Some of the nation’s leading journalists gathered in Key West, Fla., in December 2008 for the Pew Forum’s biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life.
Eddie S.Glaude Jr., author of In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, discussed religion and race in America. Specifically, he described historical and contemporary appeals for religious pluralism and explored the ways these efforts have been undermined, particularly when they relate to race. Professor Glaude also examined the 2008 presidential campaign controversy surrounding the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and spoke to the challenges President-elect Barack Obama might face when he takes office in January.
Michael Cromartie, Vice President, Ethics & Public Policy Center; Senior Advisor, Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life
Navigate this Transcript:
President-elect Obama’s religious tolerance speech
Governor Romney’s religious tolerance speech
Neuhaus’ case for making religious commitments accessible to public reason
The limiting nature of public arguments for faith communities
Overview of religious intolerance in American history
Black power and black liberation theology
Q & A with participants
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: We are very fortunate to have Professor Eddie Glaude with us. I have a friend, a colleague, a professor of religion at Princeton who Eddie works with. When I called him and asked him if would Eddie be a good speaker in Key West, you’d be glad to know, Eric raved on about you. So you owe him one.
Professor Glaude is a professor of religion and African-American studies at Princeton University. He did his Ph.D. at Princeton under Cornel West, with whom he now team-teaches several courses. His most recent book is In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America. We asked Professor Glaude to speak to this whole question of religion and race, put it in historical perspective and obviously bring it around to contemporary significance of our recent years in politics; and he readily agreed to do so. If you want to know more about Eddie, his bio is in your packet. Eddie, we’re delighted you could be with us; thank you for coming to Key West. I know you are in the middle of exams at this time. He was able to work out something to be here, and I’m grateful for that.
EDDIE GLAUDE: Thanks, Mike. Appreciate it. Thank you. This has been great, it’s been wonderful, and it’s going to be difficult to follow Brother Vali and that extraordinary conversation. It’s kind of daunting to be in the room with the fourth estate. Or at least, as E.J. told me, a representation of the fourth estate. So my thanks.
Let me give you a little backdrop to my remarks and in some ways, what drives what I’m going to say. That has a lot to do with trying to figure out President-elect Obama’s appeal to religious liberty as he talks about religion and religious tolerance against the backdrop of a history of American intolerance to religious difference. How that intolerance played itself out: specifically in relation to race, or more specifically in relation to Jeremiah Wright, and now in relation to this pressing question about which church will President-elect Obama attend.
And so what I want to do is to tell a story – or, it’s not quite a story. The talk is divided into three parts; I am a philosopher after all. I’m not a historian, so I’ve got to tell you what I’m going to do, and then I’ll do it. I’ll tell you what I did, and then you tell me whether or not I did it well or not. So the first part is kind of philosophical. I’m trying to think about appeals to religious tolerance or religious pluralism in relation to some notion of public reason and how such religious commitments play themselves out in the public domain. The subject of that section will be Obama’stalk in June of 2006 and Governor Romney’s talk; both of whom appealed, although in very different ways, to the tradition of religious liberty.
Then I’m going to tell a brief story historically. A brief historical account about how this has – this notion of religious pluralism and the distinct ways we undermine it – how this has always been the case since our inception as a nation, particularly when it comes to race. At the end I’ll glance at the difficult case of Jeremiah Wright and the question of which church will President-elect Obama attend. Is that okay? Now, I’m also in the Baptist tradition, although I was raised Catholic and went to Morehouse, so we’re going to have to have dialogue. I’m a professor, this is kind of like a seminar room, and we can talk back to one another, okay? So I’ll have to get used to you typing as I talk.
So let me direct your attention to two important moments during the presidential primaries. One involved President-elect Obama’s fascinating talk at the Call to Renewal conference in June of 2006. The other is Mitt Romney’s important speech about religion in December of 2007. Both candidates sought to address the incredibly difficult topic of the role of religion in the public square. Obama’s remarks served as a call of sorts to Democrats to take seriously religious commitments. He asserted the claim that folks like Alan Keyes, or more generally the religious right, do not hold a monopoly on religion. It was okay, particularly for progressives, to declare one’s Christian commitments in the public domain. His Christian commitments were even further specified in terms of the central and prophetic role of historically black churches.
