“I was drawn to the power of the African American religious tradition to spur social change. Out of necessity, the black church had to minister to the whole person. Out of necessity, the black church rarely had the luxury of separating individual salvation from collective salvation. It had to serve as the center of the community’s political, economic, and social as well as spiritual life; it understood in an intimate way the biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principalities. In the history of these struggles, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death; rather, it was an active, palpable agent in the world.”
— Barack Obama, Audacity of Hope
When Obama made his fawned over but wholly forgettable speech on race, he said that he could not disown his incendiary pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright any more than he could disown the black community or his own supposedly racist white grandmother. Much has been made of these comparisons, in particular of his contrasting Rev. Wright, a man who believes the U.S. government purposely spread AIDS in the black community to a grandmother who raised him and who once mentioned her fear of a particular black man who was harassing her on a bus.
We don’t choose our relatives, goes the criticism, but Obama chose Wright to be his spiritual leader.
It seems, though, that this isn’t the first time that Obama has chosen to get his spiritual direction from a questionable source.
Reverend James T. Meeks is a Democratic member of the Illinois State Senate, and presides over The Salem Baptist Church of Chicago. The church describes itself on its website as “a beacon of peace and hope for countless thousands in Chicago’s Roseland community.” They claim membership of over 22,000. Reverend Meeks is also a pledged delegate to, and a personal friend of, Barack Obama, campaigning for him in his 2004 U.S. Senate run as well as being a vocal supporter of his presidential campaign. They’re so close, in fact, that after Obama secured the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator, Obama stopped by Meeks’ church for “Wednesday-night Bible study”. Meeks recalls he was a priority for Obama: “The night after the election, he was the hottest thing going from Galesburg to Rockford. He did all the TV shows, and all the morning news, but his last stop at night was for church. He came by to say thank you, and he came by for prayer.”
Obama himself has described Meeks as an adviser whom he seeks out for spiritual counsel. What are some of Meeks’s spiritual lessons? One of his fiery sermons included this rant: “We don’t have slave masters, we got mayors. But they are still the same white people who are presiding over systems where black people are not able to be educated. You got some preachers that are house n——. You got some elected officials that are house n——. Rather than them try and break this up, they’re gonna fight you to protect that white man.” He also believes that homosexuality is something than can be spread, and that it’s Jews doing the spreading. He has accused “Hollywood Jews” of bringing us Brokeback Mountain. He has referred to homosexuality as “an evil sickness” and hosts a Halloween “Fright Night” to scare people away from being gay.
The racist, angry, conspiracy-laden language used by Meeks is reminiscent of Pastor Wright’s. Why does Obama seek out such problematic men to be his spiritual advisors?
The answer can only go two ways.
Either Obama agrees with Meeks, and with Wright, or he is bound to them by political expediency. Both are influential in the world of Chicago politics, both provided an inroad to the black community which Barack Obama lacked. For a candidate of hope and change who tries to portray himself as above these sorts of political calculations, it becomes apparent that he’s a political opportunist of the highest order.
The problem for Obama, or more accurately the problem for us all if Obama is elected president, is that these kinds of misjudgments to the character of his spiritual advisors is likely to spill over into other areas of his leadership. Sure, all politicians may owe some debts to unsavory characters but rarely does a politician rise to the kind of prominence Obama has achieved while holding near and dear the type of men Obama follows. These men aren’t political consultants who misspoke. Reverend Meeks is not a random supporter who happens to espouse controversial views. He is a leader in the Democratic party, and in Obama’s home state. He is a man people turn to for guidance. Voters need to ask themselves whether they are comfortable with their potential president choosing to receive direction from such a man.
Obama said in his speech on race that “I have asserted a firm conviction – a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people – that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union.” The men Obama has selected for his spiritual guidance will never let us move beyond those old wounds, in fact it is they who keep opening those gashes for their own political purposes. It is a sign of poor judgment that they are the same men Obama turns to for his spiritual direction.
Karol Sheinin lives in NYC and blogs at alarmingnews.com.