In recent days Pastor Jeremiah Wright resurfaced to give his version of the events which occurred in the past month. He made three important media interventions: one with Bill Moyers on PBS, another at the NAACP conference in Detroit and and yet another at the National Press Club in Washington. His goal was to set the record straight. He believes the media was unfair in its treatment of various excerpts from his post-9/11 sermons to the current campaign. Pastor Wright says he was quoted out of context and the media failed in its overriding obligation to be objective in the circumstances. His appearance on PBS was subdued and well balanced, and had he left it at that, we would all be acknowledging he was a victim of biased reporting and the impact of web 2.0 technology. His speech at the NAACP emphasized the theme that being different does not mean being deficient. His message was presented in a powerful and sometimes funny manner, which only confirmed a speaking style prone to ‘showboating.’ The event of the National Press Club, however, showed a much different picture. Pomposity, arrogance, condescension, and distortion dominated his intervention. It was a sad and sorry spectacle. His dismissive attitude to Senator Obama and what he represented provoked Obama’s later reaction.
Obama had no choice but to dissociate himself and break with his former Pastor. While a lot of pundits and political operatives from the Clinton and McCain camps assert that Obama showed a lack of judgment in having had a twenty year relationship with Pastor Wright and therefore should have broken away much earlier, it is clear that Senator Obama made this painful decision at the height of a campaign moment that was seriously jeopardizing his candidacy. It is gratuitous on the part of McCain and Clinton, however, to hold this view because very few faiths are beyond reproach. To a Canadian observer such as myself, it remains perplexing that faith and politics play such a role in the political arena in a country that has a constitutional guarantee separating Church and State.
Can this be the turning point in the Obama campaign? Will it end his candidacy or seriously mortgage his bid for the presidency? Or, will it give him an opportunity to show leadership and deal with the issue of race on his terms? It is too early to tell, but Obama has handled both instances with his former pastor in a very opportune way. The speech on race he gave in Philadelphia is now seen as a landmark statement on the subject, and his decision this week, painful as it was, was the right one. Sadly, Pastor Wright strayed from the very values he has held all his life in his worship of Jesus-that is, humility, truth, and forgiveness. As a consequence, he was repudiated by the very person that represented the hope he has so dearly searched for in his ministry. Perhaps this shows how potent the mix of politics and faith can be in the course of an election campaign. Pastor Wright clearly forgot that ‘Jeremiah is not Jesus’.