Does Obama's pastor matter?

Barack Obama damaged his

What happened

Barack Obama has distanced himself from views his former pastor and “spiritual mentor,” the retired Rev. Jeremiah Wright, expressed from the pulpit of his Chicago church. Critics have distributed video clips of Wright saying, for example, that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks meant “America’s chickens were coming home to roost.” Wright’s former congregation at Trinity United Church of Christ defended him this week, saying that the world was only seeing a “tiny piece” of a caring pastor sometimes overcome by righteous rage about racism and injustice. (The Washington Post, free registration)

What happened

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Nothing could be more “damaging” to Obama’s “cross-racial appeal,” said Shelby Steele in The Wall Street Journal, than “the revelation that he, the son of a white woman, sat Sunday after Sunday—for 20 years—in an Afrocentric, black nationalist church.” Wright, who in one sermon suggested changing the song “God Bless America” to “God Damn American,” far surpasses “Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in his anti-American outrage.” Obama wants to collect all voters who want America to rise above race, but he can’t even do it himself.

We wouldn’t be having this conversation if Obama were a white Republican candidate, said Christopher Hayes in, and he had sat in a church where the preacher said “God judged America harshly” for permitting abortion. “But the right wants to talk about it, discretion be damned.” So “after years of Democrats being hectored for being insufficiently pious, we have “a candidate who speaks openly and genuinely about his Christian faith,” and “the man whom the candidate says brought him to Jesus is transformed into a political liability.”

The controversy could have been avoided, said The Washington Post in an editorial, if Obama had only distanced himself from his pastor’s “bitter analysis of American society” sooner. Wright’s “explosive” sermons “stand in stark contrast to the vision of America” Obama has put forward, so he has to explain himself if he wants voters to believe he really can help the country “overcome its racial divisions.” Maybe then we can move beyond the “wearying” calls for “repudiations” and return to a discussion of real issues that affect Americans.

Obama "should be commended for remaining true" to his church, said Rick Daugherty in the Allentown, Penn., Morning Call. "Too many of us bolt from our parish family" whenever we disagree with a sermon. "The Christian church seems to be forever splintering," so maybe instead of leaving at the first sign of trouble "it is better to stay and fight for change from within."

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