Saturday, April 26, 2008

Rev. Wright's PR Campaign

Ever since he became a household name for his inflammatory sermons, Rev. Wright has been hard at work restoring his reputation. Apparently thumbing his nose at the free PR and the chance to have one of his own parishioners, and fellow African American, elected President of the United States, Rev. Wright feels it's more important to clear his good name.

In the vast scheme of things not that many people knew who Rev. Wright was before his sermons surfaced on YouTube and tagged Presidential hopeful Barack Obama with a campaign-changing blow. And, over the course of a few months, his name would have quietly faded into the background. Most Americans no-doubt were able to accurately parse his message, put it in proper context, and move on with their lives. The fringe 20% never would have got it anyway.

So, why is Wright working so hard to restore his image, at the potential expense of Senator Obama's? I'm sure the answer to this lies in the inherent narcissism and greatly exaggerated sense of self importance most ministers suffer from. Wright has been called everything from crazy to anti-American. And I say: so what? The man has a lifetime of Christian service on one side of the scales and a few minutes of YouTube on the other. Is it fair? No. And it's not unprecedented either.

Interestingly enough, Jesus went misunderstood to the point of crucifixion, as did most of his early followers to execution. Central to the Christian message is that you may never be rewarded for your good work here on earth but you will be rewarded in heaven. Thus, work that much harder, and don't concern yourself with the temporary recognition. It was that type of motive that allowed Jesus to say "by their fruits you will recognize them." And Paul to say, "Work as if you were not serving people but the Lord." Wright's ministry speaks for itself, and the people he has helped stand for themselves. Nothing can take that away, and the rest shouldn't matter.

But such "turn the other cheek" advice flies in the face of ministers who helm mega-churches, and have private lines to presidents (Rev. Wright counseled Bill and Hilary Clinton). In those cases the image is what matters; it is everything. The brand is the very bread these ministers live on. Why else do they work feverishly to keep the outside of tomb clean?

Wright was always Obama's biggest liability. And when things exploded, Obama deftly handled the issue by giving an uplifting and empowering speech on the subject of race. It was perhaps his greatest moment so far, and one of the finest of any politician in the last 50 years. In doing so Obama did not repudiate his longtime pastor, or disown him for the trouble he had caused. Instead he referred to him as family, walking a fine line between understanding and agreement. Obama had done himself an obvious political favor, but not at the cost of the very person who had become his one liability. Wright, on the other hand, in a recent interview with Bill Moyers, stated flatly that Obama was speaking as a politician--saying what needed to be said to a specific audience.

Wright put together a solid career as a pastor, and prior military service as a Marine, and, most importantly, a life of integrity as a Christian. His legacy will stand in Chicago, and in the black community, regardless of anything he says on PBS or in other national interviews. Rev. Wright may have been handed an injustice, after all his service, but it pales in comparison to what other Christians have had to suffer for Christ. And the greater injustice would be to undermine Obama's image for the sake of his own. Obama's stage is national. Wright is in the hands of God. Obama, unfortunately, must be judged by men.

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