Guilt by Association?

Ron Paul received a campaign contribution from a neo-Nazi. Mike Huckabee made a public visit to the church of evangelical pastor John Hagee, known for his anti-Catholicism. After Huckabee freed himself of the mess, John McCain landed in it with Hagee’s endorsement. Now, Barack Obama is struggling to do damage control following his decades-long association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who has made any number of controversial and inflammatory statements from the pulpit.
As I watch the coverage of all these entanglements come rolling in, I can’t help but wonder, So what? Ours is a nation that grows increasingly pluralistic as more world religions find their way here through massive immigration. We are obsessed with diversity — of ethnicity, lifestyle, and opinion. We parade the freedom of speech around like it’s going out of style. For a presidential candidate to try to cobble together a majority vote in America, he must court and cater to an ever more disparate audience. How can a candidate build a support base without offending one group by embracing another?
Obama attended Wright’s church for 20 years, and for those of us who have heard or read what Wright had to say, this is an obvious source of concern. What we don’t have, however, is 20 years of video or audio from Wright. The clips that we have, while featuring race-baiting, inflammatory rhetoric, crass references, and bizarre insinuations, do not give us any sense of proportion. We simply have no context to tell us how often Wright said these things. Was it only during these recorded incidents, or was it more frequent? I also wonder how different Wright’s preaching is in this regard from what one would find in any other predominantly black, urban church. Isn’t his style compatible with the sort of racial propaganda that keeps Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson in positions of leadership within the black community?
Dick Morris suggested in a post on Real Clear Politics that Obama’s choice to attend the church of Rev. Wright was opportunistic, not ideological:
Wright’s rantings are not reflective of Obama’s views on anything. Why did he stay in the church? Because he’s a black Chicago politician who comes from a mixed marriage and went to Columbia and Harvard. Suspected of not being black enough or sufficiently tied to the minority community, he needed the networking opportunities Wright afforded him in his church to get elected. If he had not risen to the top of Chicago black politics, we would never have heard of him. But obviously, he can’t say that. So what should he say?
He needs to get out of this mess with subtlety, the kind Bill Clinton should have used to escape the Monica Lewinsky scandal — but didn’t. As the controversy continues, Americans will gradually realize that Obama stuck by Wright as part of a need to get ahead. They will chalk up to pragmatism why he was so close to such a preacher. As they come to realize that Obama doesn’t agree with Wright but used him to get started, they will be more forgiving.
Morris says that Obama needs to distance himself from Wright — and, of course, this is the politically expedient thing to do. Obama himself, it’s worth noting, gives no indication through his actions or speeches that he agrees with Wright’s more outrageous comments. In his speech given on March 18, “A More Perfect Union,” Obama went so far as to condemn those egregious comments of Wright which have been played over and over again for us to hear. I find no reason to doubt Obama’s sincerity. Neither do I agree with Morris’s cynicism that it was necessarily opportunism that led Obama to join the church in the first place.
In a country where our first and only Catholic president believed that the separation of Church and State was “absolute,” and that his faith would not form his public policy, is it really shocking that Obama would, over the course of time he spent in the church of Reverend Wright, simply shrug off whatever he disagreed with as irrelevant?
We are cafeteria religionists in America. Politicians make their careers out of carefully balancing unholy alliances. If Obama’s policies weren’t already so manifestly wrong and his candidacy so obviously one that orthodox Christian Americans cannot support, there might be some merit to the level of scrutiny that this incident has drummed up. On the other hand, I’m not at all convinced that the increasingly popular tactic of guilt-by-association has any merit beyond the emotional response it so easily brings.

By

Steve Skojec serves as the Director of Community Relations for a professional association. He is a graduate of Franciscan University of Steubenville, where he earned a BA in Communications and Theology. His passions include writing, photography, social media, and an avid appreciation of science fiction. Steve lives in Northern Virginia with his wife Jamie and their five children.

  • Tito of Custos Fidei

    Are you pleading for a moral equivalence of JFK’s priests and Obama’s hate-mongering pastor?

    Mr. Obama sat through nearly 20 years of Wright’s ranting, wouldn’t you believe that he has embedded in himself some of the bizarre ideas the Rev. Wright has preached about that may affect his decision-making process as president?

    Obama made a conscious decision to stay at that racist church where hatred is spouted from the pulpit.

    JFK only said that “faith would not form his public policy”, assuming that there was anything inflammatory said at church.

