“A More Perfect Union”

This morning Sen. Barack Obama addressed controversial remarks made by his former pastor in a speech he presented in Philadelphia.

Rather than sweep the controversy under the rug – a move Obama admitted would have been the “safe thing” to do – he used it as an opportunity to speak pointedly and humbly to the greater issues of racial tension and divide in America.

Here it is in its entirety.

Read the transcript.


18 thoughts on ““A More Perfect Union”

  1. If nothing else I wish this would put the issue of who supports your run for president and what they stand for to bed.

    I think the only reason he went right to addressing this one was because agree or not he had to eventually touch on stuff like this Rev Right RunDMC. Do remember he will need white folks in upstate NY to not be afraid of him or his pastor. His family and himself were tied to this man due to a lifelong relationship so it was unavoidable. When you quote a person in a speech and talk about how vital in your life this man was and he goes on to claim the US gave black people AIDS etc he was going to have to speak to it eventually.

    Very good speech but make no mistake all the race issues that come up are not things he could ever sweep under the rug cause he can not win if he doesn’t keep addressing the RACE issue.

  2. Obama’s preacher is way ahead of Falwell, Roberts and the like on the wing-nut scale. McCain might have accepted Hagee’s support, but he didn’t have Hagee marry him, baptize his children, call him his spiritual advisor, or put him on his campaign staff.
    His speech was eloquent, and I can see it being considered inspiring by a lot of folks (although, there are some parts I scratched my head at). I think he slowed if not stopped the bleeding.

    I am not sure what will happen next, the media may
    say future stories on this issue are old news and have been dealt with by Obama already… or they may say there is just too much juicy material to pass up and continue reporting on the story. I know which option the conservative talk shows will choose.

    Here’s a quote from a local talk show host after the speech:
    “If John McCain had been in the congregation, he would have walked up and punched the man. If Hillary Clinton had been in the congregation, she would have walked out. Barack Obama was in the congregation and he stayed for 20 years.”

  3. Obama’s preacher is way ahead of Falwell, Roberts(on) and the like on the wing-nut scale.

    I don’t know, maybe. But barely. Falwell and Robertson blamed 9/11 on homosexuals. Wright blamed it on American foreign policy and abortion. I know he’s said more, and don’t get me wrong, he’s nuts. But black ranting preacher crazy is not really any crazier than 700 Club fear-mongering fascist crazy. It’s just delivered to a different audience at higher decibels. Same crazy though.

    I know alot of pastors, most of which I would consider close friends. Several of which I would consider spiritual advisers. They’ve married me, they’ve baptized me, they’ve performed my child’s dedication ceremony. I’ve sat in their pews for the better part of 30 years. I’ve clapped and swayed during the worship, I’ve been known to utter an “amen” when something resonated with my soul. I’ve also bitten my tongue plenty of times when they’ve been tangential on political issues with which I disagree from the pulpit.

    This is why when Obama says “I strongly disagree with many of his political views” in one breath, and “But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man,” in another, and still “he has been like family to me,” I can relate. And since I can relate, I’m inclined to give him the benefit of doubt.

    Heck, I’ve got close friends who most conservatives would consider uber-liberal commie lunatics. And I’ve got other closer friends who have the mark of the GOP tattooed on their forehead. If I ever run for anything I may ask both to be on my campaign staff! 😆

    I don’t think anyone who has paid a lick of attention to anything Sen. Obama has ever written or said can draw a connecting line between his world view and Rev. Wright’s moments of stark raving lunacy.

  4. I had a job in Baltimore where I was the only white person among many black adults and children. I heard a lot of baloney when people forgot I was white. The aids conspiracy was mentioned by people I would have considered too educated to buy that stuff.

    Then I’ve heard a lot of white baloney expressed too. Sad thing is that the youtube comments about the speech are full of it. It’s a matter of “ears to hear” I guess.

    I identified with and agreed with everything Obama said.

  5. Derrick is back

    Holy crap! CNN is posting his commentaries now? I’m jealous (and about a billionth as smart). Props to him!

    For days pundits have pondered whether Sen. Obama could weather the controversy over Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s racially polarizing comments. The question at this juncture is not whether the candidate will rise to the occasion, but rather, whether America will.

