Obama’s minister speaks at Simpson

I’m sitting in the back of the Smith Chapel on the Simpson College campus in Indianola, Iowa, preparing my equipment so I may record the remarks to be given here this evening by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright.  He is the senior pastor at the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama is one of his parishoners.  Simpson College calls Wright Obama’s "spiritual advisor" in the press release anouncing details about tonight.

Earlier today in Des Moines Wright attended a Simpson Urban Institute Luncheon in Des Moines, but it was a private affair.  This event is being held on Simpson’s campus in a small chapel that features a cross illuminated from behind with florescent lights on its east wall.  Fifteen rows of pews, divided by a center aisle, face that cross and the "stage" from which Wright will speak.  He is being given Simpson’s first "Carver Medal" named in honor of George Washington Carver, the man who gave us peanut butter.  Carver was admitted to Simpson College where he studied piano and painting, then he enrolled in and graduated from Iowa State College (now Iowa State University), where he became the institution’s first black professor in 1894 before leaving for Tuskegee.

Click here to read a Baltimore Sun reporter’s account of Wright’s sermon this past Sunday.  The crowd congregating here is majority student, with a few grey hairs here and there.  At 7:28 p.m. it is standing room only. At 7:30 p.m. all the professors in their robes entered and the kids rose to their feet. 

At 7:45 p.m., Wright took the stage and opened with a formal greeting.  "I am honored and humbled by your invitation and thank you from the bottom of my heart," Wright began, then mentioned that when the crowd got home they could tune into CNN to see that "Lou Dobbs raked me over the coals."

Wright mentions he "stumbled onto" African spirituals during his studies in the late 1960s.  "In finding out about the music of Africa, I stumbled into a pardigm that has become earth shattering and mind-blowing…Ethno-musicology was taught to me by a South African…who came and shared with us….he would come to our church and teach our congregation African songs…and while teaching us songs he would teach us…things I never learned because I was raised in the United States of America…I did not know….that the meter…of African music is not the meter of European music, nor is the tonality the same….There is no half-step….If you want to learn African music, learn the black keys on your piano," Wright said.

Then, he broke out in song:  "Nobody kows the trouble I’ve seen, it only uses five notes."  Then, he followed with a discussion of how African-American children learn differently than European-Americans.  He said European-American education systems focus on  "left-brain cognitive" in which children learn from an object.  The African American way of learning is, Wright says, not left-brain.  "It is right-brain…from a person," he says, suggesting it’s based on an oral culture, just as the oral culture which produced the first five books of the Bible.

Those who suggest ministers and churches should stay out of politics, Wright said have "no sense of history and no sense of reality." 

"Africans in this country would still be in bondage" were it not for active Christians in the US, according to Wright. 

Wright next moved to the work of the Reverend Harriet Tubman who "chose to escape from slavery and then go back repeatedly….freeing over 300 African Americans from slavery.

Next topic:  segregation.  "Blacks would still be riding in the back of the bus…because the law of the land said that segregation was legal" had it not been for Christians who got involved in politics. "Clarence Thomas would not have had a change of even thinking about going to Yale."

Wright continued, suggesting faith must address the reality of our world or it is too other-worldly.  I will go back later and transcribe.  UPDATE — here’s the quote:  "If the faith we share does not address the reality in which we live, then our religion is so other-worldly focused that it does no good in the world that we live in and needs to be discarded."

Next up, a discussion of the Million Man March and Muslims.

"That’s their theology….but the march ain’t about theology and belief, it’s about sociology and reality," Wright said of the Million Man March and his discussion with a mentor about whether the march was a Muslim-run event.

Wright drew laughter when he shared this quotation:  "Jesus did not come to Earth to make Heaven better.  He came to make a difference here on Earth.  Religion ain’t about the way you feel on Sunday morning.  It’s all about the world our children will wake up in on Monday morning."

Next up, references to scripture and this:  "Jesus had to deal with politics all the time."  Wright told the crowd, "oppression is political."  Then, a discussion of Roman oppression in Jesus’ time.

Pharisees and the rich folks of Jesus’ time teamed up and went after Jesus, Wright said, as he talked about a "cruel and oppressive regime — and the poor got poorer."

Next up, a reference to B.S.  "I know I’ve got some Christians here," Wright said.  "B.S.is Bogus Stuff."  The crowd laughed and Wright continued with a discussion of Jesus and the story of the coin and to whom the coin belonged.

"You don’t give glory to the government.  Governments change but God does not change. This comes as a major surprise and shock to many of our members, but God is neither a Democrat or a Republican….There were no caucuses, there wasn’t even in Iowa when Jesus was on the face of the Earth.  You can show temporary respect for those elected or selected to positions in government, but your ultimate allegiance is to God," Wright said.

Wright, citing slavery and segregation, said "laws do not always get it right.  Laws are made by human beings and human beings make mistakes…but God never fails."

Then, Wright talked about previous American leaders who he suggested were oppressors.  "George Washington held slaves…Thomas Jefferson raped a black teenager….We condemn Michael Jackson for it but we honor Thomas Jefferson.  God is a righteous judge."

He concluded with this: "When you say yes as Christians to Jesus, you’re making a political statement that your allegiance is to the kingdom of one who is not of this world…and when your allegiance is to God, you don’t let the hypocrisy of governments fool you….I want the Lord to use me to bring hope in spite of what Hanity or Dobbs say, I want the Lord to use me to restore change.  I want the Lord to use me to give back courage to people, to use me to expose government hypocrisy so people can see the heart of God and so that people will stand up and say what mattters to God matters to me….There is no white superior race and inferior race.  We are all a part of the human race.  May God bless you and God keep you."

So, just one mention of Iowa’s Caucuses and no mention of Obama — although there was that "hope" stuff at the end….

UPDATE:  Here is the Radio Iowa story of tonight’s event. There’s an mp3 attached if you wish to listen to the entire speech.

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About O.Kay Henderson

O. Kay Henderson is the news director of Radio Iowa.


  1. I’d be interested in seeing Obama himself speak. However I really don’t think hes qualified to be president.

  2. It might not have been back at the beginning of the Democratic nomination process, but in the current context, the claim that Obama isn’t qualified to be President is perhaps the most bigoted thing that could be said about one of the candidates. Okay, not the most idiotic, but one of the most bigoted.