Obama noted, “I still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change, a power made real by some of the leaders here today. Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principalities.” This is 2006; this is pre-Jeremiah Wright. “Because of its past, and in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man,” Barack Obama goes on to say, “I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active hope palpable, an active palpable agent in the world as a source of hope.” I won’t linger here for the moment, but you can imagine where I will go with this quotation a bit later. Jeremiah Wright is coming soon.
So Obama recognizes the power of religious belief in the lives of persons and grants that those beliefs animate, and in some cases ought to animate, public deliberation. But he insisted in this talk, which is really interesting, “Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values.” So you could hold your commitments as long as those commitments are translatable into something that’s more universal, that’s not sectarian. In other words, religious adherents cannot retreat behind the inerrancy of their faith – the inerrancy of their truth claims in public. Those claims, like all reasons according to Obama, must be subjected to public scrutiny. And here Obama appeals to a grand tradition of religious pluralism that requires, in some significant way, a deliberative language that allows us to talk across sectarian differences. So even as President-elect Obama insists on the role of religious beliefs in the public square, he circumscribes how appeals to those beliefs must work in democratic conversation. I’m not quite sure what he resolves in this move.
Now, interestingly enough, Governor Romney made a similar move. Romney of course struggled mightily during the primary to shake off a standing suspicion, particularly among the base of the Republican Party, about his Mormonism. For many, Romney’s candidacy was shrouded in the mystery of his religious commitments. Is Mormonism a cult? Will Romney be beholden to the religious leaders of his church? We’ve heard these questions before. Many of you have covered them. He sought to allay any concerns about his faith by appealing to the legacy of religious liberty and pluralism in the United States. He insisted on the centrality of his faith to how he understands himself and the world, but that faith was consonant, in his view, with a commonly shared creed of moral convictions that define the nation.
As he noted, “Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle,” Romney goes on to say, “Indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it’s usually a sound rule to focus on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition or civil rights or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.” But that “speaking” must exemplify a commitment to religious liberty and democratic value. So in similar ways, he makes a similar move to Obama. Now, I’m not so convinced that either move – that President-elect Obama’s take on the role of religious commitments in public deliberation clarifies much. In fact, his position – I’m sorry that this is so academic, but I wanted to go through this. Is this all right?
CROMARTIE: We’re handling it fine.
GLAUDE: Y’all follow? All right, because you’re looking at me like I’m, like – well, anyway. All right, you go, brother? Okay, all right, there you go. Yeah, I feel better now. All right, good. All right, now. (Laughter.) His position sounds a lot like that of Father Richard Neuhaus’ in his classic or infamous work, The Naked Public Square – classic.
GLAUDE: Infamous for some – in which Father Neuhaus argues, among other things, that we Christians have an obligation to translate our commitments into terms accessible as far as possible to our fellows who happen not to hold those commitments. Now, of course, there are different kinds of religious claims: those that reason is fully competent to justify and those that derive their force, at least in part, from revelation. So there are obviously enough, even among those faith communities that unite in resisting liberalism, different theological reasons for their positions. There may even be, in the end, substantive disagreement about policy outcomes based in those theological differences that many appeal, for example, to different sorts of authority to justify their public acts. For example, the authority of revelation ought to be singled out. So there’s a sense in which Neuhaus and, if I’m right, President-elect Obama insist that religious claims, or more specifically Christian claims that have public implications, must be accessible to public reason.
Now, this may be a bit worrisome because it runs up against the stated commitment to religious tolerance and plurality that supposedly frame the discussion in the first place. Such a view denies an important plurality and the possible conflicts that might emerge from that among religious believers, who are themselves critical of liberalism. Now, what do I mean by that? That is to say, there are only certain kinds of religious commitments – those that can be justified by natural lawyers that can gain access to the public space. But those folk who justify their political positions in light of certain kinds of religious claims that are not subject to public reason – the authority of revelation according to Neuhaus and I believe according to Obama – they have to engage in some kind of translation or otherwise, they can’t speak. This doesn’t resolve anything. In fact, this is the exact spur in the side of certain religious communities to mobilize in light of liberalism’s attack against it. Lauren, you had your hand up.
