Seeking the roots of Wright's audacity

wright 01 Barack Obama supporters won't like this, but let the word go forth. Reporters should write more stories about Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., and his relationship with the Democratic presidential candidate. Yes, I say this even after Wright left the campaign. This is not a case of piling on. Journalists have underplayed this story.

As Doug LeBlanc noted, consider this profile of Obama in Rolling Stone. Far from being a fresh revelation, some of Wright's remarks were reported more than a year ago. Yet only now have Wright's comments caused an uproar. If reporters had scrutinized Wright, the current contretemps would have been long past.

A key starting point for reporters should be the roots of Wright's theology. In the most recent coverage, newspapers have offered two different explanations. The Chicago Tribune quoted Obama as saying that Wright's theological views are a byproduct of the 1960s:

Obama compared Wright to an uncle he was fond of but with whom he disagreed, adding: "Like a lot of African American men of fierce intelligence who came of age [then], he has a lot of the language and the memories and the baggage of those times."

By contrast, The New York Times mentioned nothing about the sixties. Instead, reporter Jodi Kantor emphasized the religious roots of Wright's vision:

Mr. Wright, 66, who last month fulfilled longstanding plans to retire, is a beloved figure in African-American Christian circles and a frequent guest in pulpits around the country. Since he arrived at Trinity in 1972, he has built a 6,000-member congregation through his blunt, charismatic preaching, which melds detailed scriptural analysis, black power, Afrocentrism and an emphasis on social justice; Mr. Obama praised the last quality in Friday's statement.

His most powerful influence, said several ministers and scholars who have followed his career, is black liberation theology, which interprets the Bible as a guide to combating oppression of African-Americans.

Granted, the two explanations are not mutually exclusive. Every theology is rooted in some historical era. Yet readers of the two stories are confused. Does Wright's theology owe more to "Soul on Ice" or "A Black Theology of Liberation." (To her credit, Kantor quoted James Cone, the author of the latter book.)

If the public were better informed about this question, they would know more about Obama and Wright.

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