Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Strange bedfellows

I have been generally annoyed by the hubbub over Rev. Jeremiah Wright--I certainly don't support everything he's said, but I do believe that if Barack Obama is to be held responsible for everything the man says (which might be a slight exaggeration), then John McCain should have to answer for the rhetoric of John Hagee, et al.

Coming to Rev. Wright's defense, perhaps surprisingly, is Mike Huckabee:
"[Y]ou can't hold the candidate responsible for everything that people around him may say or do," Huckabee says. "It's interesting to me that there are some people on the left who are having to be very uncomfortable with what ... Wright said, when they all were all over a Jerry Falwell, or anyone on the right who said things that they found very awkward and uncomfortable, years ago. Many times those were statements lifted out of the context of a larger sermon. Sermons, after all, are rarely written word for word by pastors like Rev. Wright, who are delivering them extemporaneously, and caught up in the emotion of the moment. There are things that sometimes get said, that if you put them on paper and looked at them in print, you'd say 'Well, I didn't mean to say it quite like that.'"

Later, he defended Wright's anger, too:

"As easy as it is for those of us who are white to look back and say 'That's a terrible statement!' ... I grew up in a very segregated South. And I think that you have to cut some slack -- and I'm gonna be probably the only conservative in America who's gonna say something like this, but I'm just tellin' you -- we've gotta cut some slack to people who grew up being called names..."
Huckabee gets perilously close to what I like to call the "context fallacy," wherein any embarrassing, inflammatory, offensive, or just plain nasty comment presented as a soundbyte can be dismissed by the speaker as having been "taken out of context," usually with no follow-up explanation (or inquiry) as to the correct context. The speaker often gets a free pass, or at least a reprieve as the news media move on to other scandals or verbal gaffes.

Regardless of context, Rev. Wright has said some pretty wacky stuff, but the question few are asking is this: how much should a parishioner be held directly responsible for the rhetoric of his/her pastor/minister/rabbi/imam/etc.? Partly it depends on the extracurricular activities of the church/temple/mosque/etc. For example, an active member of Westboro Baptist Church could certainly be said to bear some responsibility for what its pastor says and does, comsidering that church's rather single-minded focus, but that is an extreme example. For a church such as Wright's Trinity United Church of Christ, with over 10,000 members (h/t Wikipedia), that is a harder connection to make. I for one am not terribly bothered by Wright's infamous rhetoric--in part, because the broader context (now that I've looked into it a little) seems relatively benign when compared to say, Jerry Falwell or the aforementioned Rev. Hagee; but also because Rev. Wright seems to be expressing anger and frustration (cf. Huckabee, above) alone, not some sort of plan for rearranging the world order (I'm just paranoid enough to suspect Rev. Hagee has that in mind.)

At any rate, I like that Huckabee stepped up for the guy, and I wish everyone would talk about something else.

1 comment:

Todd Stadler said...

Depending on where you listen, it could be fair to say the hubbub is rather overblown. That said, I think it's not a good comparison to equate a pastor that one chooses for spiritual guidance and teaching on one hand, and a person that endorses you on the other. A better comparison would be McCain : Hagee :: Obama : Farrakhan (not Wright).

While I don't deny that there may be some context for what Wright said (and definitely is some context for his anger), I still find myself wondering why Obama went there if he disagreed with the man.

Just for comparison, let's say there was a man who preached about being kind to people, caring for the environment, and a whole bunch of things you think are good. You largely agree with what he says, except for the 5% of the time when he ties that stuff back to belief in Jesus. But that is infrequent, and he mainly talks about our actions here on earth. Would you attend this man's church?