LAUREN GREEN, FOX NEWS: Oh, that’s fast.
CROMARTIE: No, no, no, no, no, she was just getting in line.
GLAUDE: Oh, she was just getting in line. Okay. See, it’s a seminar kind of context. Okay, all right. She was like, that’s a fast talk.
CROMARTIE: You want to take interjections?
GLAUDE: Sure, of course.
CROMARTIE: On that one point, Lauren?
GREEN: I want to make sure this is clear what you’re saying: You can’t bring your religious beliefs to the public square unless you can translate it to an understanding of reason.
GLAUDE: Public reason. But it has to be subject –
GREEN: Public reason, but there are many people in the public square that say that religion has no reason, so you can’t bring your beliefs to the public square. And that debate is not yet happening.
GLAUDE: Well, part of what I’m trying to say here is that Senator Obama – then Senator Obama, now President-elect Obama, took himself to be making an intervention. And that intervention had everything to do with saying that Democrats can be believers too. The Christian right doesn’t hold a monopoly on what it means to be a professed believer in public. And so he urges Democrats to take up faith claims. But then he says, you must take them up in a particular sort of way. That particular sort of way means that it has to be subject to a certain kind of public scrutiny. So I can’t just simply say that X is wrong because the Bible tells me so. That’s not enough. Yes?
KIRSTEN POWERS, NEW YORK POST: I think what he’s saying is that you can say X is wrong in your own life, you just can’t say X is wrong for the government. We live in a secular society, we don’t live in a theocracy.
GLAUDE: See, now we’re getting to the point.
POWERS: So I think that I actually disagree. I think most things, at least as a Christian, in the Bible can be explained by reason. For example if you oppose abortion, I think you could make a scientific argument against it. You don’t have to say it’s because God says it, and I think that that’s what Obama was appealing to.
GLAUDE: Let me finish the argument, and then you’ll see what I’m doing. What I’m trying to suggest here is that there’s a way in which this appeal to public reason actually does a certain kind of work vis-à-vis a certain kind of religious expression. So if we begin to take, for example – and I’m getting a little off track here – but if we begin to take the role of a certain kind of fundamentalist voice in the public domain, what footing might it have on Obama’s view? Or has Obama in interesting sorts of ways, like Neuhaus, said that they can only talk to those who are similarly committed. As opposed to them talking to us in the public space. But we’ll get to that so we can talk.
So it seems to me in the end that, like the political theorist William Galston, Obama seems to argue that, “If religion is to shape public life, including public law, through the exercise of public reason, then it would seem that the content of public reason is in principle accessible to adherents of all faiths equally and to those who espouse no religious faith at all. If so, then it is hard to see how religion, as opposed to philosophical natural law, is playing a distinctive public role. On the other hand, if the content of specific revelation is to play that role, it can only be by breaching the boundaries of public reason as Father Neuhaus defines it.” Given Obama’s commitment to pluralism, he argues that we can only justify coercive public law across the boundary of diverse faith communities through public reason. Those who offer claims based, on revelation however, those claims are only relevant and institutionally binding to those who share in the commitment. Propositions based on revelation matter only within the relevant communities.
So, in the end, only those Christians who can offer public arguments for their positions are allowed a public role. Others are relegated to their own communities, to talking with those, at least when they are invoking revelation or making certain kinds of faith claims, who share their commitment. And I think we should remember Father Neuhaus’ words here, because they ironically informed President-elect Obama’s position. “A public argument is not derived from sources of revelation or disposition that are essentially private” – Kirsten – “essentially private and arbitrary. The perplexity of fundamentalism,” Father Neuhaus writes, “in public is that its self-understanding is premised upon a view of religion that is emphatically not public in character.” Fundamentalist leaders rail against secular humanists for creating what Father Neuhaus has called “the naked public square.” “In fact,” he goes on to write, “fundamentalism is an indispensable collaborator in that creation.” So even though Obama and Romney assert the value of religious toleration and pluralism, they do so in a way that, in my view, constrains certain expressions of religious faith. And we have to talk about that constraint. Yes, Lauren?
