Minnesotans worry Rev. Wright controversy overblownby Jessica Mador, Minnesota Public Radio
Yesterday marked the first Sunday since presidential candidate Barack Obama publicly severed ties with his longtime pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, over comments Wright made during a speech last week at the National Press Club.
St. Paul, Minn. — Yesterday marked the first Sunday since presidential candidate Barack Obama publicly severed ties with his longtime pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, over comments Wright made during a speech last week at the National Press Club.
In that and other appearances, Wright suggested, among other things, that the United States was attacked because it engaged in terrorism on other countries and that the government was capable of having used the AIDS virus to commit genocide against people of color.
Many in St. Paul's African American religious community think the media firestorm has blown the controversy out of proportion. They are hoping the scandal will not hurt Obama's chances at the polls.
On Tuesday, Barack Obama told reporters he was outraged by his former pastor's latest speech. He then spent the week and the weekend talk shows urging voters to get back to talking about the issues.
"You know, now is the time for us not to get distracted. Now is the time for us to pull together. And that's what we've been doing in this campaign. And, you know, there was a sense that that did not matter to Rev. Wright. What mattered was him commanding center stage," Obama said.
Leaving services Sunday with his family, Frank White, a St. Paul resident and member of St. Peter Claver Church, blamed politics and the media for holding Obama responsible for Wright's comments.
"I think everybody would take a look at a similar situation where they went to church and somebody might say something they didn't agree with and really look at Senator Obama for truly who he is or what they believe in him and make a choice based on that," White said, "and not on what somebody else said."
He said he hopes voters won't reject Obama just because of the Wright controversy.
Wright recently retired from the church. He initially drew attention after old video of him criticizing the US government began circulating on the Internet.
Obama initially brushed aside criticism of his ties to Wright. But Obama said Wright's comments last week forced him to speak out more forcefully.
Gospel Temple pastor Thelma Buckner said she has not discussed the Rev. Wright controversy from the pulpit because she believes strongly that politics has no place there.
"And I've always said, we as a world, we as America should leave the preacher alone and let him do his job and leave the politician alone and let him do his job. It's because the media got in it, they messed it up, but it's not fair because the preacher's business is in the pulpit, the politicians is out campaigning," Buckner said.
Obama should not be held responsible for Wright's views, Buckner said, because Wright, like all pastors, speaks for himself.
"I understand precisely where he is coming from because I was born and raised in the Southland and was totally mistreated as a black person, and I understand where he is coming from." she said.
"I might not have said it the way he said it, but we shouldn't blame Obama for what the pastor said. The pastor was talking from his heart."
Like many people MPR spoke with Sunday, Buckner blames the media for exacerbating the controversy, and wishes it would go away.
The University of Minnesota's Prof. Larry Jacobs, and expert on presidential campaigns and voter behavior, said Wright's comments have undermined Obama's message.
"Barack Obama's brilliance early in the campaign was in the message of hope and transcendence that he was really moving past racial divides and talking to all of America. And he has really been encumbered and diminished and as one leader in Congress put it, kneecapped by this Rev. Wright episode, in terms of the broader American perception of Obama."
He says the outcome of the North Carolina and Indiana primaries Tuesday will be key to Obama's future.
Frank White from St. Paul says he is hoping the controversy might actually have a positive effect.
"It's about time we are talking about race, because whether people want to accept that or not, its here," he said.
"There are circumstances that it creates issues for our country and sometimes they are not the most positive."
He says he hopes the country will continue to talk about race, long after November.
- Morning Edition, 05/05/2008, 6:50 a.m.