You can take Barack Obama out of the Trinity church, but… [Karl]
Stanley Kurtz is discovering you cannot take the Trinity church out of Barack Obama:
Obama shared [the Rev. Jeremiah] WrightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rejection of black Ã¢â‚¬Å“assimilation.Ã¢â‚¬Â Obama also shared WrightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s suspicion of the traditional American ethos of individual self-improvement and the pursuit of Ã¢â‚¬Å“middle-classness.Ã¢â‚¬Â In common with Wright, Obama had deep misgivings about AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s criminal justice system. And with the exception of their direct attacks on whites, Obama largely approved of his preacher-friendsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ fiery rhetoric. ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s goal was not to repudiate religious radicalism but to channel its fervor into an effective and permanent activist organization. How do we know all this? We know it because Obama himself has told us.
Kurtz relies on a 1995 background piece on Obama from the Chicago Reader — as well asÃ‚Â a chapter Obama wrote for a 1990 book called After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois, originally published in 1988, just after Obama joined Trinity:
By providing us with an in-depth picture of ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s political worldview on the eve of his elective career, Hank De ZutterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s, Ã¢â‚¬Å“What Makes Obama Run?Ã¢â‚¬Â lives up to its title. The first thing to note here is that Obama presents his political hopes for the black community as a third way between two inadequate alternatives. First, Obama rejects, Ã¢â‚¬Å“the unrealistic politics of integrationist assimilation Ã¢â‚¬â€ which helps a few upwardly mobile blacks to Ã¢â‚¬Ëœmove up, get rich, and move out. . . . Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Ã¢â‚¬Â This statement might surprise many Obama supporters, who seem to think of him as the epitome of integrationism. Yet ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s repudiation of integrationist upward mobility is fully consistent with his career as a community organizer, his general sympathy for leftist critics of the American Ã¢â‚¬Å“system,Ã¢â‚¬Â and of course his membership at Trinity. Obama, we are told, Ã¢â‚¬Å“quickly learned that integration was a one-way street, with blacks expected to assimilate into a white world that never gave ground.Ã¢â‚¬Â Compare these statements by Obama with some of the remarks in Jeremiah WrightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Trumpet, and the resemblance is clear.
Having disposed of assimilation, Obama goes on to criticize Ã¢â‚¬Å“the politics of black rage and black nationalismÃ¢â‚¬Â Ã¢â‚¬â€ although less on substance than on tactics. Obama upbraids the politics of black power for lacking a practical strategy. Instead of diffusing black rage by diverting it to the traditional American path of assimilation and middle-class achievement, Obama wants to capture the intensity of black anger and use it to power an effective political organization. Obama says, Ã¢â‚¬Å“heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s tired of seeing the moral fervor of black folks whipped up Ã¢â‚¬â€ at the speakerÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s rostrum and from the pulpit Ã¢â‚¬â€ and then allowed to dissipate because thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s no agenda, no concrete program for change.Ã¢â‚¬Â The problem is not fiery rhetoric from the pulpit, but merely the wasted anger it so usefully stirs.
It is some good sleuthing on Kurtz’s part, but as noted here on April 9, Obama wrote almost exactly the same stuff in his 1996 autobiography, Dreams From My Father, asÃ‚Â noted inÃ‚Â asÃ‚Â Ryan LizzaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s March 19, 2007 TNR profile ofÃ‚Â Obama:
The cross currents appealed to Obama. He came to believe that the church could not only compensate for the limitations of Alinsky-style organizing but could help answer the nagging identity problem he had come to Chicago to solve. Ã¢â‚¬Å“It was a powerful program, this cultural community,Ã¢â‚¬Â he wrote, Ã¢â‚¬Å“one more pliant than simple nationalism, more sustaining than my own brand of organizing. Ã¢â‚¬Â
As a result, over the years, Wright became not only ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s pastor, but his mentorÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
And as Kurtz has noted, Wright rejects the notion of separating religion and politics, in accord with the tenets of Black Liberation Theology.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Obama has thrown the BLT (or perhaps just LT)Ã‚Â inspired attacks on theÃ‚Â ”powers and principalities”Ã‚Â into his 2006 keynote address at a conference sponsored by Jim Wallis and the Ã¢â‚¬Å“religious leftÃ¢â‚¬Â magazine Sojourners, and his 2007 speech at a church in Selma, Alabama.Ã‚Â It also appears in his lengthy 2006 essay for TIME magazine, in which he discusses the church “as the center of the communityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s political, economic, and social as well as spiritual life.”
Jonah GoldbergÃ‚Â admits:
I don’t know enough about BLT, though I’ve been reading a bunch, but from what I’ve seen from Stan [Kurtz] and others, I’m wondering whether Black Liberation Theology is in part a holdout of the older Social Gospel tradition, a surviving remnant from the Progressive era. Much is made of the BLT rhetoric about blacks being chosen people and the like. But that rhetoric was commonplace among Progressives (and German [Aryan] Christian movement, as Spengler notes here and I allude to in [Liberal Fascism]).
Actually, as noted here on March 18, BLT historically was influenced by Karl Barth, though it ultimately owes more to the other young, MessianicÃ‚Â Weimar Protestants who ended up promoting Ã¢â‚¬Å“Aryan Christianity.Ã¢â‚¬Â But it is considerably more than that;Ã‚Â liberation theologyÃ‚Â is in many ways an inversion of the host faiths to which it attaches itself in an effort to reshape identity in a way that Gramsci would love.
Goldberg notes that Obama has referred admiringly (though perhaps ignorantly) to the Social Gospel, which in the progressive eraÃ‚Â was far more theocratic and “Christianist” thanÃ‚Â most anythingÃ‚Â promoted byÃ‚Â the modern Christian Right.Ã‚Â My March 18 essay pointed out that Obama’s big speech calling for a national discussion of race was essentially a dodge because the real issue raised by Obama’s 20-year membership in Trinity was not one of race, but — as with JFK (or Mitt Romney or Mike Huckabee) — an issue of religion, and the separation of religion and politics:
Black Liberation TheologyÃ‚Â is not a standard theology like Catholicism, as Cardinal Ratzinger made clear with respect to the plain Marxist version of liberation theology.Ã‚Â It is at its very coreÃ‚Â a marriage ofÃ‚Â religion and politics.Ã‚Â As with all liberation theology, it takes a kernel of truth about most churchesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ concern for the poor and wraps it in a pernicious quasi-Marxist hermeneutics that generally inverts the function of faith, placing politically correct activisim above personal salvation.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â It is the heir to messianic and apocalyptic schools of thought that run directly contrary to the AmericaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s intellectual andÃ‚Â institutional, separation of Christianity andÃ‚Â politics.Ã‚Â Ã‚Â Its founderÃ‚Â converts the gospel into an ideology for a black political cause.Ã‚Â And Obama was drawn to Trinity precisely because he is attracted to the idea of this church as the center of the communityÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s political, economic, and social as well as spiritual life.
In short, even giving Obama the benefit of the doubt regarding his statements condemning WrightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s worst comments,Ã‚Â ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s own words mark him as a follower of Black Liberation Theology or its standard Marxist version.Ã‚Â As such, ObamaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s election would mark a triumph for the Religious Left on a scale never attained by the Religious Right.Ã‚Â Yet those who never hesitate to decry the threat of Theocons or Christianists in American politics are not only silent about this turn of events, they seem to be rooting forÃ‚Â the election of our first Theolib or Black Christianist president.
Although it is nice that Kurtz — and to a lesser degree Goldberg — are teasing this issue out now, it would have been more constructive if they and others had been paying attention in Mid-March, when the Obama campaign was stonewalling even written questions on the issue.