Engaging Culture

The Perception Dept. – When Friends Don’t Help

In the last couple of weeks we’ve heard a lot about the “friends” of our presidential candidates. But the candidates have been quick to distance themselves from certain friends and endorsers, and in a hot political season, who you’re taking advice from becomes a very public issue. It started when John McCain received the endorsement from Pastor John Hagee from San Antonio, who’s vitriolic comments about the Catholic church have created a wave of upset Catholics. Members of the Catholic church are significant from a numbers perspective – particularly in the Hispanic community. From Hillary’s camp, Geraldine Ferraro resigned last week after remarks that were considered demeaning to Barack Obama from a racial perspective.

And now, in what is probably the most damaging from a PR standpoint, Barack Obama is quickly distancing himself from his own pastor, Jeremiah Wright. The reason the Wright issue is extremely significant is that Obama has been a church member for 20 years. Wright married the Obamas, and they’ve sat under his teaching for two decades. The videos of Wright that have appeared on the web are being called disturbing at best, extreme at worst.

While Obama’s camp is saying it’s no big deal, and Obama won’t be getting advice from Wright should he be elected, I find that hard to believe. It was Wright that came up with the phrase that became the title for Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope,” and if Obama disagrees so strongly with Wright’s philosophy and theology, why did it take 20 years for him to figure that out? It finally happening during his election run is a little coincidental. And what spiritual advisor is going to guide Obama as president? No doubt it will be the man who’s served as his pastor for pretty much his entire adult life.

What’s the point? My point is the question I’ve asked on this blog before. Who’s influencing you? What teaching are you listening to, and where does your worldview come from? This particular presidential candidate has been taught for the last 20 years from a pastor that supports Marxist based liberation theology, preaches that the U.S. created the AIDS virus to kill African Americans, and that the United States was asking for the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks because it had supported “state-sponsored terrorism” against black South Africans and Palestine. The church is now trying to fire back at the barrage of criticism that’s lit up the blogosphere, but in my opinion, it’s probably hurting their cause more than helping.

If you have a worldview born from your religious faith, then the person who advises the president of the United States on spiritual matters is an important issue. When it comes to any of the candidates, it’s something critical to consider.

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  1. Well educated, well informed people sit in the pews on Sunday with their children and nod along as their pastors spout divisive, inflammatory propaganda.  I can't imagine why.  This is a free country.  We have healthy churches and good pastors practically everywhere.  Even if you're totally spineless, the least you could do would be to quietly disappear from a divisive church and reappear the following Sunday at a wholesome one.

    Two years ago I had several talks with the leader of a ministry I was part of.  I informed him that some of the statements he was making about other ministries were blatantly false, and constituted slander.  He threw a tantrum and refused to listen or visit these other churches to see for himself.  It was thoroughly demoralizing to participate in group prayers that were laced with lies and immoral agendas.  For that reason and several others, I am no longer a part of his ministry.

    In the short range this split was very inconvenient, in the long run it has proved a blessing.  I no longer have to explain to my kids why such a badly behaved person is in a position of Christian leadership.  Further, what comes from the pulpit on Sunday is entirely wholesome and instructive. 

    Talking to a ministry leader about his bad doctrine, slanderous remarks or other inappropriate behavior seems hard in the short run.  It's a lot less costly then nodding along like a bobble-head doll on the back deck of a pimp's caddie for a decade or two.  After all, Christians aren't called to be bobble-head dolls. 

    The vast majority of pastors do a great job.  The vast majority of churches are wholesome and sane.  If yours isn't, please fix it or relocate.  Reading the defensive, (and hopelessly delusional) remarks from Wright's church, relocating seems like the best option.

    If yours is one of the  wonderful majority of Churches, lay a big bear hug on your pastor after church next Sunday!  Thank God for good pastors.  Most of them are wonderful beyond words, and we need to let them know how grateful we are.  I pray one of these wonderful pastors will make the headlines this week.

  2. To be honest, I haven’t watched television in a couple of weeks, having just returned from Ghana, West Africa. So I’ve been somewhat out of the loop and am working to get up to speed.

    I know that perception is “nine-tenths of the law.” Even so, truth still has to have some merit. I spent some time watching the videos of Dr. Wright. I must admit, there are some things he definitely shouldn’t have said. There are also some things he said that dealt with real issues (such as race issues in America and the continuing plight of all people of color). But I would have changed the “delivery”. Honestly, I saw no need for him to bring up Hillary and Bill Clinton in his message. In my opinion, there was some crossing the line and I can see why Obama has distanced himself (which, by the way began way before this issue came to the forefront of media attention.)

