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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When we think of Jamestown, we must see the triple holocaust that came out of Jamestown .  .  . that African holocaust, that Native American holocaust, that African-American holocaust. And until we deal with that and place it in the collective memories of our own history, and the wider history of the world, we are in a state of denial--often celebrating when we need to be correcting the propaganda of history.

Moss was loudly opposed to American action in Iraq, a theme woven throughout his lectures and writings. In a book coauthored with Jeremiah Wright, Moss explained:

I know where the weapons of mass destruction are, and they are not the ones we went looking for in Iraq. I know where they are, and you know where they are! According to statistics, AIDS is a weapon of mass destruction. Miseducation and no education are weapons of mass destruction. Forty-four million people without health care is a weapon of mass destruction.

Even the experiences of day-to-day life in America draw Reverend Moss's ire. Air travel? "Now when I go to the airport I have to take off my shoes--not because the ground is holy ground, but because of a man somewhere in a cave that we can't find." A long drive? "You can travel from New York to California and listen carefully to radio or media and never get outside of the beam of hate." Not even classic films are safe: In a tag-team sermon with his son, Moss assumed the persona of a 21st-century Moses, then proceeded to declare the Jewish prophet a man of "Afrocentric heritage"--despite "Eurocentric Hollywood movie distortions of [his] Africanness." (Take that, Cecil B. De-Mille.) Moss also seems to enjoy sowing racial discord. At the "State of the Black Union" conference in Jamestown, he accused President Bush of "pimping New Orleans."

Given the enormous backlash he endured over his connections to Wright, Trinity, and black liberation theology, one wonders why Obama tapped Moss to serve on the President's Advisory Council. At least three other members--Fred Davie of Public/Private Ventures; Dr. William J. Shaw of the National Baptist Convention; and Bishop Vashti M. McKenzie, the first woman bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Church--bring what might be called a black perspective to the council's work. With Wright, Obama could at least argue that his affiliation with the pastor was a personal matter of private faith. Yet by appointing Moss, Obama has given him the imprimatur of the White House and a position from which to help shape public policy. While Moss and other members of the faith-based President's Advisory Council aren't paid, they are entitled to public funds for travel costs, per-diem expenses, and support staff. They can hold hearings and form task forces. And of course, they can guide the work of Obama's faith-based office as it directs public funding to religious and community groups.

Perhaps the quiet installation of Moss is part of a grander design for the faith-based office: to make it a mechanism for nationwide "community organizing." In 1995, Obama told the Chicago Reader:

In every church on Sunday in the African-American community we have this moral fervor; we have energy to burn. But as soon as church lets out, the energy dissipates. We must find ways to channel all this energy into community building. The biggest failure of the civil-rights movement was in failing to translate this energy, this moral fervor, into creating lasting institutions and organizational structures.