Obama addresses the race issue

PHILADELPHIA (BP)--Barack Obama, during a major speech in Philadelphia March 18, defended his controversial pastor and said America cannot afford to ignore the race issue in its quest to form "a more perfect union" as the nation's founding fathers intended.

Obama, a Democratic candidate for president, conveyed his "own American story" as the "son of a black man from Kenya and a white woman from Kansas," noting he is married to a black American "who carries within her the blood of slaves and slave owners."

"And yet, it has only been in the last couple of weeks that the discussion of race in this campaign has taken a particularly divisive turn," Obama said, referring to his pastor of 20 years, Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago who has made headlines recently for his anti-American rhetoric.

Obama, in his speech, said he has condemned Wright's statements, which the Illinois senator said expressed "a profoundly distorted view of this country -- a view that ... elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam."

During his sermons, Wright has blamed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on America's past actions, called America the "U.S. of K.K.K.A." and said that instead of singing "God Bless America," black Americans should sing "God d--- America."

While Obama agreed that the clips of Wright's sermons that "have run on an endless loop on the television" are disturbing, he said "that isn't all that I know of the man."

"As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me," Obama said of Wright. "He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding and baptized my children.

"... I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe," Obama said.

"These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love."

Obama explained that Wright grew up during a time "when segregation was still the law of the land and opportunity was systematically constricted," and for Wright's generation of blacks, "the memories of humiliation and doubt and fear have not gone away, nor has the anger and the bitterness of those years."

The pastor's comments, Obama said, are a reminder that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning, and the senator said reaction to the comments reflects "the complexities of race in this country that we've never really worked through -- a part of our union we have yet to perfect."

"This is where we are right now. It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years," Obama said. "Contrary to the claims of some of my critics, black and white, I have never been so naive as to believe that we can get beyond our racial divisions in a single election cycle, or with a single candidacy -- particularly a candidacy as imperfect as my own.

"But 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," he added.

Ken Blackwell, a senior fellow for family empowerment with Family Research Council Action, said Obama's speech did not address the underlying nature of his beliefs, which are characterized by "a 21st century form of big government socialism."

"Those are the beliefs of liberation theology," Blackwell, an African American himself, said in a statement. "Those are the offensive root beliefs underlying many of Rev. Wright's sermons. And though Barack Obama does not embrace Mr. Wright's offensive language, he does embrace this government-solves-everything-through-socialism worldview.

"His speech was magnificent in its elegance and rhetoric, but today Mr. Obama reminded me yet again of his worldview that embraces, among other things, partial-birth abortion, military weakness and economic socialism," Blackwell said.


Compiled by Erin Roach, Baptist Press staff writer.

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