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Tuesday morning meditation: Mischief and vanity, thy name is Wright

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By Michelle Malkin  •  April 29, 2008 09:06 AM

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Psalms 10:7 His mouth is full of cursing and deceit and fraud: under his tongue is mischief and vanity.

Errol Louis and the NYDailyNews wants to know if Jeremiah Wright’s appearance at the National Press Club was a “press trick.” He points out that the NPC member who extended the invitation to Wright, former USA Today columnist Barbara Reynolds, is a Hillary Clinton supporter:

On a blog linked to her Web site- www.reynoldsnews.com- Reynolds said in a February post: “My vote for Hillary in the Maryland primary was my way of saying thank you” to Clinton and her husband for the successes of Bill Clinton’s presidency.

The same post criticized Obama’s “Audacity of Hope” theme: “Hope by definition is not based on facts,” wrote Reynolds. It is an emotional expectation. Things hoped for may or may not come. But help based on experience trumps hope every time.”

In another blog entry, Reynolds gives an ever-sharper critique of Obama: “It is a sad testimony that to protect his credentials as a unifier above the fray, the senator is fueling the media characterization that Rev. Dr. Wright is some retiring old uncle in the church basement.”

I don’t know if Reynolds’ eagerness to help Wright stage a disastrous news conference with the national media was a way of trying to help Clinton – my queries to Reynolds by phone and e-mail weren’t returned yesterday – but it’s safe to say she didn’t see any conflict between promoting Wright and supporting Clinton.

It’s hard to exaggerate how bad the actual news conference was. Wright, steeped in an honorable, fiery tradition of Bible-based social criticism, cheapened his arguments and his movement by mugging for the cameras, rolling his eyes, heaping scorn on his critics and acting as if nobody in the room was learned enough to ask him a question.

Wright has, unquestionably, been caricatured and vilified unfairly. The feeding programs, prison outreach and other social services he has built over more than 30 years are commendable, and his reading of the Judeo-Christian tradition as an epic story of people trying to escape slavery is far more right than wrong – and not something to be caricatured or compressed into a 10-second sound bite.

But Wright should have known – and his friend and ally Reynolds, a media professional, surely knew – that bickering with the press can only harm Wright and, by extension, Obama.

I hope that wasn’t their goal.

I wouldn’t give the press so much conspiratorial credit.

They’re not evil puppet-masters. They’re just idiots. That appearance yesterday wasn’t about intentionally helping or hurting Obama. It was all about aggrandizing Jeremiah, Jeremiah, Jeremiah. And in that task, they succeeded phenomenally.

As for being “caricatured and vilified unfairly,” after yesterday’s command performance, I can’t see how Louis can call it unfair to treat Wright as the strutting, ranting loon we always took him to be.

Lest Wright’s apologists accuse of cherry-picking “10-second sound bites,” here’s the entire transcript of the question-and-answer session and the accompanying vid clips for those who missed it, ignored it, and would rather forget it happened. Mischief and vanity, thy name is Jeremiah Wright.

MODERATOR: We do want to get in our questions. Thank you. Thank you, everybody.

I do want to repeat again, for those of you watching us on C- SPAN, that we do have a number of guests here today. And so the applause and the comments that you hear from the audience are not necessarily those of the working press, who are mostly in the balconies.
You have said that the media have taken you out of context. Can you explain what you meant in a sermon shortly after 9/11 when you said the United States had brought the terrorist attacks on itself? Quote, “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

WRIGHT: Have you heard the whole sermon? Have you heard the whole sermon?

MODERATOR: I heard most of it.

WRIGHT: No, no, the whole sermon, yes or no? No, you haven’t heard the whole sermon? That nullifies that question.

Well, let me try to respond in a non-bombastic way. If you heard the whole sermon, first of all, you heard that I was quoting the ambassador from Iraq. That’s number one.

But, number two, to quote the Bible, “Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatsoever you sow, that you also shall reap.” Jesus said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles.

(APPLAUSE)

MODERATOR: Some critics have said that your sermons are unpatriotic. How do you feel about America and about being an American?

WRIGHT: I feel that those citizens who say that have never heard my sermons, nor do they know me. They are unfair accusations taken from sound bites and that which is looped over and over again on certain channels.

I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?

(APPLAUSE)

MODERATOR: Please, I ask you to keep your comments and your applause to a minimum so that we can work in as many questions as possible.

Senator Obama has — shh, please. We’re trying to ask as many questions as possible today, so if you can keep your applause to a minimum.

Senator Obama has tried to explain away some of your most contentious comments and has distanced himself from you. It’s clear that many people in his campaign consider you a detriment. In that context, why are you speaking out now?

WRIGHT: On November the 5th and on January 21st, I’ll still be a pastor. As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.

And why am I speaking out now? In our community, we have something called playing the dozens. If you think I’m going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition, and my daddy and his religious tradition, and my grandma, you’ve got another thing coming.

MODERATOR: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan? Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

WRIGHT: As I said on the Bill Moyers’ show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion.

And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for, and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we’re going to build a future for our children, whether those people are — just as Michelle and Barack don’t agree on everything, Raymond (ph) and I don’t agree on everything, Louis and I don’t agree on everything, most of you all don’t agree — you get two people in the same room, you’ve got three opinions.

So what I think about him, as I’ve said on Bill Moyers and it got edited out, how many other African-Americans or European-Americans do you know that can get one million people together on the mall? He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That’s what I think about him.

I’ve said, as I said on Bill Moyers, when Louis Farrakhan speaks, it’s like E.F. Hutton speaks, all black America listens. Whether they agree with him or not, they listen.

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan anymore than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro. Do you remember that Ted Koppel show, where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, “You don’t tell me who my enemies are. You don’t tell me who my friends are.”

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn’t make me this color.

MODERATOR: What is your motivation for characterizing Senator Obama’s response to you as, quote, “what a politician had to say”? What do you mean by that?

WRIGHT: What I mean is what several of my white friends and several of my white, Jewish friends have written me and said to me. They’ve said, “You’re a Christian. You understand forgiveness. We both know that, if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected.”

Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever’s doing the polls. Preachers say what they say because they’re pastors. They have a different person to whom they’re accountable.

As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I’m still going to have to be answerable to God November 5th and January 21st. That’s what I mean. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do.

I am not running for office. I am hoping to be vice president.

(LAUGHTER)

MODERATOR: In light of your widely quoted comment damning America, do you think you owe the American people an apology? If not, do you think that America is still damned in the eyes of God?

WRIGHT: The governmental leaders, those — as I said to Barack Obama, my member — I am a pastor, he’s a member. I’m not a spiritual mentor, guru. I’m his pastor.

And I said to Barack Obama, last year, “If you get elected, November the 5th, I’m coming after you, because you’ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.” All right? It’s about policy, not the American people.

And if you saw the Bill Moyers show, I was talking about — although it got edited out — you know, that’s biblical. God doesn’t bless everything. God condemns something — and d-e-m-n, “demn,” is where we get the word “damn.” God damns some practices.

And there is no excuse for the things that the government, not the American people, have done. That doesn’t make me not like America or unpatriotic.

So in Jesus — when Jesus says, “Not only you brood of vipers” — now, he’s playing the dozens, because he’s talking about their mamas. To say “brood” means your mother is an asp, a-s-p. Should we put Jesus out of the congregation?

When Jesus says, “You’ll be brought down to Hell,” that’s not — that’s bombastic, divisive speech. Maybe we ought to take Jesus out of this Christian faith.

No. What I said about and what I think about and what — again, until I can’t — until racism and slavery are confessed and asked for forgiveness — have we asked the Japanese to forgive us? We have never as a country, the policymakers — in fact, Clinton almost got in trouble because he almost apologized at Gorialan (ph). We have never apologized as a country.

Britain has apologized to Africans, but this country’s leaders have refused to apologize. So until that apology comes, I’m not going to keep stepping on your foot and asking you, “Does this hurt? Do you forgive me for stepping on your foot?” if I’m still stepping on your foot.

Understand that? Capiche?

MODERATOR: Senator Obama has been in your congregation for 20 years, yet you were not invited to his announcement of his presidential candidacy in Illinois. And in the most recent presidential debate in Pennsylvania, he said he had denounced you. Are you disappointed that Senator Obama has chosen to walk away from you?

WRIGHT: Whoever wrote that question doesn’t read or watch the news. He did not denounce me. He distanced himself from some of my remarks, like most of you, never having heard the sermon. All right?

Now, what was the rest of your question? Because I got confused in — the person who wrote it hadn’t –

MODERATOR: Were you disappointed that he distanced himself?

WRIGHT: He didn’t distance himself. He had to distance himself, because he’s a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was anti-American. He said I didn’t offer any words of hope. How would he know? He never heard the rest of the sermon. You never heard it.

I offered words of hope. I offered reconciliation. I offered restoration in that sermon, but nobody heard the sermon. They just heard this little sound bite of a sermon.

That was not the whole question. There was something else in the first part of the question that I wanted to address.

Oh, I was not invited because that was a political event. Let me say again: I’m his pastor. As a political event, who started it off? Senator Dick Durbin. I started it off downstairs with him, his wife, and children in prayer. That’s what pastors do.

