Christian MediaEngaging Culture

Why The Jeremiah Wright Issue Won’t Go Away

I’m in Houston this week visiting with some friends and clients like Joel Osteen and others, and doing a book signing at a bookstore convention. While I get ready for the signing, I’m sitting in a hotel room watching the news networks circle the latest Jeremiah Wright statements like sharks to blood. Just when surveys revealed that Barack Obama had survived the original controversy because of an excellent speech last week, this new wave has hit, and who knows what might come next. He might have weathered the original blast, but there’s a legitimate question about his ability to survive the continued burst of flack. Whatever you think of the controversy, there’s some interesting media issues at work here:

1) I’ve written before that Google isn’t just about “search” – it’s about “reputation management.” I tell people that the old DUI in college that you thought everyone had forgotten about will probably turn up in a Google search. More than one pastor, business leader, or school teacher has been brought down by revelations that surfaced during a Google search. In the past, what a pastor said in the pulpit was only heard locally, but now, Wright’s original statements were easily available through various web search tools, and as such, immediately made it’s global accessibility a factor in the impact.

2) Media is immediate. With email, websites, blogs, and text messaging, communication is immediate. In the digital age, it’s tougher than ever to contain a potential PR disaster.

3) Was Obama stretching the truth about his relationship with Wright to begin with? I had an interesting conversation last week with an African-American pastor, who believes that Wright wasn’t really Obama’s pastor at all. But moving up the political ladder in Chicago, it was necessary to make people in the black community think he had a connection with a local church. So Obama made the most of his “membership” in Wright’s church, but he rarely showed up. That’s why Obama could honestly say he was shocked and surprised when the statements were revealed. So what’s worse? I’ll let you decide.

4) Cable news is 24 hours a day. That means stories that would have made page 8 of the newspaper 10 years ago, are now hammered over and over on cable TV 24/7. As a result, “balance” is lost, as marginal stories get major coverage because the networks are desperate to fill a 24 hour TV schedule.

5) While you can forgive a few exaggerations or wild statements – as these things pile up over and over, we have to wonder what type of Christian community this is. The Sermon on the Mount sure gets trashed when a pastor uses profanity in reference to his enemies. Re-printing anti-Israel venom from Hamas. Referring to Italians as “garlic noses.” Where’s Christ in all of this? Where’s the tolerance so many African-Americans have taught for so long? The very tolerance and equality Wright is looking for, doesn’t seem to be something he’s willing to give to others.

Agree or not, I do believe it’s giving a huge number of voters – especially faith-driven and conservative voters – second thoughts, and the polls confirm it.

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  1. I have a question for you.  Shouldn't ministers of all colors and faiths, when they stand behind the sacred desk, speak only what God has said?  I hope you understand my question.  I am not saying as Ministers we cant have a political stand.  But I have a problem with Pastor allowing Politicians to stand behind the sacred desk to promote their agendas.  And I believe history has shown no matter what political party you endorse it is hard to know everyones agenda. We must get back to following the leading of the Holy Spirit and aligning our thoughts and statements with scripture.

    Please respond.  I am curios for your answer. 

    Pastor Chad

  2. While it sounds good, I actually don't think that's true.  After all, if we just "say what Jesus said" we'd be reading the NT words in red and that's about it.  We do have to deliver context, illustrations, personal stories and application.  Your job as a pastor is to help the audience understand what Jesus meant, and how to apply it to their lives.   But I do agree with you that many of the things Pastor Wright has said are totally out of bounds when it comes to preaching the gospel.  Context is one thing.  Political diatribe is another.  Not to mention the fact that if a white pastor did that, the IRS would shut him down.

  3. There comes a time when the idiocy of pastors no longer reflects on anyone but themselves. 

    Thanks to the startling bad taste of Fox News and the moral depravity of Reverend Manning, my children's vocabularies have just been expanded.  I'll be defining "whore" to the 9 year old boy as simply "a word we don't need to use", but I'm afraid the 11 year old will want to know more.  Good grief!  Enough already!

    What is truly mind blowing, is that Reverend Manning's flock is going to support him and his ridiculous remarks no matter what.  Why do Christians engage in the type of group think normally ascribed to lemmings?  This phenomenon is depressing! 

  4. I think the release of Obama's tax returns underscores a point that Phil was making about how involved Obama was with Wright and his church. In a year that Obama and his wife made over $1 million dollars he gave only $5,000 to Wright´s church. I would think Obama's spin doctors would seize on that to prove that if all those tithing sermons didn't reach Obama then surely his wacky racist sermons didn't either.

  5. Phil wrote:   Not to mention the fact that if a white pastor did that, the IRS would shut him down.   The holy union between the Religious Right and the Republican Party defies this sentiment.

  6. That's actually not true Haven, and your bias clouds your better judgment. I understand your feelings that it often appears that the Religious Right is in bed with the Republican party, and for many years that's been true. However, that is dramatically changing, as polling data indicates, and even back in it's heyday, it didn't have much impact on individual churches. Right now, there are at least two white congregations in the Los Angeles area that are under an IRS investigation because of pastors talking politics from the pulpit. But at the same time, we've seen the parade of Democratic candidates making the rounds throughout African American churches here in Los Angeles with no problems at all. I would love to see the IRS bug out of church business altogether. I don't think they have any right to censor anything a pastor says, but as long as they do, it should be balanced.

  7. Bob, it would appear the religious right/white evangelicals are still devoted to the Republican Party.

    Evidence of Evangelical Shift is Still Slim

    Evangelicals may be shifting away from the Republican Party, but a recent poll doesn't offer compelling evidence to support that claim.