    I also watched some of the news commentators and interviews. An anchorman made a good comment about Dr. Wright being singled out. Out of all the messages he’s preached over the years, why does the media just focus on these? To present an unbiased report and allow the American people to make up their mind, the news media needs to show a wider breath of Dr. Wright’s teaching and look at his community work. It would seem that the news media is not presenting an unbiased view, but have a very real agenda that is being pushed ahead by someone.

    Even the issues with the “friends” Clinton and McCain associate with are being forgotten in this flurry to make Obama “guilty by association.”

    (Once again, I am not saying that I agree with everything Dr. Wright says.) In reality, how many of us agree with anyone else 100% of the time?

    Phil mentioned Marxist Liberation Theology in this post. I’m not an expert on Marxism, but as I researched it, I did notice that comes in many different forms – some negative and some with positive intentions. (Not that I consider myself a Marxist.)

    I have read some of the works of Dr. James Cone and other Liberation Theologians (while in Seminary). Liberation Theology does attempt to deal with social justice issues and try to put “feet” on the gospel so that living Christianity is about more than words, but about actually being living epistles on a daily basis. Liberation Theology seeks to keep us from compartmentalizing our faith so that we don’t worship God on Sunday and oppress our sisters and brothers on Monday in matters that we consider “business” – seperate and uniformed by our faith.

    I really don’t know what else to say. As a Christian who is African-American, I realize that this situation is complicated, with no “easy” answers.

    People have a tendancy to jump the gun on things and jump to conclusions about issues, but Jesus says “Don’t judge anything before the time.” We should acquire as much information and understanding about this issue as possible (and any other for that matter) so that we can make informed comments.

    I will say this, for Obama to sit under Dr. Wright’s preaching for 20 years and come up with a compelling message that has the potential to unite American citizens in a new way – the full breath of Dr. Wright’s teaching has had some kind of positive impact on Obama.

    In reading up on this issue, I did find an article about Dr. Wright from a website that you can read.


    I agree that perception definitely matters – especially in this day and age… And personally I am excited that both a woman and an African-American man have a real chance at the presidency. I wish that they would unite as representatives of their political party. They could do more together than they can do apart.

    Allen Paul Weaver III
    author, Transition: Breaking Through the Barriers

  3. That was a brilliant speech.  I expected nothing less.  Barak is a brilliant speaker.  What's more, it worked.  He's convinced me of his sincerity, and I empathize with him as well.  Mind you, I wasn't going to vote for him before and I won't vote for him now, but I'm no longer appalled by the notion he may become the nation's next president.


  4. PS:

    And  now we have to feel sorry for Barak Obama.  Splitting with a pastor/spiritual mentor and looking for a new church is agony.  Let's pray the two men still have a friendship.  Neither deserve to lose that.

  5. I must have missed something.

    I had no indication from that speech that he was leaving the Church.  Quite the opposite.

  6. There is a double standard at work here. White right-wing evangelicals have been saying worse for decades. However, white men who embrace Christian nationalism are given a pass, when they engage in self-righteous anger at American society. Black preachers who question the sins of white privilege are quickly treated with disrespect. The question for Christians is this: “Did Reverend Wright lie?”

    When Senator Obama's preacher thundered about racism and injustice Obama suffered smear-by-association. But when my late father — Religious Right leader Francis Schaeffer — denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the US government, he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan and Bush, Sr.

    Every Sunday thousands of right wing white preachers (following in my father's footsteps) rail against America's sins from tens of thousands of pulpits. They tell us that America is complicit in the "murder of the unborn," has become "Sodom" by coddling gays, and that our public schools are sinful places full of evolutionists and sex educators hell-bent on corrupting children. They say, as my dad often did, that we are, "under the judgment of God." They call America evil and warn of immanent destruction. By comparison Obama's minister's shouted "controversial" comments were mild. All he said was that God should damn America for our racism and violence and that no one had ever used the N-word about Hillary Clinton.

    Dad and I were amongst the founders of the Religious right. In the 1970s and 1980s, while Dad and I crisscrossed America denouncing our nation's sins instead of getting in trouble we became darlings of the Republican Party. (This was while I was my father's sidekick before I dropped out of the evangelical movement altogether.) We were rewarded for our "stand" by people such as Congressman Jack Kemp, the Fords, Reagan and the Bush family. The top Republican leadership depended on preachers and agitators like us to energize their rank and file. No one called us un-American.



