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The Wrong Reverend

"If you want to understand where Barack gets his feeling and rhetoric from, just look at Jeremiah Wright."

12:00 AM, Mar 18, 2008 • By JOSEPH LOCONTE
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WHEN TELEVANGELISTS Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson blamed the 9/11 attacks on "gays, feminists and the ACLU," their obscene remarks were used like a club to bludgeon George Bush and his "fundamentalist" base right up to the 2004 elections. For media elites such as The New York Times and CNN, it didn't matter that Bush quickly condemned their hate speech, or that he had no relationship to either man or their churches. It was guilt by association--an association that existed only in the feverish imaginations of the Bush-hating intelligentsia.

Well, now. Barack Obama has nourished--and been nourished by--a 20-year relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Obama calls Wright his spiritual "mentor" and the man whose "social gospel" drew him into the black church. He is the minister who married Obama, baptized his daughters, and prays with and counsels him at key moments of his political life. Obama absorbed hours of tapes of Wright's sermons while a law student at Harvard. When he settled in Chicago, he joined Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ, where he has been an active, tithing member for over 17 years.

What do we know--and what does Obama know--about Rev. Wright? We know from his sermons that he blames the events of 9/ll on the United States: "America's chickens are coming home to roost," he said the Sunday after the attacks, when human remains were still being uncovered in lower Manhattan. He believes the AIDS virus is the malicious design of a white supremacist government. He gave an achievement award to the anti-Semitic demagogue Louis Farrakhan. We know, too, that he invokes the Bible to justify his crackpot conspiracy theories. "The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America,'" Wright intoned. "No, no, no. God damn America, that's in the Bible, for killing innocent people."

The Obama campaign spent most of last week disavowing these remarks, while simultaneously rationalizing his long friendship with Wright and membership in his church. This is a hopeless strategy--and it raises massive questions about Obama's judgment, character, and the meaning of his "social justice" agenda.

Consider Obama's "I Didn't Know" defense. Wright's remarks "were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation." Church attendance records, now being examined, will surely betray Obama. In the meantime, the claim confounds common sense. YouTube clips of Wright's bellicose bloviating make one thing clear: His congregation has heard this message before--and they love it. He is their man of God "speaking truth to power."

Only a posture of willful ignorance--prosecutors might call it depraved indifference--could leave any church member unaware of Wright's hate-mongering palette. Indeed, the disheartening fact is that this minister has built an 8,500-strong congregation explicitly on a "black liberation" gospel that is anything but liberating: It reduces the Scripture to a political tool. It uses the pulpit to sanctify a race-based social critique. It makes Jesus the Judge of White America, instead of the Savior for all mankind. The black social gospel can inspire church-based outreach to the poor and marginalized, as it has at Trinity United. But it comes with a fierce rhetoric of rage and victimhood.

ABC News has examined dozens of Wright's sermons and found "repeated denunciations of the United States" based on his reading of the gospels and his racial theories. It is precisely this political theology that attracted the young Barack Obama as a community organizer. He was, as a New York Times reporter put it, "entranced" by Wright's fiery sermons of "empowerment." He has devoured them like candy ever since and spent many hours with Wright outside of church. Referring to the minister, a church member told the Chicago Tribune: "He's not a hypocrite. You know what he says behind closed doors, he'll say in the pulpit."

Now consider Obama's "Man of Truth" defense. He claims that Wright is a "sounding board for me to make sure I'm speaking as truthfully about what I believe as possible." Here's a further sample of what Rev. Truthmeister dishes out on a regular basis:

* "The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied."

* "We put Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there."

* "America is still the number one killer in the world."

* "We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure the Third World people live in grinding poverty."

* "Racism is the American way."