What Obama Saw in Wright's Church


A reader says that we cannot know what is in Obama's heart, and to a certain extent, that's true. My reader believes therefore that Wright's racist anger is what Obama truly believes - and is now concealing. All I can say is that very, very few public figures have been so candid about why and how they found the message of Jesus so compelling, or have explained their faith journey so pellucidly (certainly not our spiritually inarticulate current president). The appeal of that church to Obama was not anger or racism or the ugliness in some of Jeremiah Wright's tub-thumping. What Obama discovered - as a previous atheist - was the spiritual power of Christian hope.

Here's the relevant section:

"And in that single note - hope! - I heard something else; at the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of the ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and Pharaoh, the Christians in the lion's den, Ezekiel's field of dry bones.  Those stories - of survival, and freedom, and hope - became our story, my story; the blood that had been spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until the black church, on this bright day, seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world. 

Our trials and triumphs became at once unique and universal, black and more than black; in chronicling our journey, the stories and songs gave us a means to reclaim memories that we didn't need to feel shamed about, memories more accessible than those of ancient Egypt, memories that all people might study and cherish - and with which we could start to rebuild.  And if part of me continued to feel that this Sunday communion sometimes simplified our condition, that it could sometimes disguise or suppress the very real conflicts among us and would fulfill its promise only through action, I also felt for the first time how that spirit carried within it, nascent, incomplete, the possibility of moving beyond our narrow dreams."

My italics. I don't know how you can read Obama's writing or listen to any of his speeches and believe that Wright's ugliest messages are what Obama believes or has ever believed. He wrote these words long before he was running for president. They struck me powerfully as I read them; because they helped me understand how hard hope can be for the very poor or those from broken families or gripped with addiction. I don't see how the impulse to listen to, bond with, and help those people is an ugly impulse, however ugly the anger that can come from those places sometimes is.

(Photo: Jeff Haynes/AFP/Getty.)