March 25, 2008
Anger, Forgiveness, and ObamaBy Christopher Chantrill
For months and months the suspense has been palpable. Here was Barack Obama, the first African American candidate for President of the United States with a chance to win, promising to heal an angry and fractured nation with nothing less than Hope and Unity.
But what did he mean? Was he promising to close up America's racial wounds? Was he offering to end the era of white guilt? It was hard to tell.
As everyone knows, politicians are forbidden to speak plainly and truthfully to the American people. Anyone that does so is immediately accused of a "gaffe" and thoroughly humiliated. So Barack Obama, as a good politician, has been careful not to spell out what he really meant by the code words of Hope and Unity.
But last week the Swift-boating of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright by the evil right-wing noise machine forced Obama out into the open. In a speech given last Tuesday he revealed what Hope and Unity means.
It means: Change? What Change? Who said anything about Change?
On Tuesday, March 18, 2008, speaking to the nation during Holy Week, Barack Obama had the opportunity of a generation, the chance to make himself immortal, to place himself in the history books alongside the greatest American heroes.
With the support of about 90 percent of black voters, according to opinion polls, he might have taken a great risk, and utterly repudiated the racist Rev. Wright, pastor of the church he had attended for over 20 years. He might have said that, while racist anger might have been understandable in African Americans 30, 40, or 50 years ago, that time was now past. It was now time to move on from racist recrimination and hate to a new post-racist America, joined as one nation in Hope and Unity, and he, Barack Obama offered himself as the one to lead the way.
But he didn't. Instead he equivocated over the racist hate speech of Rev. Wright, and threw his white grandmother under the bus.
So now Obama's moment has passed -- even if he becomes president -- and we have to decide what to do next.
America's race problem was eloquently encapsulated last week in an American Thinker piece by Ed Kaitz. He wrote about a conversation he'd had twenty years ago on an airplane flight with a young African American prison psychologist. He had talked with this impressive young man about the Vietnamese shrimp fishermen of the Louisiana Gulf Coast, folk who had come from Vietnam with nothing. Now, through hard work and persistence, these immigrants had come to dominate the shrimp industry, and their kids were "already achieving the top SAT scores in the state." How come, he asked his new black acquaintance, young black kids couldn't do the same? The answer was stunning.
"We're owed and they aren't."
It takes your breath away, doesn't it?
Back in the 1960s civil rights era, as conservative African American Shelby Steele tells it in his Dream Deferred, America confessed to its racial guilt. But the ancient ritual of confession, penance, and redemption was aborted. Whites confessed their sins. Then white liberals horned in to decide what white America would do to redeem itself from racial shame. Ever since whites have been kept "on the hook." But it was never decided when whites might have paid their indeterminate sentence of shame and allowed "off the hook." Blacks were owed, and that's all that anyone needed to know.
The next step is obvious, and ought to have been obvious to Senator Obama as he wrote his speech for delivery in the Holy Week before Christ's crucifixion.
What, after all, is Christianity all about? It is about forgiveness. It is about forgiveness for the worst act that could ever be imagined.
What is the worst thing that can be done to an adult human? The answer is obvious: to kill a mother's son. What is the worst thing you can do to God? You kill his Son. The just penalty for such a crime is unimaginable. But in Christianity God says: I forgive you, all of you.
Down the ages, wrathful gods have usually required sacrifice in payment of sins. In Christianity, God calls an end to this. Let's have an end to the blood feud and its expiation in the blood sacrifice, God says. I'll sacrifice My Son, and that must be an end of blood sacrifice.
What counts in Christianity is not sacrifice, but forgiveness. That's a good thing, because when you start to forgive then you start to live.
Black conservative Jesse Lee Peterson was a typical young black man who reckoned he was owed. In From Rage to Responsibility he tells all about his rage for the parents who rejected him and his hatred for pretty well everything else in the world: stepfather, white people, American society, and God. But then he heard a preacher on the radio and started praying for understanding about his life:
So he went to see his mother to tell her he was sorry for hating her, for being angry at her his entire life.
Then his mother told him that she was sorry too, for not being a better mother.
We learned last week that Barack Obama doesn't have the courage to say that the hate and rage of Rev. Wright is wrong and has no place in America. He lacks the courage to say to white America: I forgive you. That's a pity.
So now the ball is back in our court.
I have an idea. Why don't we all go to Barack Obama and Rev. Wright and ask for forgiveness?