Despite the concept of separation of church and state in America, a building block amidst the mortar of this nation, there remains a powerful inclination in the U.S. to mix religion with politics. As we enter yet another election cycle, the issue of religion once again floats to the top. A candidate’s religious affiliations and beliefs, for many, have become an important issue in the presidential race.
At the forefront of this new election cycle, old, worn-out tactics are being recycled to raise questions about the character of President Obama, and personal attacks again rear their ugly heads. In an attempt to diffuse or redirect attention away from the questions arising about current GOP candidates’ religious activities and beliefs, false, yet persistent, rumors resurrect themselves about Obama’s own religious affiliations.
Obama’s ties to Reverend Jeremiah Wright, have risen from the dead, readying themselves to rile the masses. During the 2008 presidential election cycle, a concerted attack was launched using sound bites lifted from a particular sermon in which Wright uttered the phrase, “God damn America.” The sermon in question was mutilated, syntax rearranged, with excerpts weaponized by Obama’s opponents.
Most people have not heard Reverend Wright’s sermons from start to finish, particularly the infamous sermon which was the source of the unending sound bites which permeated the airwaves during the last presidential election cycle.
I challenge any and all of you who have not read or listened to that particular sermon in its entirety, to do so. For those who prefer to get to the meat of the matter, an excerpt from the transcript of the April 25, 2008 edition of Bill Moyers’ Journal follows, with a transcript of that infamous sermon. The interview, in its entirety, is worth reading or listening to. As well, it wouldn’t hurt any of us to remember and revisit Obama’s speech entitled, “A More Perfect Union”, which placed Dr. Wright’s comments in a historical and sociological context (read the full text)
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the JOURNAL.
Barack Obama’s pastor was in the news again this week. North Carolina Republicans are preparing to run an ad tying Obama to some controversial sound bites lifted from Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s sermons. And CBS and MSNBC led their broadcasts with reports about the ad.
BILL MOYERS: One of the most controversial sermons that you preach is the sermon you preach that ended up being that sound bite about Goddamn America.
REVEREND JEREMIAH WRIGHT (SERMON TAPE): Where governments lie, God does not lie. Where governments change, God does not change. And I’m through now. But let me leave you with one more thing. Governments fail. The government in this text comprised of Caesar, Cornelius, Pontius Pilate – the Roman government failed. The British government used to rule from East to West. The British government had a Union Jack. She colonized Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Hong Kong. Her navies ruled the seven seas all the way down to the tip of Argentina in the Falklands, but the British government failed. The Russian government failed. The Japanese government failed. The German government failed. And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing God bless America? No, no, no. Not God bless America; God damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizen as less than human. God damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!
BILL MOYERS: What did you mean when you said that?
REVEREND WRIGHT: When you start confusing God and government, your allegiances to government -a particular government and not to God, that you’re in serious trouble because governments fail people. And governments change. And governments lie. And those three points of the sermon. And that is the context in which I was illustrating how the governments biblically and the governments since biblical times, up to our time, changed, how they failed, and how they lie. And when we start talking about my government right or wrong, I don’t think that goes. That is consistent with what the will of God says or the word of God says that governments don’t say right or wrong. That governments that wanna kill innocents are not consistent with the will of God. And that you are made in the image of God, you’re not made in the image of any particular government. We have the freedom here in this country to talk about that publicly, whereas some other places, you’re dead if say the wrong thing about your government.
BILL MOYERS: Well, you can be almost crucified for saying what you’ve said here in this country.
REVEREND WRIGHT: That’s true. That’s true. But you can be crucified, you can be crucified publicly, you can be crucified by corporate-owned media. But I mean, what I just meant was, you can be killed in other countries by the government for saying that. Dr. King, of course, was vilified. And most of us forget that after he was assassinated, but the year before he was assassinated, April 4th, 1967 at the Riverside Church, he talked about racism, militarism and capitalism. He became vilified. He got ostracized not only by the majority of Americans in the press; he got vilified by his own community. They thought he had overstepped his bounds. He was no longer talking about civil rights and being able to sit down at lunch counters that he should not talk about things like the war in Vietnam.
Sadly, the games of deception and distraction have begun anew, as the media and social networks bombard us with information and misinformation. It’s not always easy to sort through all the half-truths and lies, the testimonials given by big name personalities and ordinary Joes, the name calling and the labeling, and the emotional pull to jump on the bandwagon. We’ll be inundated with visceral appeals that circumvent substance, and appeals that drape the candidates in the American flag, yet tell us nothing about what the candidates will do if elected. The election process has become tainted by a media that puts campaign strategy over campaign substance, leaving us to decide where the truth lies. In the words of George Orwell, “Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.”
As we enter the start of a new election cycle, may we all step back and remember the responsibility that each and every one of us bears to make informed decisions when we participate in the election process. As Americans, we can only hope that each and every one of us makes informed decisions, with our eyes wide open and our heads clear to reason. The future of our country depends upon it.