    That’s one of the things that has attracted me to Obama. People downplay his ability to inspire, motivate, bring people together, etc, as empty rhetoric. But we’re not having a national conversation today about the issue of racial reconciliation in this country if he doesn’t make that speech yesterday. To me, that’s leadership on the most important issues. People keep dissecting his voting record in search of evidence of his qualifications as a leader, when maybe we should be looking more to the present.

  6. from talking with black friends, this “pastor” is not out of the ordinary in the “black church” (i HATE that we define churches by skin color). but, apparently it’s common. i don’t know. i’m a crazy leftist, so i tend to not be so shocked by a lot of what the guy has said, but for someone who wants to be president, it’s definately damaging. i can’t believe the clinton machine didn’t try and exploit this a loooong time ago. it may be too late now, boo-hoo hillary!

  7. This quote is from Lanny Davis (Clinton supporter)

    “But many people, including Obama supporters, may still have two questions that Senator Obama’s speech did not sufficiently answer, at least in my opinion. And, for any Democrat whose priority is to win back the White House in 2008, they need to be answered now — because, if Senator Obama ends up the party’s nominee (I am a supporter of Senator Clinton’s) — for sure Senator McCain will insist they be answered in the fall.

    These two questions are:

    1. If a white minister preached sermons to his congregation and had used the “N” word and used rhetoric and words similar to members of the KKK, would you support a Democratic presidential candidate who decided to continue to be a member of that congregation?

    2. Would you support that candidate if, after knowing of or hearing those sermons, he or she still appointed that minister to serve on his or her “Religious Advisory Committee” of his or her presidential campaign?”

    So, are these valid questions? How would/should Obama answer them?


  8. For the record, Wright was one of fifty pastors on Obama’s national African American Religious Leadership Comittee (hundreds more at the state levels). Which is a group of “religious leaders who are supporting Obama’s bid for the Democratic nomination.”

    In other words, these guys aren’t exactly the Jedi Council. They’re a network of pastors and other leaders in the black church who are working to promote Obama’s campaign. (Not unlike, say, the work of the Christian Coalition). Far too much is being made of it. And he’s been removed. Time to move on Mr. Davis.

    I think Obama’s response to those two questions would/should be:

    I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.

    But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.

    As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.

    Given my background, my politics, and my professed values and ideals, there will no doubt be those for whom my statements of condemnation are not enough. Why associate myself with Reverend Wright in the first place, they may ask? Why not join another church? And I confess that if all that I knew of Reverend Wright were the snippets of those sermons that have run in an endless loop on the television and You Tube, or if Trinity United Church of Christ conformed to the caricatures being peddled by some commentators, there is no doubt that I would react in much the same way

    But the truth is, that isn’t all that I know of the man. The man I met more than twenty years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor. He is a man who served his country as a U.S. Marine; who has studied and lectured at some of the finest universities and seminaries in the country, and who for over thirty years led a church that serves the community by doing God’s work here on Earth – by housing the homeless, ministering to the needy, providing day care services and scholarships and prison ministries, and reaching out to those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

    In my first book, Dreams From My Father, I described the experience of my first service at Trinity:

    “People began to shout, to rise from their seats and clap and cry out, a forceful wind carrying the reverend’s voice up into the rafters….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 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 spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this 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 tha t we didn’t need to feel shame about…memories that all people might study and cherish – and with which we could start to rebuild.”

    That has been my experience at Trinity. Like other predominantly black churches across the country, Trinity embodies the black community in its entirety – the doctor and the welfare mom, the model student and the former gang-banger. Like other black churches, Trinity’s services are full of raucous laughter and sometimes bawdy humor. They are full of dancing, clapping, screaming and shouting that may seem jarring to the untrained ear. The church contains in full the kindness and cruelty, the fierce intelligence and the shocking ignorance, the struggles and successes, the love and yes, the bitterness and bias that make up the black experience in America.

    And this helps explain, perhaps, my relationship with Reverend Wright. As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.

    I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.

    These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.

    He spoke to it thoroughly. He denounced a long time friend as divisive, his views as “profoundly distorted,” and wrong. And then used his good friend’s divisive, profoundly distorted and wrong views to offer a balanced perspective, hope and relief to the exposed nerve of racial division in our country.

    I’m satisfied and moving on.

