Obama and Moral Courage

This past weekend, Barack Obama passed up two key opportunities to stand up and be counted when it comes to making good on his campaign themes of bringing people together, healing, and fighting cynicism. But instead of action to realize his proclaimed goals, all we got was slippery evasion and bland talk. If you think Obama can be a leader, examine his brhavior this past weekend and draw your own conclusions.


While many Christians, notably the evangelical community, are deeply supportive of Israel, the leaders of a few Christian church groups in America have issued anti-Israel resolutions over the last few years. These are often established groups that are politically liberal (and often have become so secular that they are suffering a decline in membership).  The anti-Israel Resolutions are typically one-sided and blame Israel for the problems of the Palestinians. 

These resolutions often encourage boycotts and divestment proposals.  They rarely find any failing among the Palestinians. They are silent regarding the teaching of hate in Palestinian schools. They are either silent regarding Palestinian terrorism (including violence within Palestinian society) or serve as apologists for such violence. They ignore the many examples of Muslim oppression of Christians throughout the Arab world, and also ignore Israel's very highly regarded approach to its own Christian population.

Needless to say, these liberal Christian groups generally also ignore or do not emphasize much more severe severe human rights violations in a wide swath of nations (Zimbabwe, North Korea, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran and on and on). By obsessively focusing on Israel, they betray a certain perspective that has unsettled many, including many of their own parishioners.

Among these churches is one that does not fit the mold of established liberal Protestant groups: the United Church of Christ (UCC). The UCC has taken a pronounced lead in anti-Israel invective. So pronounced that a broad coalition of major Jewish groups has publicly rebuked (usually these types of disagreements are not aired publicly) the United Church of Christ for its unbalanced treatment of Israel. The coalition noted that the UCC failed to mention Israeli peace overtures, Palestinian rejection of those overtures, and the "brutal Palestinian campaigns of terror aimed at innocent Israeli children and families".  

Obama's church and Obama's spiritual mentor

It so happens that aspiring Presidential candidate Barack Obama is a prominent - almost certainly the most prominent - member of the United Church of Christ. Obama has made political hay from emphasizing the role that his church and his faith have played in his life and career. He has credited his Pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, for being his inspiration and spiritual mentor

But now that Obama is in the midst of his political campaign and raising money and support from prominent Jews among many others,  he has tried to bury this relationship, because Wright's philosophy and teachings have a very pronounced anti-Israel bias and are divisive on the issue of black-white relations in America. These views of Obama's church would have significant political repercussions for Obama, if they were more widely known. Even Pastor Wright recognizes that this history would be a problem, noting that he has been temporarily shunted aside because his views and relationship with Obama would hurt Obama's image.

How has Obama, who wants to appeal to people of faith, responded? Has he faced the issues raised by his mentor's radical racialist rhetoric and hard line against Israel? No.

He has tried to burnish his image with the help of other ministers who have a less controversial past. Welcome to political theatre!

Obama has a problematic view toward the American-Israel relationship and questions about his commitment towards the alliance have dogged him throughout his campaign. He has had several opportunities to address the issue, but has tried to muddle through. He has apparently blown some prime opportunities to clarify his views, and he has missed what could have been his "Sister Souljah moment."

A missed opportunity

This past Saturday, Obama spoke to a group of 300 delegates at the United Church of Christ state convention in Iowa

He delivered his usual bromides, including an attack on the "Christian Right." He did not mention Israel or the controversial anti-Israel positions that the United Church of Christ has taken. Not a word. Here is a man who preaches tolerance and the coming together of people, a man whose voice is a powerful instrument and can be used to heal wounds. He chose to remain silent about the bias within his own church.

Obama again had a chance to try to heal the rupture between the United Church of Christ and supporters of Israel when he addressed the important 26th annual synod of the United Church of Christ in Hartford, Connecticut. This event was attended by thousands of members and will help to set church policy in the years ahead (comparable to  "platforms" established by political parties). So enthusiastic was his welcome that one UCC member called it "a Democratic pep rally."

However, it is important to note that Obama never touched upon the issue of the UCC's approach toward Israel, despite having numerous opportunities to do so; he never took the opportunity to address the bias towards Israel either when he spoke before UCC groups or otherwise. Only when the UCC was on the verge of passing a milder version of the resolution regarding Israel did the Obama campaign issue a statement,
"Senator Obama has been a consistent and stalwart supporter of Israel, our strongest ally and only democracy in the Middle East, throughout his career in public service and his entire life," a spokeswoman for the campaign, Jennifer Psaki, said. "While he is a proud member of the UCC church and values its tradition of openness and diversity, he strongly disagrees with the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presented by individual members of the church."
In the speeches he has given over the last year or so, in the written statements his campaign issued, he voiced no criticism about his church's anti-Israel resolution before. Only after the church was well on its way in passing a milder resolution towards Israel, did Obama see fit to issue a statement about the church's position towards Israel. He also phrased it in an odd way that could be subject to various interpretations.  He never specifically stated that he opposed the previous harsh denunciation of Israel embodied in official church resolutions, he merely stated that he "strongly disagrees with the portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by individual members of the church."

Individual members"? That is meaningless. The Church has over a million members. With which individuals' views does Obama have a problem? This is such a wishy-washy statement that it verges on blather. For all anyone knows, he found the prior official UCC resolutions acceptable, since he never specifically denounced them. There are certainly individual members whose view he may disagree with but so what? I imagine if Obama stated that there are those individual members of Hamas whose views he disagrees with? What would that mean? Is that a courageous statement? Of course not.

The same spokesman had previously  issued a statement in Obama's name criticizing George Soros' approach towards Israel after Soros issued particularly fierce denunciations of Israel and its supporters here in America that generated a lot of airplay; it did not prevent Obama from shortly thereafter attending high-powered fundraising parties with Soros; Obama also refused to return donations from a basketball player notorious for previous anti-Semitic outbursts.   

During his weekend speeches to chucrch groups did he bring up, did he even touch upon, the issue of the church's views towards Israel? Did he touch upon the church's silence regarding Palestinian Muslim violence against its own Christian community? Did he use his powerful voice to appeal to the church members to listen to the concerns of their fellow Americans who were so upset that they issued a public letter to express their sorrow that the church would so single-mindedly attack Israel-a nation besieged by enemies and threatened by an Iranian dictator with a genocidal dream? Did he use his gifts of oratory to ask the church to reconsider its positions and to reach out to those it has harmed-to help heal wounds? In a word, No.

Within his silence, there is a powerful message.

Ed Lasky is news editor of American Thinker
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