Guest Editorial
Jeremiah Wright, the Black Church and Senator Obama

By Ward Connerly | May 14, 2008 | Vol. 14 No. 20

The formative years of my life were spent attending church, every Sunday, virtually all day.

I know a thing or two about black churches.

The church was a place for those who shared your experience of being racially discriminated against, and who, because of that shared experience, passed no judgment about you based on the color of your skin. It was a place one could go to “take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there.”

The head of the church was the pastor. Sometimes, he could be a tyrant, accountable to no one. Some considered themselves ordinary people; they held a job, had a family and ministered to their small flock on a part-time basis. Others were “big shots,” full time pastors with very sizeable congregations and a staff. They spent much of their time raising funds and dabbling in politics; some developed a community-wide or national profile.

To feed their persona, “big shot” ministers sometimes said things that bordered on the outrageous. But, as a “man of the cloth,” the pastor would suffer no penalty. The pastor could even find words in the scripture to validate his outrageous rhetoric and inoculate himself from criticism.

On Sundays, the pastor would ratchet up the rhetoric as a way to excite his congregation and mobilize them for the cause – whatever the cause might be. It was not unusual for the pastor to exaggerate, inflame, and stretch the limits of reason. Some of those listening might say later, “The Rev got a little carried away today, didn’t he?” Rarely would anything be sufficient to prompt one to leave the church because of something the pastor said during his sermons.

It is because of my personal background I cut Senator Barack Obama a lot of slack for staying in his church as long as he did, despite the noxious ideology of Jeremiah Wright.
Reverend Wright is a very gifted man. But, he is captive to a philosophy that is anti-America, anti-white and that peddles the most hardcore view of race in American life. He also falls into the tradition of the black minister as an entertainer. Much of what he says, and the way he says it, is for entertainment value. As such, one can be excused for not taking him seriously on the occasions his rhetoric offended. This is not to suggest Jeremiah Wright is harmless. To the contrary, his views about race are dangerous, especially when paraded for the consumption of young children and others who are vulnerable. But, our focus should not be on Jeremiah Wright; it should be on “the black community.”

When Reverend Wright urged God to damn America, his congregation responded with considerable excitement. When Wright was introduced recently at a convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, he was greeted with a thunderous standing ovation. Were Wright running against Obama for president of black America, with only blacks voting and based on their professed respective views about race and America, I believe the money would have to be on Wright. This is to suggest the abhorrent views expressed by Wright say as much about a significant segment of “the black community” as they do about Wright himself. That is the issue that needs to be confronted by the American people, especially by blacks.

Until now, I have not believed Senator Obama has any particular duty to outline his views about race any more than any other candidate. I have taken at face value and with joy, the view assumed to be his when his South Carolina supporters chanted “race doesn’t matter.” I have considered his relative silence on the issue of race suitable for one campaigning as a “post-racial” candidate. The silent treatment about race was sufficient in the pre-Wright era of the Obama campaign. Jeremiah Wright has changed all that. The candidacy of Barack Obama is now clearly about race.

During his well-publicized March 18 speech in Philadelphia, Senator Obama artfully identified life in America from the relative perspectives of blacks and whites; clearly there is a decided difference between those two perspectives. The senator stopped short of taking a position. The Jeremiah Wright controversy has brought to the surface a question that can no longer be ignored: Where will you stand on the issue of race?

If Senator Obama wants to become president, he is going to have to reassure us that he can objectively and impartially represent the interests of all Americans, not just the interests of blacks. Senator Obama now has to prove he will be race-neutral. No one of sound mind believes he wasn’t aware of the views of Jeremiah Wright. He was. Therefore, it is insufficient to characterize Wright’s comments as “divisive” and expect such a response will put the issue of race to bed. Obama must outline his specific views about this matter.

Does he believe there is such a thing as “institutional racism?” If so, what is it? If Senator Obama wants America to get beyond race, as he seems to be suggesting, how does he reconcile that aspiration with his support of race preferences, as he did in Michigan in 2006?

Does he support financial reparations for blacks?

I urge Senator Obama to bring his views about race into the sunlight for everyone to see and not allow them to be hidden and speculated upon based on what we do not know about him.

This election is an important test of the American character. We are a fair people. Senator Obama deserves to be considered on the basis of his views – about taxes, the war in Iraq and other hot spots around the globe, the size of the government resulting from his administration, his approach to health care, his credibility, his experience, and, yes, his views about race – and not those imputed to him on the basis of his relationship to Jeremiah Wright.

Ward Connerly is President of the American Civil Rights Institute, a former member of the Board of Regents of the University of California, and a 2005 recipient of the prestigious Bradley Prize for his defense of the American ideals of freedom, liberty and equality. To respond or comment, please send an email to