GREEN: I just wanted to add – (inaudible, off mic) – months ago about religion in the public square is that many people don’t understand – are trying to say that some people have religious faith and other people don’t. And what the discussion has never gotten to, which is what the religious right – I think religious people in general are cutting themselves off and shortchanging themselves and saying, wait a second, don’t tell me not to bring my religious beliefs into the public square, because you’re doing the same thing. We understand religious beliefs to mean a set of beliefs, whether you believe in a god or this or whatever, it is the same thing. So aren’t religious people shortchanging themselves, and even Father Neuhaus doing the same thing, saying, we have to make it so that our religious beliefs translate into some kind of accessibility in the secular world?
CROMARTIE: Let me just say this. Time out, time out, time out. Could we do this? I think I know where the argument’s going, I think we should let Professor finish the argument.
CROMARTIE: And then at the end of the argument, have these interventions, if I may. I think we might have opened it up a little bit when you said it was a seminar, but –
GLAUDE: Oh, my bad.
CROMARTIE: I want to hear you go ahead and –
GLAUDE: My bad.
CROMARTIE: I want to go ahead and hear you finish the argument, because it’s very intriguing and I think I know where you’re going and –
GLAUDE: Okay, let’s see where we go. Let’s see what we can do.
CROMARTIE: And then I’ll fit you all in, okay?
GLAUDE: You got it. You’re the veteran. The last sentence I read was that even though Obama and Romney assert the value of religious toleration and pluralism, they do so in a way that constrains certain expressions of religious faith. Now, in fact, one could go as far as to question the distinctiveness of religious claims that are in fact accessible to public reason. It becomes very hard. And this is kind of muddled, but I just wanted to throw this out to be provocative. It becomes very hard, for example, to distinguish what kind of public work religious claims are doing if someone who happens not to hold those commitments still has access to them. So if as a Christian the beatitudes inform how I think about certain policy initiatives, and those commitments result in my support of policies that are compelling to my left-leaning, atheist, secular friend, it is difficult to see how religion is playing a distinctive role here. I’m not quite sure what work religion is doing in this public sense.
Obama’s insistence on public accessibility results, again, if I’m right, in religion doing very little work or certain kinds of religious claims doing very little work in the public domain, even as he’s opening it up. Now, let me wrap this up really quickly, because I’m beginning to ramble. In the end, appeals to public reason or universal value as a response to the diversity of religious claims – those who appeal to revelation, again, are relegated to the remainder of social space filled by diverse communities attending to their internal affairs – limit, it seems to me, religious voices. This is contrary to the stated aim in such a way that fails to address the dissatisfaction with public life of many members of faith communities; and it results in, it seems to me, oftentimes in an anemic conception of the public good. Beyond this, I worry that these attempts to tidy up the mess of democratic conversation – because this accessibility is an attempt to tidy up the mess of democratic conversation, especially when it comes to religious claims – might result in bad faith on the part of many who hold religious beliefs based on revelation and who nevertheless want to impact public life beyond their specific communities. I worry that the Christian, like my evangelical sister who believes that homosexuality is a sin and is prohibited by scripture, will not offer that as the reason for her opposition against same-sex marriage. But who instead will appeal to some notion of the sanctity of marriage. I worry that it will lead folk – decent folk with commitments that we may or may not agree with – to mislead in order to secure their desired ends. And to my mind, that would be a terribly unchristian result.
So I direct your attention here because both President-elect Obama and Governor Romney appeal to a certain story about America’s religious history in order to put forward this value of toleration and pluralism. I believe, like the scholar Robert Orsi, I am convinced that American religious history is American political history and American political history is American religious history. They’re intertwined. So this story is grounded in the toleration of religious differences; let’s take this up for a moment. What is the typical story of America’s religious beginnings? Now, as my good friend, the religious historian David Wills writes, “The most common way of telling the story of the United States’ religious past is to center it on the theme of pluralism and toleration, the existence of religious variety in America and the degree to which it has or has not been tolerated and even affirmed.”
Now, there are several versions of this story. One version is that religious liberty was placed at the center of our nation’s religious life the moment the pilgrims landed on Plymouth Rock. Another is that the adoption of the Constitution and the passage of the First Amendment instantiated a normative religious pluralism in our nation; or the story goes that the Constitutional separation of church and state initiated a process in which the nation would come to embrace genuine religious plurality, and perhaps this embrace was made in the 1960s, “when we were all feeling good about ourselves.” But I must say that at no point in our nation’s history, no matter how the story is written – and I’ve tried to show this even in President-elect Obama’s case – has the mere fact of religious plurality yielded an uncontested normative vision of pluralism. Rather, as Wills writes, “At every point, normative conceptions of religious plurality, which inevitably embrace some forms of religious belief and practice while excluding others, have been a central point of contestation.”
To be sure, in our nation’s early history, Protestants had come to accept doctrinal differences among themselves as a kind of acceptable diversity, but rarely was this tolerance extended to others, like Catholics or Jews or Mormons on the same basis. When George Washington, for example, assumed the presidency in 1789, many worried about the nation’s commitment to genuine religious liberty. Could such a commitment survive the realities of politics? Roman Catholics were keenly aware of “the force of laws against potpourri and against receiving immigrants from Catholic countries.” Some even wrote President Washington congratulating him on his election and inquiring concerning their status under a new form of government. Washington replied on March 1, 1790, that he hoped to see “America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality.” In response to Newport’s Hebrew congregation, who wondered if the nation would continue to “offer an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every nation and religion,” Washington replied, “We no longer speak of toleration but rather of inherent rights.” And that “happily, the government of the United States gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.” It’s kind of funny, when you think about the moment.
Washington’s belief that an old age of intolerance had passed away, however, betrayed a naïve optimism about this fragile democracy. I’m reminded here of a powerful remark by the black abolitionist Sojourner Truth. She said, “I take hold of this Constitution and it looks mighty big. And I feel for my rights, but there ain’t any there.” So obviously, Washington knew of the many forms of religious bigotry in the new nation. Perhaps, like Jefferson and Madison, he hoped that enlightened persons would eventually shed such prejudices and be satisfied to practice their religion in private.
But we know this isn’t or wasn’t the case. In many states, some form of establishment continued well into the 19th century. Connecticut and Massachusetts, for example, continued to encourage local governments to make suitable provision “for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality.” For these Congregationalists, the idea of a religious grounding in our public living was central to how they imagine the relationship between religion and the state. A holy commonwealth is the phrase that comes to mind.
So what I’m suggesting here, however clumsily, is that when we situate the discussion of religious pluralism within the larger context of American religious history, at least two themes emerge: First, we see the difficulties surrounding religious and cultural difference. Difference is not managed “by a narrative of American triumphalism.” We have difference erupting, disrupting a certain kind of American imagery. And second, we see religiously-informed efforts – I suppose this is part of our Puritan inheritance – to define and achieve some exemplary state of public morality. Now, one can immediately see that efforts to define public morality in terms of a specific religious tradition militate against affirming religious pluralism. In fact, such efforts often work to solidify the status of “Other,” capital “O,” for those from different traditions.
But let me quickly mention a third theme that might emerge. What can be called, as David Wills, the historian at Amherst, says, “the encounter between black and white.” Now you can begin to see, I’m beginning to turn back to that body that Obama inhabits. Here we have a group of Christians – and we’re talking about a particular religious tradition, obviously. We have a group of Christians who are for the most part within the dominant religious traditions of the nation. They are, at least religiously, a part of us. Yet because of their color, status as slaves and subsequently second-class citizens, they are often viewed as wholly other. What is interesting is how these peculiar modern folk to whom religious freedom was neither offered nor given seized upon the idea of religious liberty and forged an independent church movement. As the historian Will Gravely notes, they “appeal successfully and unsuccessfully in court for their rights to religious independence. The legal structures within which they worked were newly enacted so that they tested and expanded the state’s role in religious litigation.”
