“Vanity of vanities; all is vanity.”
– Ecclesiastes 1:2
During the civil rights movement, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and many other members of the clergy played major leadership roles. While there may have been some disputes among the clerical leaders about strategy and other issues, they were united on the ultimate objective. No minister asserted that the continuation of racial discrimination was a good thing.
Today, the issues confronting black leaders are more complex. Few would deny that it would be beneficial to the status of African Americans for a black man to hold the most powerful and prestigious position in the world — president of the United States. Nonetheless, with politics so competitive, some prominent blacks have found it to be in their best interests not to support Sen. Barack Obama’s candidacy.
Quite another issue is whether the public posturing of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright has caused many African Americans to reject the leadership of the black clergy in this post-civil rights era. Repeated television broadcasts of snippets from Wright’s sermons have been used to discredit Obama, but they also had the effect of impugning Wright’s intellectual soundness.
When his association with Wright became an issue in the campaign, Obama delivered a brilliant speech in Philadelphia on March 18. He boldly confronted the problem of race in America and suggested a way, through mutual open discussion, to heal the country of its remaining vestiges of discrimination.
While some white voters still have questions as to whether Obama harbored racially divisive attitudes toward whites, his speech was a great success. A recent CBS/New York Times poll indicated that Obama has begun to recover his strong position among voters. But apparently, Wright did not believe that his own point of view had been vindicated, so he decided to go public.
The wiser course of action would have been for Wright to hold off until after the election. It was already clear that he had become a political flash point. While he certainly has the right to speak out, he should have been aware that it was unlikely that anything he might say would be helpful.
Wright felt compelled to explain to whites the nature of the black church, as he viewed it, and to rail to blacks about the double standard imposed on them by whites. Unfortunately, comments on talk radio indicate an undeserving support of Wright’s position among some African Americans.
All blacks who are not brain-dead know that there is a double standard in America that imposes a special burden on blacks. For example, no reasonable person would consider holding a Catholic politician responsible for the pedophilia of his priest, no matter how close their relationship. So why should Obama be held responsible for Wright’s sermons, which he never even heard?
Sometimes a frontal attack is not the best way to cope with such unfairness. Nonetheless, Wright decided to risk jeopardizing the Obama presidential campaign, and he had the support of many members of the black clergy in doing it. This raises a serious question as to whether the clergy have the sophistication to provide the leadership for blacks in these complex times.
Wright’s decision to go public will undoubtedly exacerbate the growing class rift among African Americans. It is unlikely that most well-educated blacks find his conduct at the National Press Club appropriate.