    That’s a huge logical leap to say “so what” by comparring JFK to Obama.

    Tito

  • T. James

    I respectfully disagree with the premise of this article. The Rev. Wright didn’t so much endorse Obama, as Hagee endorsed McCain for example, as Obama endorsed Wright by spending two decades in his pews and permitting him to marry him and his wife, and baptize his daughters. If, as Dick Morris contends, those 20 years were merely the cost of doing business as a black politician in Chicago, then the lengths to which a man is willing to go to advance his career are more than fair game for evaluation, especially when his ambition is to be “the leader of the free world.”

  • Deal Hudson

    I really don’t think the context would explain away Rev. Wright’s mantra of “God Damn America.”

  • Rich Leonardi

    I really don’t think the context would explain away Rev. Wright’s mantra of “God Damn America.”

    Moreover, the “context” is Wright’s “black liberation theology.” Here is the definition of James Cone, the most prominent theologian in the “black liberation” school and a man Wright cites as an authority:

    Someone wrote: Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community … Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.

  • R.C.

    Getting an endorsement from an outsider is one thing; getting an endorsement from the pastor of the church you’ve attended for 20 years with your children is another thing entirely.

    Satanists, I suspect, largely vote Democrat because Democrats aren’t too friendly to Christian views on public policy. We can hold Democrats accountable for the latter, but the former? Please.

    Similarly white supremacists largely vote Republican because the G.O.P. value states’ rights and federalism over centralized government — more so than Democrats at any rate. We can disagree with this G.O.P. philosophical approach, but does it make the G.O.P. racist? Again: please.

    But one can be held accountable for the persons with whom one voluntarily associates. Lie down with dogs, get up with fleas. If the Democrat candidate campaigns at a Satanist rally, or is in fact a member of a Satanic cult, would we not regard that as worthy of concern? For there the association is voluntary. And similarly, a Republican who joins a white-power hate group has voluntarily thrown in with evil men; he deserves criticism (at least).

    Where in this continuum is Barak Obama?

    Easy. He attends the church for 20 years voluntarily. We surmise realistically that he nods in agreement at points during the sermons. He donates to the church — albeit very half-heartedly, given his income! …but perhaps he’s a stingy fellow — and takes his children there. He borrows a line from this charismatic loon of a pastor as the title of his book.

    Can anyone argue that those are not hallmarks of voluntary association?

  • H. Bunce

    Ron Paul gets a $500 donation from someone whom he has never associated with and has never supported, in deed or word, the ideas of this particular donor. This is the moral equivalence, per Mr. Skojec, to Barack Obama’s twenty year personal, familial, and professional association with the hateful rhetoric of Rev. Wright?

    I respectfully, and vigorously, disagree.

  • Dan Curry

    What bothers me is that if a white Presidential candidate for 20 years went to KKK leader David Duke as a pastor of a church, the media would be calling for an execution ! Double standard?? This Obama has shown he has no judgment. He kept going to hear Wright because he liked what he said. Just like you and I do with our prescher. He dis-invited the “pastor” right before he (Obama) gave his “i’m running” announcement. If he didnt know about Wright and all his racist Farrakhan support, he would’nt have tried to hide him. Obama is a fraud.

  • Steve Skojec

    I expected a lot of disagreement on this. I’m not canonizing Wright, or Obama. I just don’t think that this is the defining issue of Obama’s campaign. Who amongst conservatives doubts that liberals, by and large, don’t take religion particularly seriously? Who amongst conservatives don’t recognize that the kind of preaching that Obama heard in his Church is likely not entirely uncommon among black communities across the U.S.?

    We’ve been listening to Sharpton and Jackson for years. Race politics, double standards, affirmative action, and reverse racism are a fact of life in this country. These are not revelations.

    My question is why this, of all things, is the smoking gun that should end Obama’s campaign? We can’t know how it’s affected him, how much he agrees with or doesn’t, or how much is pure political expediency.

    But faced with his positions on life issues, on policies foreign and domestic, on social programs – do we need this as a disqualifier?

    And yet the conservative movement seems to be most concerned with Rev. Wright. The very conservatives, myself included, who would never vote for Obama in the first place. We act like we are surprised by Rev. Wright, like we are scandalized by propaganda that we already know drives the politics of race, like we can’t believe a man like Obama (who was one of the only men to vote against born alive protections) would associate with a racist, conspiratorial pastor out of political expediency.

    Maybe I’m too cynical, but I don’t believe that politicians are guilty by association with men like Rev. Wright. I think they are guilty because of what their policies and political philosophies are. I don’t need the Rev. Wrights of this world to bring down men like Obama. I figure Wright is just par for the course.

    And in those odd instances where Wright is correct – as in when he makes the same case about our foreign policy as Ron Paul (whom I have supported in this race) and Pat Buchanan – I wont’ be outraged. Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo and Dresden were all worse than 9/11, and our government did sanction them. We killed far more innocent civilians through those military actions than any terrorist ever has.

    I love my country, and I don’t agree with Rev. Wright’s “God damn America”, but I also recognize that we need to take responsibility for our own failings and not simply be indignant because they are pointed out.

    Wright is wrong. Obama, if he were wise, would have gotten out long ago. But I still doubt that his affiliation with Wright or his church reflects upon his policies.

    If so, let’s see the evidence. I’m more than willing to be proven wrong. I’m not an Obama supporter.

  • Rich Leonardi

    Maybe I’m too cynical, but I don’t believe that politicians are guilty by association with men like Rev. Wright.

    Contributing tens of thousands of dollars to a “spiritual mentor” (Obama’s term) who has taken disturbing positions on a range of political issues suggests a relationship stronger than “association.”

  • Tito of Custos Fidei

    Steve,

    Are you trying to be provocative or did you do have a mental slip and implied that World War II veterans are no better than the 19 radical Muslims who slammed two planes into the Twin Towers?

    Once is a mistake. Twice is a pattern.

    Twice you’ve made moral equivalency arguments of JFK’s priests to Obama’s racist pastor and now the bombing of Hiroshima to 9/11.

    We were fighting enemies in world war II that were actively engaged in a war of final destruction.

    9/11 was a surprise attack on civilian targets.

    Here in Houston we have a response to ‘suggestions’ such as yours. “Are you on crack?”

    I’m surprised that Inside Catholic has you as a contributer because you are starting to sound a bit irrational.

  • Steve Skojec

    Rich Leonardi wrote: Contributing tens of thousands of dollars to a “spiritual mentor” (Obama’s term) who has taken disturbing positions on a range of political issues suggests a relationship stronger than “association.”

    I agree. But I am speaking specifically of how we can determine Obama’s political positions as derived from this relationship. Until he made the “typical white person” comment in recent days, I had not yet seen evidence that Obama was anything but the post-racial candidate he was portraying himself to be. I believe that comment is of more significance – because it demonstrates Obama’s own personal bias – than his association with a pastor and a Church that by some accounts (see http://tinyurl.com/2so7u4) aren’t entirely uncommon in the black community.

    The discussion surrounding his involvement with Wright is important, and I don’t mean to discredit that. I simply believe that for political purposes the situation has been blown out of proportion. Without the ability to definitively prove that Obama agrees with Wright (and he says he does not) on his most egregious positions, how much more mileage can we get out of this?

  • Steve Skojec

    Tito wrote: Are you trying to be provocative or did you do have a mental slip and implied that World War II veterans are no better than the 19 radical Muslims who slammed two planes into the Twin Towers?

    I appreciate your anger over my comments, but the fact remains that moral justification does not exist for weapons of mass destruction, even within the context of just war. It’s also important to note that World War II Veterans – of which my family claims several, one of whom was indisputably a hero – were not policy makers any more than our soldiers are now.

    Dropping nuclear weapons on urban centers or firebombing cities is not morally licit.

    As bad as Hiroshima and Nagasaki were, there were also the firebombings in Dresden and Tokyo, which caused more immediate deaths

  • Steve Skojec

    Tito wrote: Twice you’ve made moral equivalency arguments of JFK’s priests to Obama’s racist pastor…

    This is baseless. I’ve been referring to JFK’s belief that the “separation of church and state is absolute.” This common (and fallacious) political philosophy that JFK popularized can create a mental barrier for the politician who chooses what he wants to accept and believe from his faith and decides whether or not it will influence his policies.

    My point is not that there is any equivalency between JFK’s “priests” and Rev. Wright, but rather a potential equivalency between JFK’s cafeteria Catholicism and Obama’s condemnation of Wright’s statements on the one hand while demonstrating a long-standing record of attendance and support at his church on the other.

    I think that politicians don’t necessarily care what’s coming from the pulpit. It’s who is in the pews that matters.

  • Tito Ordaz

    Steve,

    Thank you for taking the time to answer my concerns and objections.