  7. There's no question that there can be different standards based upon minority or majority population views.

    The issues here are more than just points of view however.

    The accusation was made from the pulpit that America deliberately released the AIDS virus to attack African America.  Is that a lie?  Is that an appropriate message even with the context of African American Churches which certainly do have a different culture than White American Churches.

    Frankly, I think Obama did a masterful job with his speech and his explanation as to why he would reject those comments but not repudiate the man.  As a White American who has sat for some time in African American Churches and even preached in a few believe it or not, I understand a little some of the issues and cultural differences that exist.  That doesn't excuse the extreme level that some of those comments rose to however and frankly I don't hear the African American community trying with a very loud voice to justify all that was said.  The focus appears to be more addressing the unfairness of lifting the comments out of 20 years of ministry and not recognizing the big picture.

    Fair enough.  But the comments are still there and Obama legitimately can be questioned as to how he stands with regard to the comments and the man who made them who is closely associated with him.  Obama did as good a job as I think anyone could do in that situation, but the fact remains, the association has cost him in public perception, at least in the short run.

    I find myself respecting the man personally even though politically I could not support him based upon his positions upon some key issues.

  8.     I'm not voting for Obama. I wasn't voting before the Wright debacle made the headlines, I'm not voting for him after his clever speech either. I am giving Obama the benefit of the doubt… and as a Christian, I'm glad he attended Wright's church, and I'm glad he grew past attending Wright's church. Growth in the right direction is good. Giving up problem behaviors and replacing them with better choices is what we're all here for.

    Divisive behavior is problem behavior. Intransigence in the face of personal error is problem behavior. Unforgiving behavior is also problem behavior.

    Some people claim that Sunday is the most racially segregated day of the week. "WHATEVER!" …as my young students like to say, rolling their eyes! Some morons, both black and white, Evangelical and other, CHOOSE to be all about race, all about divisiveness, and all about hate. This isn't a black thing, a white thing, an Evangelical thing or an Islamic thing. It's a moron thing. Yes, I stand by that remark. I don't care how smart the tests show you are. If you're a divisive genius, then your hatred has made you stupid! Stupid is as stupid does. There are plenty of racially mixed churches in America. Every one I've ever attended has fit into this category. They can't be that hard to find, 'cause I'm one of the laziest people on God's green earth! Choosing a church without a divisive racist agenda is one of the easiest good choices an American Christian can make.

     Mr. Obama stopped attending Rev. Wright's church. He did this not because Rev. Wright made inappropriate remarks, but because Rev. Wright refused to turn away from his bad behavior and move in a new direction. Rev. Wright chose intransigence over repentance. (Too bad, so sad, drive on.)

    Wright is no longer active on Obama's staff. Is that not enough? What do people want, a pound of flesh? Has open repentance no value whatsoever? Will you only be satisfied if Mr. Obama attacks Rev. Wright on every level, turning on this troubled man in every conceivable way? (Yeah, that's the kind of presidential candidate I would vote for…NOT! Why do Americans pillory politicians for showing decent levels of mercy toward fallen comrades? How nuts are we? Inquiring minds wanna know!)

    It is frankly miraculous that a young man of Mr. Obama's background chose to attend any church two decades ago! Rev. Wright's church was and is one of the most prominent and politically active churches available to Mr. Obama. That may have played into the decision – or not! Who cares why a young secular humanist chooses one church over another? For all we know, he went for the kickin' music! Soap washes, churches save… even the mediocre ones.

    All of us, regardless of social location, need to go along to get along quite a bit of the time. Is it reasonable to expect Obama, as he was twenty years ago, without the benefit of a Christian upbringing, to know the difference between disputable matters and those which must be addressed? He muddled along, we all do!

    Obama has changed course, as a response to a new understanding of the situation. I wish more people were willing to do that. I wish Reverend Wright were willing to do that. That is the fundamental difference between the redeemable and irredeemable. A blanket condemnation of Barak Obama with a refusal to accept his explanation or altered course reflects a "zero defects" mentality. Grow up already! Choose to forgive, or at least to withhold judgment for a time.

    All mothers tell their children that two wrongs don't make a right. This universal "momily" makes the following bit of silliness truly remarkable. Some people want to point fingers at white supremacist bible thumpers, and suggest that Rev. Wright's remarks are just fine as long as wackos of the opposite persuasion exist. Good grief! That's a good defense of intransigence, as such tomfoolery goes. It's lousy excuse for choosing hate over love, damnation over redemption.

