The Magazine

Remember Rev. Wright?

A colleague of his has just been added to the roster of the Obama administration.

Feb 23, 2009, Vol. 14, No. 22 • By MEGHAN CLYNE
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Back in May, when the furor over Jeremiah Wright threatened to derail the Obama campaign, the candidate mournfully explained his decision to leave the controversial Trinity United Church of Christ. "We don't want to have to answer for everything that's stated in a church," Obama said. "On the other hand, we don't want to have a church subjected to the scrutiny that a presidential campaign legitimately undergoes." After Obama parted from Wright, the preacher and Trinity United became the campaign issue that dared not speak its name.

Now the campaign is over and so, it appears, is the scrutiny--for the new president has just made a personnel decision that reopens the entire issue. Earlier this month, he appointed the Reverend Dr. Otis Moss Jr. to serve on the new President's Advisory Council established as part of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. The official White House press release notes that Moss is the pastor emeritus of Cleveland's Olivet Institutional Baptist Church. Not noted, however, are Moss's many ties to Trinity and its troublesome former pastor.

To begin with, Moss's son, Reverend Otis Moss III, succeeded Wright at Trinity. The younger preacher is known for his own fiery sermons and for likening the backlash against Wright to a "public lynching." The new member of the Obama administration, though, has plenty of ties to Wright on his own. Otis Moss Jr. and Wright shared a mentor in Samuel DeWitt Proctor, who helped give rise to black liberation theology. In fact, it was the radical Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference that sponsored Wright's now-infamous National Press Club appearance in late April 2008--which led to Obama's break with Trinity and Wright. Less noted was the fact that the symposium's guest preacher that day was Reverend Otis Moss Jr. Moss has publicly defended Wright and compared his preaching to that of Amos, Micah, Malachi, and John the Baptist.

Moss's closeness to Wright is expressed most clearly in the 40-minute tribute sermon he preached from Trinity's pulpit on the occasion of Wright's 36th anniversary at the church in February 2008. Of Wright, Reverend Moss said: "All of us who know him and love him have been blessed by his genius, his creativity, his scholarship, his discipleship, his sensitivity as an artist, his boldness as a prophet, and, I agree, his rhythmic poetry." This homage came long after Wright's hit parade of sound-bites: "God Damn America" .  .  . "America's chickens are coming home to roost" .  .  . "Bill did us like he did Monica Lewinsky." Poetry indeed.

Even more interesting, perhaps, is Moss's own rhetoric. He is a political preacher and has said, "If you are preaching a gospel that has nothing about politics, nothing about economics, nothing about sociology, you are preaching an empty gospel with a cap and shoes but no body to it." His sermons at Olivet are hard to come by. But from public lectures, one concludes that, while his style is more subdued than Wright's (or his own son's) and his themes more benign, there are still plenty of comments that call into question his suitability for government service. Take, for instance, this observation made at Yale in October 2004:

You have heard that it was said, "God bless America." But I say unto you, Pray for all of the Osama bin Ladens and the Saddam Husseins. .  .  . I say unto you, Be kind, be as kind to Castro as you are to the Saudi family and the leaders of China and Russia. This, however, is difficult in a society .  .  . when we are afflicted or infected with hubris. It's almost an incurable disease--incurable not because of despair, but because of arrogance.

A spokesman for Moss explains that he meant his audience to "understand that you must 'pray for your enemies' and those that would do you harm. No more, no less." So in the spirit of Christ's admonition to turn the other cheek, Moss wants us to pray for those who have killed thousands of American citizens within the last decade. Yet he's still holding a 400-year-old grudge against the settlers of Jamestown. In a panel discussion on "the State of the Black Union" with Reverends Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, on the occasion of Jamestown's quadricentennial,

Moss noted: