Overcoming Racism and Pastors are People Too

Did you watch the Obama speech yesterday? I ended up recording it to watch it late last night. No matter where you are in the political spectrum (Obama is considered the most liberal Senator in the Senate), you have to be impressed with his speech yesterday (full transcript). Of all the things he talked about, two points jumped out at me:

Overcoming Racism

Is this even possible? Hatred and anger seem to be so ingrained in our country – passed down from one generation to the next. My parents’ generation, the Baby Boomers, semed to make tremendous progress compared to the Greatest Generation (as Tom Brokaw refers to those who fought in World War 2). My generation seems to be more open to the idea in theory; whereas, the generation younger than me seems to be in that new world.

When I first started writing Peppermint-Filled Pinatas, the original topic was ethnic diversity. I soon realized my experiences in Seattle and now in Los Angeles at Mosaic have taught me even more than just the power and challenge of creating a ethnically diverse community. In the end I shared about creating a diverse community which includes people who are diverse socio-economically, morally, religiously, philosophically, and even ethnically.

Obama mentioned the oft-quoted line that “the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning.” I am so grateful to be a part of a community that stands in stark contrast to that statement.

What I felt was most powerful about his talk was his willingness to speak to white America about the injustices that have been the context of his pastors’ horrific statements even while condemning those statements. By sharing with us his white grandmother’s struggle with prejudice, he was reminding us that there is racism on both sides. He even went on to speak to black America about the context of the prejudice of middle and working class white America.

Pastors Are People Too

Since I first heard the story on the news about Obama’s pastor’s racist and angry statements, I was curious to see how this would affect Obama’s campaign and how he would respond. Whenever McCain received an introduction in which the announcer liked pointing out that Obama’s middle name is “Hussein,” McCain used some of the strongest language possible to distance himself from the announcer. In fact, the announcer was so offended that he became a Hillary supporter! I thought Obama would be just as harsh with his pastor.

Instead, he condemned the statements rather than condemn the person. He seemed to have a great deal of love and respect for the man who led him into a relationship with Christ, officiated his wedding, and baptized his children.

I have to be honest, I felt a bit nervous as the discussion in our country has turned towards the seemingly angry or prejudice statements of pastors. McCain was receiving some criticism for being connected to John Hagee who spoke poorly of Catholics and Rod Parsley who spoke badly of Muslims. I disagree with these statements made by Hagee, Parsley and Wright, but I could not help but wonder what have I said or done as a pastor that might damage the political aspirations of someone in my community? What have we said in our churches which could be misconstrued or edited to put us in a bad light?

One of my favorite moments from the speech included these lines:
“For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him (Rev. Wright) to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.”

I am still skeptical of politicians and even the ability to make change through the government (see this other post on “Changing Laws or Changing People?”), but I was reminded in that speech that it is ok to love someone with whom you disagree. In fact, you can even serve in the church of a pastor who at times says or does things which make you scratch your head or even make you mad (good news for all of us in church leadership).

I was also reminded that even though we can never fully live out these words from the Declaration of Independence
“We the people, in order to form a more perfect union” we can come closer and even make progress.

Showing 11 comments
  • Sam.

    Interesting post, Eric. (Hope you’re doing ok by the way??) I read the speech yesterday afternoon and was touched profoundly. It’s going to be interesting to see the full out from delving into the race issue. Its seems like it could go either way: bring an end to his nomination ambitions or open the way to the White House. There’s a lot of interest this side of the pond to see how things are going to unfold.

  • Johnny Laird

    If I had a vote, Obama would get mine


  • Lyn

    What I most disliked about this posting is that it glosses over what happened.

    I have never been impressed by Obama. He’s a racist. It’s that simple.

    That so many are quick to forgive the rhetoric of the pastor Wright is disturbing. Don’t excuse it with “pastors are people too.” We are correct in holding him to a higher standard of conduct because of his leadership position. And Obama should definitely be held to a higher standard because he’s running for President.

    Don’t excuse these black racists. There is no excuse for their anti-White and anti-American comments.

    Obama and Wright are racists. Wake up, people.

  • Daniel

    Hi Eric – I like these thoughts about reflecting this kind of scrutiny to all church leadership. Every pastor needs to guard what he/she says very closely. The biases we often work under seem right to us; but when held up to God’s vision and message are clearly shown to be askew.

    One of my favorite Americans in recent history is Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. His vision of America has to be God’s vision: he wanted equality and integration, not segregation and superiority.

  • Eric Bryant


    Just to clarify, I liked the idea of condemning the rhetoric without condemning the person. The other reason I liked the speech: Obama pointed out the racism from both sides.

    My comments on the speech were more from my perspective as a pastor who makes mistakes and from a broader perspective as a cultural observer. Rev. Wright’s statements are incredibly inflammatory and racist. If my pastor spoke like that, I would feel the freedom to leave (in the Western World there are plenty of churches to choose from).

    I also agree with you, Daniel. Pastors do need to watch what we say and how we say it.

  • Sam.

    Thanks Eric.

    I still don’t know about Preston. I probably will know for sure when our building move is going to happen in a couple of weeks and then I’ll know. Definitely hoping to be there though!

  • Brett

    Enjoyed your thoughts here, Eric. I too really appreciated Obama’s speech. I thought it was uncharacteristically intelligent and nuanced for a political speech. I just posted my own thoughts about it on my blog earlier today. I’m not necessarily Obama’s biggest fan, but I have to say his speeches are fantastic.

  • Kevin

    I didn’t read or see his speech, but Obama is not a Christian. His lifestyle and beliefs should reflect the person of Jesus Christ. From what I have read and heard about him, clearly indicates that he is not a true believer in Christ. Anyone can say that they are believer in Jesus.

  • mike

    obama passed on signing legislation that’d allow a 2nd doctor to give medical attention to a baby who lived thru a botched late term abortion. Planned parenthood gives him a 100% rating. His popularity among the masses as well as among many followers of Christ ought to tell us our days, as we’ve come to love them, got to be limited. Kevin, Lyn, keep it up.

  • Teree

    I considered Obama’s speech to be eloquent but transparent of how much he has been influenced by Mr. Wright. Actions speak louder than words. I don’t want a lukewarm Christian nor a lukewarm President.

  • Zoraida Quattrini

    Praise God for all He is doing. Thanks!

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