FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Tolerance and the American Pulpit

A cable newscaster on Friday afternoon asked in a tone of voice that expressed her wide-eyed naivety: “What is liberation theology?” Having covered the news for many years, and having covered the Rev. Jeremiah Wright thunderstorm for two weeks, it was still a question that she had not bothered to research. And frankly, I don’t really want to experience that learning curve as part of my continuing coverage of the Presidential campaign.

I doubt that the summer of ’08 will be the time to provide a sufficient, good-faith answer to the question of liberation theology or how the black social gospel is spiritual grandfather to these momentous American movements. Such an attempt at national education played out upon our contemporary media landscape would likely morph very quickly into a witch-hunt.

Sen. Barack Obama appears to agree with this assessment. The Senator’s public review of Rev. Wright’s oratory during Tuesday’s “race speech” did not mention either keyword, neither liberation nor theology. And yet, Rev. Wright has asked that these be the key words applied to any serious assessment of his work.

Because it would likely be a poisonous time and place for the adult discussion that liberation theology requires, I think Obama’s judgment call is valid as he tried to move public discussion around the issue rather of “liberation theology” rather than through it.

However, I think there are stronger arguments for going around Rev. Wright’s oratory as a campaign issue. The stronger argument is that the American unity that Obama claims to want will require some faith in the principle of religious toleration.

Since it is “liberation theology” that is required to understand Rev. Wright, and since theological agreement is precisely the kind of thing that should not be required in the context of public policy debates, then it is time to agree that when Rev. Wright speaks from a pulpit in a church, it is better that a tolerant society back off of his comments as a Presidential issue.

There is some sophistication in the careful wording of Sen. Obama’s speech, which hints that he knows the difference between theology and policy discourse, even as he puts Rev. Wright’s oratory upon a two-dimensional plane of public policy. The clues are in the repeated uses of the phrase ‘as if’: “he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.”

Sen. Obama has three times denied the truth of is own pastor with the phrase ‘as if.’ But is it not the theological function of prophetic speech to talk precisely ‘as if’?

Although it is unlikely that the cable news cyclists would respect Sen. Obama’s call for religious toleration in behalf of Rev. Wright, I think that toleration is the better argument for moving on. An attitude of toleration has the benefit of refusing to flatten all public oratory into the plane of policy speak. And if we achieve this act of toleration for Rev. Wright, then we will strengthen the three-dimensional life of spiritual language for all theologies (or anti-theologies), and maintain a more healthy distance between church and state as a precious resource for everyone’s freedom of worship in a robust democracy.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com

July 17, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Trump & The Big Bad Bugs
Robert Hunziker
Trump Kills Science, Nature Strikes Back
John Grant
The Politics of Cruelty
Kenneth Surin
Calculated Buffoonery: Trump in the UK
Binoy Kampmark
Helsinki Theatrics: Trump Meets Putin
Patrick Bond
BRICS From Above, Seen Critically From Below
Jim Kavanagh
Fighting Fake Stories: The New Yorker, Israel and Obama
Daniel Falcone
Chomsky on the Trump NATO Ruse
W. T. Whitney
Oil Underground in Neuquén, Argentina – and a New US Military Base There
Doug Rawlings
Ken Burns’ “The Vietnam War” was Nominated for an Emmy, Does It Deserve It?
Rajan Menon
The United States of Inequality
Thomas Knapp
Have Mueller and Rosenstein Finally Gone Too Far?
Cesar Chelala
An Insatiable Salesman
Dean Baker
Truth, Trump and the Washington Post
Mel Gurtov
Human Rights Trumped
Binoy Kampmark
Putin’s Football Gambit: How the World Cup Paid Off
July 16, 2018
Sheldon Richman
Trump Turns to Gaza as Middle East Deal of the Century Collapses
Charles Pierson
Kirstjen Nielsen Just Wants to Protect You
Brett Wilkins
The Lydda Death March and the Israeli State of Denial
Patrick Cockburn
Trump Knows That the US Can Exercise More Power in a UK Weakened by Brexit
Robert Fisk
The Fisherman of Sarajevo Told Tales Past Wars and Wars to Come
Gary Leupp
When Did Russia Become an Adversary?
Uri Avnery
“Not Enough!”
Dave Lindorff
Undermining Trump-Putin Summit Means Promoting War
Manuel E. Yepe
World Trade War Has Begun
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Stomps Britain
Wim Laven
The Best Deals are the Deals that Develop Peace
Kary Love
Can We Learn from Heinrich Himmler’s Daughter? Should We?
Jeffrey St. Clair
Franklin Lamb, Requiescat in Pace
Weekend Edition
July 13, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Brian Cloughley
Lessons That Should Have Been Learned From NATO’s Destruction of Libya
Paul Street
Time to Stop Playing “Simon Says” with James Madison and Alexander Hamilton
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: In the Land of Formula and Honey
Aidan O'Brien
Ireland’s Intellectuals Bow to the Queen of Chaos 
Michael Collins
The Affirmative Action Silo
Andrew Levine
Tipping Points
Geoff Dutton
Fair and Balanced Opinion at the New York Times
Ajamu Baraka
Cultural and Ideological Struggle in the US: a Final Comment on Ocasio-Cortez
David Rosen
The New McCarthyism: Is the Electric Chair Next for the Left?
Ken Levy
The McConnell Rule: Nasty, Brutish, and Unconstitutional
George Wuerthner
The Awful Truth About the Hammonds
Robert Fisk
Will Those Killed by NATO 19 Years Ago in Serbia Ever Get Justice?
Robert Hunziker
Three Climatic Monsters with Asteroid Impact
Ramzy Baroud
Europe’s Iron Curtain: The Refugee Crisis is about to Worsen
Nick Pemberton
A Letter For Scarlett JoManDaughter
Marilyn Garson
Netanyahu’s War on Transcendence 
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail