By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
“Too extreme” for North Carolina – that’s how a recent GOP ad characterizes Barack Obama as it challenges Democratic gubernatorial candidates Beverly Perdue and Richard Moore for supporting the “most liberal person in the United States Senate.”
Meanwhile, Obama has finally taken issue with the extreme and divisive racial rhetoric of his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, an outspoken advocate of Black Liberation Theology who has categorically condemned the very government that the Illinois senator aspires to lead.
But the question remains, how many of Wright’s views does Obama secretly share even as he shuns the man who was his mentor for more than two decades?
“Obama’s relationship to his church and pastor, Jeremiah Wright, are no small matter. Some may declare we need to move on to the issues, but this in itself is an issue of great consequence,” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “Here is a Presidential candidate, mind you, who has been the longstanding member of a church that subscribes to Black Liberation Theology – a theology that has its roots in Marxism, racism and anti-American sentiment. Obama contends the views of his pastor are not his views. Yet he makes remarks about the purpose of religion that are remarkably similar to that of Karl Marx. He refers to his Caucasian grandmother as ‘a typical white person.’ He is unwilling to wear a flag lapel pin. His wife says that for the first time in her adult life, she is proud of her country.”
As Obama and Hillary Clinton were making whirlwind tours of North Carolina on April 28, the nation was learning more about the beliefs of the Rev. Wright as he strutted back and forth on the stage at the National Press Club, claiming to represent the Black Church in America, singing the praises of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and accusing the government of playing a role in the spread of AIDS in an attempt to kill off African Americans.
Obama called a press conference in Winston-Salem on Tuesday to denounce Wright’s speech and distance himself from the former and longtime pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, but many Christian leaders find little comfort in the candidate’s assurances that his ideologies are very different from his mentor’s adherence to Black Liberation Theology.
“If you examine the history of Trinity United Church of Christ and Wright’s tenure there, there is no question that this has been a consistent message and practice,” said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of Faith and Action, who welcomed Wright to Washington, D.C. the day of his Press Club speech and urged him to abandon his Marxist theology. “It appears that in earlier times Wright was actually more radical than he is now. He visited with Gaddafi in the 1980s and had a close association with Louis Farrakhan. So when Obama would have joined the church that would have been at the peak of Wright’s activism and association with violent extremists.”
“This is not the same as guilt by association. There is a legitimate inquiry here,” Creech said. “Are we to really believe that the world view of Barrack and Michelle Obama – potentially our Commander-In-Chief and First Lady – have not been shaped by the false and dangerous theology they have willing subjected themselves to for such a long time?”
Getting its start in Latin America around 50 years ago, the liberation theology movement teaches that God is the liberator of those oppressed by ruling classes. Imported to the U.S. by theology professor James Cone, who was influenced by Malcolm X and the Black Power movement, Black Liberation Theology (BLT) teaches that all Scripture must be interpreted through the black experience.
“Cone believed that Jesus was black and that everyone must ‘become black’ to be saved … When you join the side of the oppressed, you become black,” said Bishop Van B. Gayton of the International Community of Christian Churches as he pointed out the ideology’s shortcomings. “Cone denies the fact that God is for all people.”
The bishop was among a number of African American pastors who were quick to speak out against BLT.
“Although there are elements of truth in it, all it takes to produce a heresy is a measure of truth wrapped in a lie,” he told Schenck during a phone interview earlier this week.
Schenck said BLT promoters pick and choose certain Scriptures rather than taking the Bible as a whole.
“There is no question that throughout the Bible and history, God has come to the aid of the oppressed, but that is in a spiritual and moral sense,” Schenck said. “What Black Liberation Theology teaches is that there is no release until you have defeated the oppressor. If you can’t do that in a non-violent way, then you may employ violence.”
Cone has gone so far as to liken the white church in America to the Antichrist.
“This country was founded for whites and everything that has happened in it has emerged from the white perspective. What we need is the destruction of whiteness, which is the source of human misery in the world,” Cone has written as he called for “divine love as expressed in Black Power” – “the power of Black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal.”
As for how the movement has influenced Obama, Schenck cited Cone’s assessment that Wright and Trinity Church are among the best examples of putting BLT into practice.