    I respectfully disagree with your arguments and conclusions. I appreciate your sincere response.

  • James

    Jim Cathcart wrote: The essence of intellect is the ability to make distinctions.

    Steve,

    I believe that you have done such in regard to JFK vs. Wright, and Hiroshima vs. 9/11.

    It is quite disingenuous for others to impute ill motives to a post that really calls a situation for what it is.

    For Catholics to be riled up over comments made by a Democratic Presidential Candidate’s previous pastor smacks of navel gazing. Obama is not a viable candidate for a Catholic because of the policies and positions which he himself holds. For Catholics to point the finger at Obama because of Wright’s comments is a witch hunt. I would surely not want to be held accountable for some of the comments that were uttered by some of my previous pastors from the pulpit.

    The Obama/Wright debacle is a dead horse. But being good Catholics, we have the duty to beat that horse for our own gratification.

  • Victor Morton

    Steve:

    Wright’s point was NOT that the A-bombings were unjust. It was that September 11 was a consequence of them “the chickens coming home to roost,” plus the consequence of other various acts of injustice (the US established apartheid? helped Israel seize the West Bank? who knew?).

    Which is so completely and utterly batty — of the three injustices cited, it is only even plausible that al Qaeda gives a crap about one (when Japanese terrorists or squads of JWT-spouting albino monks start crashing planes into US buildings, we’ll talk) — that the only possible reason for bringing it up in the context of September 11 is to morally de-legitimate the US.

    Especially since they are coming from a man who says blacks should sing “God damn America,” calls it the “US-of-KKK-A” and thinks AIDS was invented by government scientists as a weapon of anti-black genocide. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that he is an America-hating loon and that citing the A-bombings the Sunday after September 11 is one symptom of that.

  • Mary Alexander

    I don’t care what Obama’s pastor said.

    I don’t care if he did say “God damn America”.

    I don’t even care if he meant it.

    I do care that Obama is pro babykilling. His evil even extending to Third trimester abortions.

    Proportionality people!

  • Victor Morton

    Sure, but we single-issue pro-life voters are not enough in the existing US to defeat Obama (unfortunate but true). One has to appeal to all sorts, be all things to all men, etc.

  • R.C.

    Folks, I’ve seen several times now the assertion that Obama’s contribution of “tens of thousands of dollars” to Rev. Wright’s church somehow indicates fervent support.

    If anything, it’s the opposite.

    Obama’s household income regularly exceeds $1 million. In Christendom, if I’m not mistaken, “tithing” is normative (even if it’s sadly not normal). Therefore his contributions to church and charity should be expected to regularly exceed $100,000, no?

    In my household, $20,000 would be a big deal…but then my income is, uh, rather less! In Obama’s household, his contributions to Wright are either indicative of general stinginess, or lukewarm support for Wright.

    Moreover, it’s fair to say that “from he to whom much is given, much is expected”; my assumption therefore is that someone in Obama’s exalted circumstances would (in normative Christian practice) give perhaps $200,000 a year to charitable causes, first among which would be his church.

    Now, THAT would indicate he thought highly of Wright’s church. It would then require another step of logic (albeit not a difficult one) to determine whether Obama gave to his church out of religious duty generally, or specifically out of love of his particular pastor’s views.

    But $20,000? From Obama? Get over it. The fact that he was a member for 20 years and raised his kids under Wright’s instruction is far more significant.

    From the way some have reacted to that number, anyone would think that Catholics here don’t consider church contributions a high priority in their family budgets.

    But I’m sure I’m wrong about that.

  • Ryan

    I liked the original article that we should not damn a man for his associations.

    Look at Jesus, associated with prostitutes, homeless fishermen, born in a barn, the IRS (friends of the Romans), and gentiles, and Romans themselves!

    Yet this man, we exhault as the best man that ever lived. The man who reversed Adam’s sin (which by the way, wasn’t it really Eve’s sin?).

    So I ask, that before you judge Obama by those he loves (and we are supposed to love everyone), look at those that Jesus loved ans ask if you would have voted for such a man.

    Now, I am not equating Jesus to Obama by any means. I just think that he needs to be judged for what he says and does, not what others say and do. And there the article makes a good point.

    As for his politics, if you don’t like him, don’t vote for him. But don’t write hateful things about this man because you don’t agree with his life choices or his politics. Like we were all told as children, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it all.”
    If you don’t like abortion, then take some social action. Don’t blame Obama for Roe v. Wade and the divide it made in our country.

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