So I started it off in prayer. When he went out into the public, that wasn’t about prayer. That wasn’t about pastor-member. Pastor- member took place downstairs. What took place upstairs was political.

So that’s how I feel about that. He did, as I’ve said, what politicians do. This is a political event. He wasn’t announcing, “I’m saved, sanctified, and feel the holy ghost.” He was announcing, “I’m running for president of the United States.”

MODERATOR: You just mentioned that Senator Obama hadn’t heard many of your sermons. Does that mean he’s not much of a churchgoer? Or does he doze off in the pews?

WRIGHT: I just wanted to see — that’s your question. That’s your question. He goes to church about as much as you do. What did your pastor preach on last week? You don’t know? OK.

MODERATOR: In your sermon, you said the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. So I ask you: Do you honestly believe your statement and those words?

WRIGHT: Have you read Horowitz’s book, “Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola,” whoever wrote that question? Have you read “Medical Apartheid”? You’ve read it?

(UNKNOWN): Do you honestly believe that (OFF-MIKE)

WRIGHT: Oh, are you — is that one of the reporters?

MODERATOR: No questions -

(CROSSTALK)

WRIGHT: No questions from the floor. I read different things. As I said to my members, if you haven’t read things, then you can’t — based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.

In fact, in fact, in fact, one of the — one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non- question, because all we had to do was check the sales records. We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people.

So any time a government can put together biological warfare to kill people, and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable.

MODERATOR: You have likened Israeli policies to apartheid and its treatment of Palestinians with Native Americans. Can you explain your views on Israel?

WRIGHT: Where did I liken them to that? Whoever wrote the question, tell me where I likened them.

Jimmy Carter called it apartheid. Jeremiah Wright didn’t liken anything to anything. My position on Israel is that Israel has a right to exist, that Israelis have a right to exist, as I said, reconciled one to another.

Have you read the Link? Do you read the Link, Americans for Middle Eastern Understanding, where Palestinians and Israelis need to sit down and talk to each other and work out a solution where their children can grow in a world together, and not be talking about killing each other, that that is not God’s will?

My position is that the Israel and the people of Israel be the people of God who are worrying about reconciliation and who are trying to do what God wants for God’s people, which is reconciliation.

MODERATOR: In your understanding of Christianity, does God love the white racists in the same way he loves the oppressed black American?

WRIGHT: John 3:16, Jesus said it much better than I could ever say it, “for God so loved the world.” World is white, black, Iraqi, Darfurian, Sudanese, Zulu, Coschia (ph). God loves all of God’s children, because all of God’s children are made in God’s image.

MODERATOR: Can you elaborate on your comparison of the Roman soldiers who killed Jesus to the U.S. Marine Corps? Do you still believe that is an appropriate comparison and why?

WRIGHT: One of the things that will be covered at the symposium over the next two days is biblical history, which many of the working press are unfamiliar with.

In biblical history, there’s not one word written in the Bible between Genesis and Revelations that was not written under one of six different kinds of oppression, Egyptian oppression, Assyrian oppression, Persian oppression, Greek oppression, Roman oppression, Babylonian oppression.

The Roman oppression is the period in which Jesus is born. And comparing imperialism that was going on in Luke, imperialism was going on when Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that the whole world should be taxed. They weren’t in charge of the world. It sounds like some other governments I know.

That, yes, I can compare that. We have troops stationed all over the world, just like Rome had troops stationed all over the world, because we run the world. That notion of imperialism is not the message of the gospel of the prince of peace, nor of God, who loves the world.

MODERATOR: Former President Bill Clinton has been widely criticized in this campaign. Many African-Americans think he has said things aimed at defining Senator Obama as the black candidate. What do you think of President Clinton’s comments, particularly those before the South Carolina primary?

WRIGHT: I don’t think anything about them. I came here to talk about prophetic theology of the black church. I’m not talking about candidates or their positions or their feelings or what they have to say to get elected.

MODERATOR: Well, OK, we’ll give you a church question. Please explain how the black church and the white church can reconcile.

WRIGHT: Well, there are many white churches and white persons who are members of churches and clergy and denominations who have already taken great steps in terms of reconciliation.

In the underground railroad, it was the white church that played the largest role in getting Africans out of slavery. In setting up almost all 40 of the HBCUs, it was the white church that sent missionaries into the south.

As I mentioned in my presentation, our denomination all by itself set up over 500 of those schools. You know them today as Howard University, Fisk, LeMoyne-Owen, Tougaloo, Dillard University, Howard University.

So they’ve done — Morehouse, Morehouse. Don’t forget Moorhouse, Spelman — that white Christians have been trying for a long time to reconcile, that for other white Christians to understand that we must be reconciled is to understand the injustice that was done to a people, as we raped the continent, brought those people here, built our country, and then defined them as less than human.