    Each of us must choose. Will we be divisive, either by our own deeds and remarks or by supporting those who are divisive? Will we be intransigent, like Rev. Wright, and become defensive rather than repent? Will we fail to forgive? Frankly, I think we'd all better shoot at the wolves closest to our own sled. Obama and Wright aside for the moment, what will we choose for our own souls' sake?

  9. White Christians have been denying the problem of race since the days of slavery. During Jim Crow, most white Christians kept insisting that race was not a problem, if only people of color would obey the white power structure, they would not have the problems, they say they have. It is quite easy to ignore the sin of white privilege, because so many white Christians and white non-believers benefit from it.

    The history of White American Protestantism is ripe with justifying White Privilege.  Toady is no different. I find it interesting what white Evangelicals are willing to defend and what they are willing to ignore.

  10. Yes, some white Christians, even a significant portion of white Christians have engaged in behavior and attitudes that were and are wrong and contributed to the problems you reference.  It was wrong and it was sin and still is for those who continue to do so.

    Not all have and not all do.  Only a fool, of any color, judges and stereotypes an entire group on the actions of some or fails to recognize the many White Protestants who founded and promoted abolition and further gave their lives in fighting the South in part to bring Freedom to black Americans, exist and continue to fight and support what is right in that regard.

    I don't find it interesting to see what some White, some Blacks and some Latinos do in terms of nurturing the wounds of the past, framing the challenges of the present and tainting the hopes of the future with continued racism and baiting.  I find it quite sad and I'm not afraid to call it what it is when I see it, regardless of the source of it.

  11. My pastor has to worry about saying anything "political" — like challenging people to vote with full knowledge of who is pro-life and pro-marriage (as defined as one man and one woman).

    My pastor is threatened by IRS's history of removing a church's 501 (c) 3 status if they use the pulpit for "politics".

    Yet here are these black ministers…not just Wright but others that have been showcased on the news in the last two  weeks — who are using their pulpit to do just that.  One in Harlem that is so anti-Obama that hardly a word about God was uttered.

    Why the double standard?

  12. Well, I started my Christian life in the Afro-Latino Pentecostal churches in the barrios/ghettos of Los Angeles, and then spent a good portion of my life in the white working-class churches of the Assemblies of God…smack dab in the middle of the rise of the Religious Right. These white churches were never shy about their political allegiances. I research American Protestant churches, and the one thing white right-wing churches are not, and that is shy about the Party of God (The GOP) and the party of evil (The Democratic Party) Funny thing, how the intellectual and spiritual descendants of those racist Dixiecrats have found a home in the Republican Party.

  13. Wright's tirade was outrageous.  I have yet to attend a Hispanic, Asian or White church that rose to that level of evil outrage.  And this is the first time he has spoken in this fashion?  Hardly.  "A little leaven, leaveneth the whole lump." Being the intelligent and perceptive man Obama is, I am sure Wright's ranting was not a surprise.  After all, Wright was his mentor and "admired like an uncle."  Of course, Obama could not disown him.  How do you separate yourself from someone you are so connected to?  Mrs. Obama let the cat out of the bag with her, "This is the first time I have ever been proud of America."  She, too, had succombed to the influence of Mr. Wright….after all she/they had sat under his "ministry" for twenty years.  Neither do I think Obama's speech was so brilliant….more like a series of adulterous excuses encased in flowery oratory.  He still didn't say anything, just like when he says, "He is the candidate of change."  Change to what?  After Wright's speech and Obama's "counterspeech," I am more concerned than ever.  Just like the German people should have been more concerned about the eloquence and crafty charisma of Hitler.  I don't care whether we have a woman or person of color running for President.  What does bother me are those who are FOR the killing of the unborn, high taxes, big government at the expense of the people, homosexual marriage, socialized medicine, reduction of our military, paying for illegals health care and tuition and threatening our national security.

  14. Divisive agendas harm the body of Christ.   Over the years ministries I've been engaged in have reached out to all black organizations, and been met with cool rejection.  We explained it to ourselves any number of ways, because we didn't want to think they hated unsegregated groups.  Now I'm forced to wonder.

    Is Wright's hate filled rhetoric the sort of activity that goes on when the last white, Hispanic and Asian has been cleared from the building?  Is a continuous orgy of self pity, rage and contempt for others the central theme in all black worship?  What are we to think?

    Ministries struggling to figure out how to encourage black youngsters to participate are often stymied.  Many of these  kids seem to think that being asked to conform to the rules other kids follow, use clean language and refrain from exposing their underwear are all acts of discrimination.  We always assumed the ridiculous chip on the shoulder was just a teen thing.  Who knew there might be black pastors egging them on? 

    Have you ever tried to teach a sport to a kid who belts his pants below his buttocks?    (I bet you think I'm kidding, but I'm not!)  Some youngsters actually cannot wrap their heads around the idea that gravity doesn't care that they're black and have sensibilities that must be continually soothed!  This insane chip on the shoulder is real, and you'd think that adult mentors in black culture would be trying to encourage a more practical outlook on life. 

    Rage, paranoia and contempt for the rest of the world are not going to help black youth secure bright futures.  If I indoctrinated my children into a culture of hate, my family and friends would take me to task.  It baffles me that anyone who's made it past an 8th grade education thinks this lunacy is somehow beneficial.  God help you.  God help us all.  I repeat:  hatred has made you stupid. 

  15. http://www.tucc.org/scholarship_pdf/black%20value%20system.pdf

    How on earth do you integrate someone who's internalized this poison?  Read it and weep: 

    Disavowal of the Pursuit of “Middleclassness”

    Classic methodology on control of captives teaches that captors must keep the captive

    ignorant educationally, but trained sufficiently well to serve the system. Also, the captors

    must be able to identify the “talented tenth” of those subjugated, especially those who

    show promise of providing the kind of leadership that might threaten the captor’s control.

    Those so identified as separated from the rest of the people by:

    Killing them off directly, and/or fostering a social system that encourages them to kill off

    one another.

    Placing them in concentration camps, and/or structuring an economic environment that

    induces captive youth to fill the jails and prisons.

    Seducing them into a socioeconomic class system which while training them to earn

    more dollars, hypnotizes them into believing they are better than others and teaches them

    to think in terms of “we” and “they” instead of “us”.

    So, while it is permissible to chase “middle-incomeness” with all our might, we must

    avoid the third separation method-the psychological entrapment of Black

    “middleclassness”: If we avoid the snare, we will also diminish our “voluntary”

    contributions to methods A and B. And more importantly, Black people no longer will

    be deprived of their birthright, the leadership, resourcefulness, and example of their own

    talented persons.

  16. It’s to bad that the majority of white Christians only use themselves and other middle-class whites as the standard to judge justice and behavior. All binblical translations must go through the filter of white privilege before others can question their power. This is the ugly tradition of American exceptionalism, that’s white American exceptionalism. The warmongering and outright selective “biblical literalism” to justify mass death and theft is mind blowing. And all the research I’ve done Latino churches, to a large extent see their fellow white Christians as total ignorant when it comes to how whites perceive the world they believe God gave only to them.


    Using an economic class as the moral rule stick is a pagan act, resembling the Romans using their ruling elite privilege to judge the behavior of Christian slaves. Where in scripture is “middle-class” value a priesthood to dispense truth?

  17. There are cultural filters, stereotypes and biases that all cultures and sub-cultures in nations use and refer to in order to build world views and references and it's no surprise that they do so with what is within their bounds of familiarity and commonly shared experience.

    It's even possible, that you're doing the same thing and promoting your own form of racism seeking to justify it by what you choose to see in other groups, while ignoring what is positive and of hope, rather than seeking forms of shared values and experience that cross those lines.

    Black Liberation Theology meets most of the standards you're seeking to criticize here as well.

    Fascinating subject I'm sure, but how does it tie to the original post other than a launching pad to spew your thoughts in this regard?

  18. "…too bad that the majority of White Christians use themselves and other middle class Whites as the standard to judge justice and behavior.  All biblical transalations must go through the filter of white privelege before others can question their power."  What is this?!  My Black Christian friends do not even remotely think like these statements convey.  This is a sad scenerio for one to exist in.  What is proper justice and what is proper behavior?  I don't know that there are too many ways we can interpret the Gospel and Jesus' intentions for us to live by.  "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." (Matt. 7:12)  It must start somewhere…why not with me and you?  What good does cursing, ranting and railing do?  It only further fosters underlying hostilies.  For Obama to compare his White grandmother to Mr. Wright's state of mind or everybody's pastor to his pastor (Wright), is the worst of stereotyping.  How can the Black community further "their cause" and promote unity of all races with this type of language, especially from the sacredness of a pulpit?     

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