Obama’s pastor matters *UPDATED*

I love the Anchoress’ blog, which I think is amazingly well-written, intelligent, humorous, humane and full of insight. I therefore find myself in the peculiar position of disagreeing with her twice in as many days.

The post at issue is one the Anchoress wrote in the wake of the “aha!” journalism that suddenly sprang up when Obama went public and disassociated himself from Jeremiah Wright’s more inflammatory views. Many, myself included (and I’ll explain why below), found Obama’s sudden repudiation of Wright, a repudiation made only when negative information about Wright jumped from the blogs to the MSM, disingenuous at best and suspect at most.

The Anchoress, however, is willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt, believing that it is irresponsible for conservatives to tie him too closely to his pastor. The trigger for her position in this matter was a Sean Hannity radio blast expressing, strongly, doubt in Obama’s sudden insight into the quality of the man he called his spiritual mentor:

I was in the car today and flipped on Sean Hannity and heard him really carrying on, saying that because Obama “sat in those pews for 20 years,” even if he repudiated Wright it would not be “credible.”

That’s baloney, and as a Catholic, Hannity should know better. We Catholics have more than spent our fair share of time listening to priests with whom we disagree. I don’t know how it is with Protestants – maybe their relationships with their pastors are different from ours (I do have a few Protestant friends whose families seem to shift churches whenever a pastor doesn’t 100% reflect their feelings and opinions) – but as someone who has been sitting in a particular pew for over 20 years, I know that a church is more than a pastor; it’s a community. We can say, “well, this priest or preacher doesn’t agree with me all the way – or even “I am ashamed of this priest” – but the community is my home, I love the people and programs and the worship here, so I stay.”

Is Hannity suggesting that a politician must review a pastor’s sermons each week and run around denouncing and deserting those preachers who might cause him a little bit of political heat? Wouldn’t that be both extreme behavior and a bit dis-crediting?

I think all the “denouncing” and “demanding that denouncements be made” and “denouncing whoever doesn’t denounce” and “disbelieving the denouncing” is beyond absurdist theater – it is an intellectual wasteland of expedient “gotcha-ism” that is utterly shredding our political process.

As it happens, I agree very strongly with a lot of the ultimate issues the Anchoress makes on her way to explaining why she is willing to give the benefit of the doubt to Obama’s statements about Wright: I agree that religious leaders say foolish things (don’t we all?) and that you can’t blame every parishioner for the silly utterances of his pastor. I agree that the different denominations aren’t always too fond of each other and that they say recklessly inflammatory things. I agree that some religious leaders, searching for meaning amidst the ruins of 9/11, made hurtful “Act of God” statements that most (all?) instantly recanted. I believe absolutely that a person’s doctrinal beliefs should never be considered a part of an American election. I’ve therefore reacted strongly to those trying to make something bad of Obama’s Muslim upbringing (and he was only 9, for goodness sake!). I also agree with her that dragging religion through the political process is a terrible precedent in American politics. To my mind, it risks creating a religious test for political candidacy, something to which the Founder’s were adamantly opposed.

However, despite strongly agreeing with each of the Anchoress’ broad, general principles, when it comes down to the specifics — Obama’s attempt to run away from Jeremiah Wright — I absolutely do not accept his disingenuous repudiation of the man who is both his pastor and his campaign adviser. As the MSM finally figured out, Wright has been blathering on in this horrible way for years, if not decades. Although he invokes Jesus’ name with mindless frequency, his are not doctrinal pronouncements — instead, they are left wing rants about America the evil and the evil white people who inhabit her. His remark after 9/11 was not a fire and brimstone religious statement about God’s wrath for immoral living, a la Sodom and Gomorrah (which is the way in which Jerry Falwell meant it), it was a pure left wing statement about an imperialist white America getting righteously hurt by those whom she oppressed. In this way, it was in keeping with Ward Churchill’s virtually similar statement, and Michael Moore’s similarly meant statements.

And about the fact that Wright has been preaching this stuff for years: You’ll notice that Obama never says he didn’t know about it. He just says he didn’t hear it personally. That’s lawyer talk. It means that he knew exactly what was going on but that, either because it suited him for pragmatic or ideological purposes, he did and said nothing. (American Thinker deconstructs Obama’s evasive language in this regard.)

Obama’s careful language notwithstanding, the undisputed facts are pretty telling: Obama got married in that church, he raised his children in that church and, for more than 20 years, he kept a tight relationship with this minister. Those who know him know that Jeremiah Wright shaped his beliefs, apparently from top to bottom. In other words, perhaps to his credit, Obama was not simply a Sunday morning Christian but, instead, developed a tight, intellectual relationship with this pastor, as well as with his church.

As a letter to the editor at American Thinker points out, when people have such a close relationship with the church, a relationship spanning decades, it’s simply not believable that they don’t believe and accept most of what the church offers. Here, Obama has been at great pains throughout his campaign (perhaps to escape the slur of being a Muslim) to inform people that the church is an important part of his and his family’s lives. He’s said that he’s not just there to decorate the pews, and this statement gains credibility precisely because he is so close to Wright.

Given these facts, the letter to the editor I mentioned above draws the correct conclusion:

Barack Obama either agreed with what was preached from the Trinity pulpit, or he tuned it out and stayed around pretending to for political reasons. To say he stayed for 20 years but doesn’t agree with Wright’s preaching is incredible denial. It’d be like a man buying White Sox season tickets for 20 years, attending the games, and saying he’s not a fan.

I freely admit to the fact that I’ve disliked Obama from the get-go. Indeed, to my knowledge, mine is the first place ever to liken him to Chance the Gardener in Being There, a comparison I made more than a year ago, but that is being used more and more now. I think he’s an empty suit in terms of experience and ability, and I loath his political positions. That he’s chosen to be disingenuous to the point of dishonesty when it comes to his manifest knowledge about his pastor’s positions, and his silent complicity in those inflammatory positions, is just one more reason for me not to like the man.

So, while I think the Anchoress is completely correct that it is dangerous to drag religious doctrine into the political realm, I don’t think that argument applies to what’s going on here. Obama’s pastor has been caught time and time and time again making political, not doctrinal statements, in which he’s shrieked and shouted about evil white men and the evil American government, and in which he’s praised America’s enemies for making acts of war against this country. When the evidence of Wright’s statements became to visible to ignore, Obama engaged in lawyerly deceptions about his relationship to the man and suddenly disavowed the man’s sentiments — even though he must have known about them before and never either spoke up against them or disassociated himself from them. This isn’t about religion, it’s about politics, and I’d like to end on a dignified note by saying to Obama “Liar, liar, pants on fire!”

UPDATE: Peggy Shapiro offers an interesting and disturbing insight on Obama’s silence regarding Wright’s political statements.

UPDATE II: For the political drive behind Obama’s/Wright’s brand of Christianity, check out this Power Line post.

UPDATE III:  And, as always, Mark Steyn sounds the right note.