“This permeates every aspect of the church’s life, its mission, its preaching from the pulpit. It is impossible for me to believe that a Harvard educated attorney as intelligent as Obama would not be wholly affected by these teachings. He would not only know exactly what it is, but would have to embrace it to belong there,” Schenck said. “I can’t imagine that anyone could sit there and be opposed to it and remain in the church.”
Former Assistant Secretary of State Alan Keyes is not surprised by anything he hears about the man he says “represents the glamour of evil.”
Referring to Obama’s voting against the banning of live birth abortion, Keyes said he “sincerely doubts that someone who defended the idea that it was legitimate to kill innocent babies can lay claim to a Christian faith.”
Trinity’s promotion of its 12-point Black Value System, asks members to measure the worth of all activity in terms of “positive contributions to the general welfare of the Black Community and the Advancement of Black People toward freedom,” while pledging adherence to the Black Worth Ethic and “Allegiance to All Black Leadership Who Espouse and Embrace the Black Value System.”
It’s that allegiance that concerns Schenck.
“As Christians, ultimately our allegiance is to God, to Jesus and to His Word. When you bring in other elements such as fidelity to black leaders, you confuse who the allegiance should be to,” Schenck said. “You have people misappropriating their allegiance to a particular ethnic group and history. These should be side issues, not the central core of the belief system.”
But with Black Liberation Theology, the cry is for political liberation instead of spiritual salvation.
“There is no individual salvation in Black Liberation Theology; salvation comes when the community overcomes oppression,” Schenck said.
“Black Liberation Theology does not reflect the Bible message nor does it convey what the majority of black churches preach and practice,” said Schenck, who has discussed the issue with a number of African American Christian leaders across the nation, who reject the movement’s idea that everything, even Biblical truth, be interpreted only through the Black experience.
“When you compare truth and culture, truth must always transcend culture,” said Gayton, offering the example of Jesus’ conversation with the woman at the well and the conflict between Jews and Samaritans. “Jesus does not take sides. He transcends them both.”
Keyes decried the whole idea that Christian individuals would allow themselves to be defined by race.
“Once one has been defined by his relationship to Christ, we are to look upon all people in terms of the way God sees them,” Keyes said. “It doesn’t mean we don’t have identities, but it also wouldn’t mean that our view and understanding of everything would be characterized on the basis of race.”
Others also oppose Wright’s extreme Afro-centric approach.
“There are many Black people who were offended by his anti-American slurs, because we, as Black people have a vested interest in this great country. We came here as slaves, but it was our blood, sweat and tears that helped to build this country,” said Day Gardner, founder and president of the National Black Pro-Life Union in Washington. “I’m tired of being made to feel – by our own people sometimes, such as Rev. Wright – that we are disconnected from what we are. I am an American.”
Keyes said he does believe there is a consistency between Wright’s and Obama’s view of the world and what many of those supporting Obama believe – that “some kind of group solidarity is required because of skin color.”
“That is literally racism in the worst sense. It takes a physical characteristic and pretends that it constitutes a community,” Keyes said. “Human communities are formed by common values, a common sense of justice.”
So amid all the controversy surrounding Wright and, more recently, his replacement at Trinity, the Rev. Otis Moss III, who seems equally committed to Black Liberation Theology, is there hope for common ground or even productive discussion of Christian values and race on the campaign trail?
“We must talk about these things honestly, openly, and with great intentionality,” Dr. Richard Land, president of The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, wrote in a recent column.
“We, as Americans, must work these things out. If we don’t, others with less hopeful and constructive agendas will work them out for us in less healing and far more hurtful ways,” he added.
Schenck quoted John Flavel: “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity.”
“God can bring great good out of this otherwise negative ordeal,” he said, if people would examine their own beliefs in light of the Gospel. “The truth shall make you free. If people want to be free, they need to know the truth with a capital T. They need to hear Jesus and respond to him in all of this.”
Keyes agrees that the focus of the race talk must change.
“The thing I find interesting and a little disturbing as this discussion takes place about Christians and Black Liberation Theology and the Black Church is that there is so little talk about God and God’s Word and God’s will,” Keyes said. “We need to help people see through a lot of false rhetoric that the real issue isn’t about how black folks are treated or how white folks feel. The real issue is what is God’s will for all human beings. As we see that clearly, the rest falls into place.”