Obama, Wright, and the Black church
Dr. Hopkins says that most church members agree with Wright, but support the candidacy of Obama. There are substantive differences on what it means to be a patriot and racism in America, but the congregation will not allow itself to be divided.
REV. OTIS MOSS III, TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST: Beloved, we pray for our senior pastor. We pray for our member who is a public servant.
VOICE OF PEPE ESCOBAR: Sunday morning, The Real News goes to church. We’re at Trinity, Black church, south side of Chicago, where we’re going to follow the service ministered by Rev. Otis Moss and talk to professor of theology and member of Trinity United, Dwight Hopkins.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: We heard Rev. Moss ask for the congregation to love both the preacher and the politician. What’s your reaction to that message?
PROF. DWIGHT HOPKINS, DIVINITY SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: I think that’s the correct message that we need to hear, particularly here at Trinity, but also in the entire nation, because in one sense there’s a political fallout, a firestorm, and that’s what the nation is debating. You know, what impact does Rev. Wright’s press statement at the National Press Club have? What implications does it have for, you know, Texasï¿½excuse meï¿½Indiana and, you know, North Carolina, the elections? But there’s another level, actually a deeper level, and I think that’s what you experienced today at Trinity. That is to say there’s a religious dimension to this whole fallout. And so as Rev. Moss mentionedï¿½the new pastorï¿½he sees it more as a fight within the extended family. I think a lot of people are still with Senator Obama in terms of organizing and, you know, campaigning, and I’m sure they’re going to vote for him, because, I mean, he is "the favorite son." But in terms of Rev. Wright and Senator Obama, I don’t think they actually choose. They may have chose before this sermon, but I think they’re going to choose less and less, because, again, I think what Rev. Moss did was he put it in the framework ofï¿½well, historically, he said, there is Jim and Jane. For those in the church, they knew their last name was Crow. And historically there is a tradition in segregation and slavery where certain whites would divide house Negroes from field Negroes, and that’s what he was referring to. Those are the codes and the language codes that he was using. So there’s a historical understanding. And he helped them to understand, hey, we’ve been through this before; we don’t have to choose, because there’s a larger narrative that’s trying to split our two guys apart.
MOSS: There was a play that has been passed down to our people down through years. It has been written by Jim and Jane. I will not tell you their last names. And this script, this play that they have asked us to be a part of, is a play entitled Divide and Conquer. We reject the spirit of Divide and Conquer. We reject the spirit of negativity. We reject any lines drawn in the sand. We write a new chapter in the book of history. I’m so glad our God did not choose who he would save. I’m so glad that God’s love is so expansive that he did not say, "I will die for Jacob but not Esau. I’ll love Moses but not Aaron. I’ll encourage Joshua but not Deborah. I will lift up David but not Jonathan. I will hold Jeremiah but not Isaiah. I will lift up Amos but not Ezekiel. I will hold Matthew but not Mark. I will keep Luke but not John. I will hold Peter but not Paul. I will hold Stephen but not Timothy." When people ask you, when they call you, when they say, "Where do you stand?" tell them, "I stand with Jesus. We stand with God. We are Trinity. We are bruised but not broken. We are Trinity, a new church being burnt in the crucible of a public moment. We are Trinity."
JAY: I think to a large extent people in the African-American community and outside that community see Rev. Wright as a question of how you see race in America. But what they’re actually fighting about is how you see patriotism in America. What is the definition of patriotism? And Wright has said, you know, "I’m an American, I’m patriotic, precisely because I question the fundamentals of US foreign policy," where Obama seems, certainly, not to question those same fundamentals. So at that level, isn’t there a real debate?
HOPKINS: Yes, I think there is a substantive debate at the level of patriotism, the whole question of patriotism. Again, for Rev. Wright, he’s talking about patriotism from the perspective of his interpretation of the Bible. So we have to keep that in mind, that he sees the world through a lens of biblical text, sermons, Black church tradition, American Christianity. But at the specific core issue of the Bible, his interpretation is the following, that the whole Old Testament issue is about maintaining a covenant with this god. And once people or individuals or families, in this case the nation, breaks away from that covenant, then God raises up these prophets, Amos and Jeremiah and Michael, to say, "Thus sayeth the Lord, and we bring judgment and damnation on this nation in order to move it back to this covenant of love and peace." And what happens is a lot of people don’t hear the love and peace parts of Rev. Wright’s sermon; they hear that judgment piece. So, again, he’s seeing the issue of patriotism in relationship to his higher calling, to this biblical text, Rev. Wright. Now, of course, Senator Obama is still a member of Trinity and he is a Christian, but also his mission to me is to heal the nation, to bring the nation together, and he sees it by going not through the pulpit, but through the electoral process. So in a sense we have to use two different frameworks over the issues of patriotism. We could say politically Senator Obama doesn’t think that we can characterize 9/11 as chickens come home to roost. Obviously, there are a lot of political scientists who use the phrase in international dialog called "blowback" violence. I mean, that’s, you know, international politics 101. So-called larger superpower country, you know, invades or occupies smaller countries, and eventually that violence that’s exported is going to come back to the center of the superpower. So that’s nothing new. Even on theological grounds, that’s the whole point about what Rev. Wright was saying, that if a big nation continues to oppress other nations, that is, to break God’s government, then God will raise up prophets to say, "Thus sayeth the Lord," and in fact God will break the back of the superpower that broke the covenant. So both politically and theologically there’s nothing new. But I still will come back specific to the question of Senator Obama. I really think that he sees America as this place where there’s hope. And even though there’s been some problemsï¿½for example, in his more perfect union speech he said that, you know, the original sin was slavery or the original stain. So he recognizes race, but I don’t think he’s wired the way that a lot of people are wired because of his personal story. And, I mean, you know, people have speculated, "Well, he had to do it in order to get the superdelegates or the white workers in Pennsylvania, you know, and Indiana and North Carolina. That might be it, you know, ’cause he’s got a wholeï¿½you know, David Plouffe, David Axelrod, he’s got a whole group of people around him." But I think he’s just not wired that way. He’s a political person who’s wired different around issues of race in America.
JAY: So would it be correct to say that the church to a large extent agrees with the ideas of Rev. Wright, but supports the candidacy of Senator Obama?
HOPKINS: That would be an apt way to put it.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.