And more Christians, more of us working together, not just white Christians, but whites and blacks of every faith, ecumenically working together.

Father Flagger (ph), by the way, he might be one of the one –

(APPLAUSE)

– models out what it means to be reconciled as brothers and sisters in Christ and brothers and sisters made in the image of God.

MODERATOR: You said there is a lack of understanding by people of other backgrounds of the African-American church. What are some of those misunderstandings? And how would you purport to fix them, particularly when some of your comments are found to be offensive by white churches?

WRIGHT: Carter Godwin Woodson, about 80 years ago, wrote a book entitled “The Miseducation.” I would try to fix it starting at the educational level in the grammar schools, as Dr. Asa Hilliard did in his infusion curriculum, starting at the grammar schools, to tell our children this story and to tell our children the true story.

That’s how I go about fixing it, because until you know the true story, then you’re reacting to my words and not to the truth.

MODERATOR: Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the father but through me.” Do you believe this? And do you think Islam is a way to salvation?

WRIGHT: Jesus also said, “Other sheep have I who are not of this fold.”

(APPLAUSE)

MODERATOR: Do you think people of other races would feel welcome at your church?

WRIGHT: Yes. We have members of other races in our church. We have Hispanics. We have Caribbean. We have South Americans. We have whites.

The conference minister — please understand the United Church of Christ is a predominantly white demonstration. Again, some of you do not know United Church of Christ, just found out about liberation theology, just found out about United Church of Christ, the conference minister, Dr. Jane Fisler Hoffman, a white woman, and her husband, not only are members of the congregation, but on her last Sunday before taking the assignment as the interim conference minister of California, Southern California Conference of the United Church of Christ, a white woman stood in our pulpit and said, “I am unashamedly African.”

(APPLAUSE)

MODERATOR: You first gained media attention, significant media attention for your sermons several weeks ago. Why did you wait so long before giving the public your side of the sound bite story?

WRIGHT: As I said to Bill Moyers — and he also edited this one out — because of my mother’s advice to me. My mother’s advice was being seen all over the corporate media channels, and it’s a paraphrase of the Book of Proverbs, where it is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

The media was making a fool out of itself, because it knew nothing about our tradition. And so I decided to let them make a fool as long as they wanted to and then take the advice of Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Lies, lies, bless the lord. Don’t you know the days are broad?”

Don’t make me come across this room. I had to come across the room, because they start — understand, when you’re talking about my mama, once again, and talking about my faith tradition, once again, how long do you let somebody talk about your faith tradition before you speak up and say something in defense of — this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright.

Once again, let me say it again. This is an attack on the black church. And I cannot as a minister of the gospel allow the significant part of our history — most African-Americans and most European-Americans, most Hispanic-Americans, half the names I called in my presentation they’ve never heard of, because they don’t know anything at all about our tradition.

And to lift up those — they would have died in vain had I just kept quiet longer and longer and longer and longer. As I said, this is an attack on the black church. It is not about Obama, McCain, Hillary, Bill, Chelsea. This is about the black church.

This is about Barbara Jordan. This is about Fanny Lou Hamer. This is about my grandmamma.

MODERATOR: Do you think it is God’s will that Senator Obama be president?

WRIGHT: I said I would offer myself for candidacy for vice president. I have not offered myself for candidacy of God. I can’t presume to know what God would want.

In my tradition, however, what everybody has been saying to me as it pertains to the candidacy is what God has for you is for you. If God intends for Mr. Obama to the president, then no white racists, no political pundit, no speech, nothing can get in the way, because God will do what God wants to do.

MODERATOR: OK, we are almost out of time. But before asking the last question, we have a couple of matters to take care of.

First of all, let me remind you of our future speakers. This afternoon, we have Dan Glickman, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association, who is discussing trading up movies in the global marketplace. On May 2nd, Bobby Jindal, the governor of the state of Louisiana, will discuss bold reform that works. On May 7th, we have Glenn Tilton, CEO, United Airlines, and board member of the American transport association.

Second, I would like to present our guest with the official centennial mug and — it’s brand new.

WRIGHT: Thank you. Thank you.

MODERATOR: You’re welcome. And we’ve got one more question for you.

(APPLAUSE)

We’re going to end with a joke. Chris Rock joked, “Of course Reverend Wright’s an angry 75-year-old black man. All 75-year-old black men are angry.” Is that funny? Is that true? Is it unfortunate? What do you think?

WRIGHT: I think it’s just like the media. I’m not 75.

(LAUGHTER)

(APPLAUSE)

MODERATOR: I’d like to thank you all for coming today.

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