  9. i liked huck’s “cut some slack” statement. my opinion about racial stuff is simple: i don’t know what it’s like to be black. i can’t tell a black person to “get over it”, i don’t know what it’s like. i like obama’s talk of moving on from old wounds and whatnot, that’s the right idea. letting go needs to be done, but i don’t feel like it’s accurate or fair to say that a white pastor using the “n” word is the same as wright’s talk. we all know that, some people just want to pretend that everything is ok now and racism is gone. that being said, i don’t want to justify anything wright has said, b/c i think the pulpit is the wrong place to air grievances or talk politics.

  10. I do think some of this has to do with the complete disconnect between white and black cultures, particularly suburban white American churches and inner-city black churches.

    Let’s face it, there are alot of folks on both sides who live in two completely different versions of America. Living in a neighborhood that is as racially diverse (and divided) as ours, I get a good sense of that every single day. That’s what Obama was speaking to. And moving on doesn’t mean we tell one (or both) side(s) to “get over it.”

    Watching Amazing Grace brought up some interesting thoughts for me. I’ll admit that I don’t know much about British history, so I have no idea if they ever had the post-slavery problems with segregation, lynchings, etc., that we had here. But I would be interested in hearing more about present-day race relations there. I wonder if it might give us an idea what it might be like 50 years from now here.

  11. oh dude, racism in britain makes america look like a racial utopia! pakistani and indian people are the main targets of racist groups, but west indian black people & their ancestors are highly targeted as well. europe in general, france in particular – where an openly racist political group gained over a quarter of the votes last year – is like america a century ago in terms of race relations. and they attack us for our being “beneath” them culturally! the european nations that viewed the world as an imperialistic free for all have reaped what they sowed, with immigrants from those nations flocking to europe. and now the “white” people there are freaking out (in large part, obv. not all or even a majority). but it’s much more blatant and out in the open then it is here, where most people talk racially behind closed doors and in whispers. then again, europe has always been a continent where differences between people have not been handled very civily, and continues to not be. just go to a soccer match and you’ll see how well they all get along 🙂

    but to answer the abolition q, in britain, most slaves were not in britain, they were in the nations that britain colonized, so they didn’t have this after-effect of a now “free” race in their midst. the number of black slaves in britain at the time of abolition was very low. the influx of non-white people into britain began in the 50’s and 60’s with the british empire crumbling and “granting indepedence” to many of their 3rd world colonies.

  12. From Brian McLaren’s blog today:

    Like many (I hope most) people, I was deeply moved and impressed by Senator Obama’s speech on race. Almost as interesting as the speech itself have been the responses to it, which usually come in the form of opinions:the speech was good or bad or didn’t go far enough or went too far, and so on.

    Opinions often don’t tell us much about the content of the speech – it’s truth, beauty, or goodness – they tell us more about the perspective, bias, fears, hopes, and interests of the commentator. I hope we can go beyond talking about the speech to talking about America and the state of race relations in America. I hope we can go beyond offering old and often utterly predictable opinions and instead, through honest engagement and dialogue about the speech, seek to have our opinions modified and improved and deepened, and perhaps even challenged and changed.

    We have many places for people to react and practice opinion-giving and other forms of punditry, but what we seem to lack is space for people to have a more generous and generative kind of intelligent shared reflection and consideration. So I decided it might be worthwhile to offer some commentary on the content of the speech along with questions for conversation so that people could download the text, make copies of it, and read it through together – stimulating potentially constructive dialogue about a truly important subject.

    The best case scenario would be for mixed groups to read and discuss the speech together – gathering a group of friends from work or a sports team or a neighborhood or church. Three questions would guide this kind of dialogue:
    What can we learn about America?
    What can we learn about people of other races?
    What can we learn about ourselves?

    The goal here is not agreement, but understanding. Each participant has to desire more to understand than to be understood, and more to learn than to teach.

  13. Hey, look who’s with Bill! The photo was taken at the 1998 White House prayer breakfast. According to Hillary’s recently released White House documents, she was scheduled to be in attendance.

    Hmmm. Maybe that’s why the Clinton camp hasn’t said much about this whole Wright controversy.

    Honestly, it’s a bit of a non-issue to me. But it is interesting that Wright – of all the pastors in America – was one of the 100 invited to be in attendance.

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