From Wright and others, Obama learned that part of his problem as an organizer was that he was trying to build a confederation of churches but wasn’t showing up in the pews on Sunday. When pastors asked him the inevitable questions about his own spiritual life, Obama would duck them uncomfortably. A Reverend Philips put the problem to him squarely when he learned that Obama didn’t attend services. “It might help your mission if you had a church home,” he told Obama. “It doesn’t matter where, really. What you’re asking from pastors requires us to set aside some of our more priestly concerns in favor of prophesy. That requires a good deal of faith on our part. It makes us want to know just where you’re getting yours from.”This raises a lot of interesting questions, such as - could it be that Wright is still more than attached to Islam despite his ostensibly converting? Good question.
After many lectures like this, Obama decided to take a second look at Wright’s church. Older pastors warned him that Trinity was for “Buppies”–black urban professionals–and didn’t have enough street cred. But Wright was a former Muslim and black nationalist who had studied at Howard and Chicago, and Trinity’s guiding principles–what the church calls the “Black Value System”–included a “Disavowal of the Pursuit of Middleclassness.’”
The crosscurrents appealed to Obama. He came to believe that the church could not only compensate for the limitations of Alinsky-style organizing but could help answer the nagging identity problem he had come to Chicago to solve. “It was a powerful program, this cultural community,” he wrote, “one more pliant than simple nationalism, more sustaining than my own brand of organizing.”
As a result, over the years, Wright became not only Obama’s pastor, but his mentor. The title of Obama’s recent book, The Audacity of Hope, is based on a sermon by Wright. (It’s worth noting, however, that, while Obama’s book is a coolheaded appeal for common ground in an age of political polarization, Wright’s sermon, “The Audacity to Hope,” is a fiery jeremiad about persevering in a world of nuclear arms and racial inequality.) Wright is one of the first people Obama thanked after his Senate victory in 2004, and he recently name-checked Wright in his speech to civil rights leaders in Selma, Alabama.
Hat tip: Little Green Footballs.