    However, evangelicals of color seemed to have flirted with the Republican Party for George Bush Jr.’s first term, but they shifted back to the Democratic Party. (Warmongering seems to be more popular with white evangelicals/religious right.) I think white denominational Protestants have been trending toward the Democratic Party, while white non-denominational Protestants/white evangelicals have remained loyal to the GOP (God’s Own Party).


    Doug Wead spoke of the strategy (Rove called it “securing the base” for the second Bush) for the first Bush and it has been a winning strategy since the Dixiecrats left the Democratic Party.


    Then in 1988, when we won with the Bush senior campaign and carried the highest total of evangelical votes ever in American history, we lost as we always do — the Republicans — we lost the Jewish vote and the Hispanic vote and all those votes. We lost the Catholic vote. We were the first modern presidency to win an election and it was a landslide and not win the Catholic vote. It was barely, but we lost the Catholic vote.


    How did we do it? We carried 82 percent or 83 percent of the evangelical vote. I remember when it was all over– this was one of the reasons I got a job in the White House — but I remember when it was all over, there was great shock from me and others saying, "Whoa, this is unhealthy." We immediately began going after the Catholic vote.


    While at the same time, we were frightened by the fact that we lost all these votes and still won the White House. The message did come home. My God, you can win the White House with nothing but evangelicals if you can get enough of them, if you get them all, and they're a huge number. …from:

  8. The “white-evangelical-as-base-strategy” has had a lot of help from this gem from Republican Strategists. Bob Herbert, a New York Times columnist, reported a 1981 interview with Lee Atwater, published in Southern Politics in the 1990s by Prof. Alexander P. Lamis, in which Lee Atwater discussed politics in the South:


    You start out in 1954 by saying, "Nigger, nigger, nigger." By 1968 you can't say "nigger"—that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states' rights and all that stuff. You're getting so abstract now [that] you're talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you're talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites.  


    And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I'm not saying that. But I'm saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me—because obviously sitting around saying, "We want to cut this," is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than "Nigger, nigger.".[11]

    Herbert wrote in the same column, "The truth is that there was very little that was subconscious about the G.O.P.'s relentless appeal to racist whites. Tired of losing elections, it saw an opportunity to renew itself by opening its arms wide to white voters who could never forgive the Democratic Party for its support of civil rights and voting rights for blacks."[


  9. Haven – your own sources betray you.  In the article you reference (from a left wing site by the way) it says:

    "At best, the data are inconclusive. But many are likely to conclude that the poll and memo are examples of a group trying to be too cute with numbers and language in an effort to promote their cause and lead journalists to a particular conclusion."

    Hardly a reliable source.  If you choose to be agenda driven, that's fine.  Just admit it, and then we can work from there….  🙂   


  10. Bob's right Haven. Surely you're not so naive that you don't realize that the Left desperately needs to keep the "Christian Right is in bed with the GOP" myth alive. It would devastate Democratic fundraising should they lose that tried and true enemy. Anyone with political fundraising experience knows that you need an enemy to keep the dollars coming in. And the idea that the Christian right are simply puppets of the GOP is a great one for them. Democrats need the dollars, and that's why it's so important to manipulate the numbers to keep that enemy out there. But you won't find many legitimate journalists who still believe the old idea is still true.

  11. There are a lot of people in this country refusing to participant in racist hate mongering.  I dare say, most of us have opted out.  If you choose to wallow in that unwholesome sludge, you're going to be marginalized.  It has nothing to do with race, it's about attitude.  Sensible people of every color will distance themselves from your divisive agendas.    But hey, I'm white.  Don't trust me, I'm probably just out to get you! 

  12. Haven – If you're looking for racists on this site, I'm afraid you're going to be disappointed.  I'm African-American, and this site is about media, faith, and culture.  I can tell you that if you're going to take racial offense at the comments here, you're a little over-sensitive and this site isn't for you.  Certainly there are issues out there, but in reading over your posts, you keep deviating from the topic Phil's setting and distracting us from where we need to be.  There are media issues at stake in politics, faith, culture, education, and other areas, and we're attempting here to make sense of it all.  By always making it a racial issue, you're missing the point – not to mention missing the opportunity to make a real, positive contribution to the conversation.

  13. So, my posts have been about biochemistry?

    I think I have shown various ways a particular interest group has used the media to further their agenda, "in politics, faith, culture, education, and other areas" and while attempting to dominate American Protestant discourse. I think some believers are claiming that Wright and other pastors are somehow acting out of the norm, while the same believers are in bed with folks who do objectively worse, when it comes to politics, faith, culture, education and the media. Phil seems to suggest that white pastors are victims of double-standards, and I'm trying to show the brother that he is either niave or perhaps he's being ironic?

  14. Sam, you are right…bias and racism clouds that biochemisty, as in Haven's case.  There is a middle-of-the-road perspective that steps out of racial history because of the common ground of the true Gospel.  Churches like Fred Price, T.D. Jakes, Keith Butler, Creflo Dollar, Billy Joe Daughtery and Rod Parsley have proven that, whether a biracial, multiracial or primarily Black congregation.  I only mention these pastors because most know who they are…there are so many others out there who espouse the same balance to media, faith and culture and who are making a significant, positive impact on their communities minus the hateful, inciting rhetoric, as with Mr. Wright.

  15. Thanks for the answer, Phil.  I was not implying that we only spoke the letters in red.  Just that maybe in the future we limit the political speeches from the sermons.  I believe God does entrust Pastors with shepherding their sheep.  And I'm sorry this Pastor or any Pastor who berates any group of people.  Is definately not a shepherd who would lay down his life for his sheep.

    Thanks again for the response.

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