The Obama-Jesus Connection

This post, written by Chris Bowers, originally appeared on MyDD

Speaking of progressive instincts, five weeks ago the New York Times published an article on Obama's "search for faith" that greatly increased my esteem for the man. From the article:
Twenty years ago at Trinity, Mr. Obama, then a community organizer in poor Chicago neighborhoods, found the African-American community he had sought all his life, along with professional credibility as a community organizer and an education in how to inspire followers. He had sampled various faiths but adopted none until he met Mr. Wright, a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled in radical politics and delivered music-and-profanity-spiked sermons.(...)
Still, Mr. Obama was entranced by Mr. Wright, whose sermons fused analysis of the Bible with outrage at what he saw as the racism of everything from daily life in Chicago to American foreign policy. Mr. Obama had never met a minister who made pilgrimages to Africa, welcomed women leaders and gay members and crooned Teddy Pendergrass rhythm and blues from the pulpit. Mr. Wright was making Trinity a social force, initiating day care, drug counseling, legal aid and tutoring.
I am about as secular and generally irreligious as someone comes, but that Obama's connection to his faith arose in the context of left-wing activism and preaching somehow still makes me feel a personal connection with him. It reminds me of how my entrance to politics came not though mainstream electoral work, but through the social justice movement that was often steeped in the ideals of the so-called radical left. Further, a ministry such Wright's Trinity Church would be quite normal in my long-term area of residence, West Philly, where anarchists are still commonplace, Republicans poll in the single digits, and one can still see the MOVE house that was bombed by the city (in fact, when I first moved to Philly in 1997, I lived on Osage avenue). Obama's background and spiritual path connect to areas of the country like West Philadelphia in a way that few, if any, national politicians are able to do. It just isn't the sort of neighborhood that one often sees portrayed accurately, if portrayed at all, in our national mass media. Obama, however, I think would understand it quite well. On both a cultural and personal level, that means a lot to me.

This is also why I sometimes just don't "get" Obama. The contorted, insider view of politics that I described in my post on Edwards below is about as far from ordinary life in West Philadelphia as one could possibly imagine. Yet, often times, Obama seems to buy into that mentality. Despite what I intuit to be his utterly progressive core stemming from his work as a community organizer and the way he found his faith, often times his proposed policies often seem decidedly neoliberal, his occasional left-wing straw man rhetoric feels like it targets residents of West Philadelphia, and some of his campaign associates seem to be establishment of the worst sort. In many ways, it is almost the exact opposite of my questions about Edwards, whose past voting record was quite neoliberal, but his proposed policies now sound extremely progressive.

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