known. People have perspectives about me. In fact, one article recently said that I was a maverick. I am not your typical garden-variety African-American clergy person, and because I’m not — he was talking about organizing the churches in those early days. I said, man, you don’t know who you’re talking to. They don’t like me. I’m not well liked in the city of Chicago, so you tell them you’re a member of Trinity, you’re going to turn off preachers before they ever get to know you, ’cause they’re going to associate you with me, and just that association could be a negative in terms of how you are perceived in their eyes before you open your mouth — “Oh, you go to Jeremiah’s church.” That kind of negative imaging I said might be harmful to him in terms of what he was trying to do in building coalitions and getting other churches to do things, again, for the benefit of the people. That would never happen just because they’re going to associate your name with mine. That could be detrimental, I told him back then. It holds just as true, even more so, now.

So much for the claim that Trinity is a typical black church and Mr. Wright a typical black pastor.

And so much for the claim that Mr. Obama didn’t know what the church was all about:

I think it’s that he found a church that — and you know he checked out a lot of churches. And probably more the conversations we had outside of church, and outside of the sermons, than my preaching or worship experience –he found a church that was firmly committed to both arms of the cross. The personal spirituality, the personal piety, and the social action — that when the benediction was over, what are you doing?

As for Mr. Wright’s willingness to distance himself from Mr. Obama, by February 27, 2007 we had already posted about Mr. Wright and his church (here and here). So he knew that eventually there would be trouble.

As did Mr. Obama.

(Click here for another PBS interview with Mr. Wright, which seems to have occurred six months later.)

This article was posted by Steve on Thursday, March 20th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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