The presence of black Christians in American religious history indeed complicates the story of our nation’s religious past and present. That history, that religious history on the part of these black folk is crucial to how we tell our political history. All we need to do is think about, for example, that extraordinary moment in November of 1787 in St. George’s Church in Philadelphia. Richard Allen and Absalom Jones – and these guys are literally praying at the altar – are snatched from their knees in the middle of prayer and told to go to what was called “the n— pews.” They walk out, and as a result we see formed by 1794 the first African-American congregation in the city, St. Thomas Episcopal. Later on, we see the African-Methodist Episcopal Church founded in the early part of the 19th century. Then later on we see African-Methodist Episcopal Zion formed in New York with James Varick.
Part of what we see here are the very ways in which race over-determined how one understands one’s relationship to God and how that over-determination then impacted the very ways in which these particular Christians could articulate their commitments in public – precisely because race impacted the very ways in which they were understood to be Christian. There’s a wonderful phrase by Howard Thurman in which he says, “The slaves dared to redeem a religion profaned in their midst.” And so Stanley Hauerwas, the great theologian, was constantly looking back to first-century Christians to find a kind of authentic expression of Christianity when he could just simply look to these American slaves: the folks who were trying to reclaim, in interesting sorts of ways, the essence of the faith. And this tradition, in some significant way – remember, we have to understand African-American religion or African-American Christian churches in some substantive way as the site of black civil society because they are locked out politically, locked out economically, locked out demographically. African-American religious institutions become the site whereby the infrastructure of black communities begins to take shape, the germ of them.
So education institutions – my own beloved Morehouse was founded in a Baptist church in Augusta. We begin to think about voluntary associations, burial societies: black folk who attended predominantly white churches could not bury their dead in the same burial grounds. So white supremacy cuts so deep that it even went to the grave. So part of this tradition of African-American Christian expression involves an institutional space that’s reflective of a kind of marginal status. That institutional space bearing the imprimatur of a kind of evangelical tradition – there’s this wonderful image, if you look at it – wish I had it with me – of the Great Awakening. There is this interesting kind of interracial religious fervor that’s being expressed, and you see white fellow brothers and sisters engaged in ecstatic worship. Right behind the picture of the pastor at the pulpit, or the preacher, are these African-Americans engaged in ecstatic worship as well.
And so there’s this intimate relationship that’s kind of, shall we say, partitioned by the realities of race. Even though they are seen, they are not known. Even though they’re seen, they’re not known. They’re wholly other. There’s this tradition of Christianity within the United States, the African-American tradition that has this prophetic wing. It proceeds on the assumption that white Christianity is idolatry. The adjectives matter. There is an investment in whiteness that over-determines one’s commitment to God. This tradition begins to define in interesting sorts of ways the African-American church that was once an invisible institution and in post-Reconstruction becomes a visible institution. It is then transformed with the Great Migration as these folks move from rural countrysides to urban spaces in the south: going from country-rural side of Mississippi to Mobile, Alabama and then moving from Mobile to places like Chicago, to places like New York – and having a different sound, a different timber. It was becoming in interesting sorts of ways this unique American expression. What’s striking about the 1970s – I’m skipping, trying to get to something here. What’s striking about the 1960s and ’70s, of course, is that this religious backdrop – the prophetic black church of the 19th century – takes on a much more pronounced role.
And we see African-American religion informing African-American struggle in interesting sorts of ways. But there’s a moment in the context of black power in which African-American Christianity is characterized as the religion of white folks, that it’s conservative. And what do you see? You see people like James Cone in 1969 beginning to translate the prophetic black church tradition into the idiom of black power. So he publishes a text in 1969 entitled Black Theology and Black Power. He publishes it a year before Gutierrez publishes A Theology of Liberation.This is really important, because everyone wants to say that black liberation theology is derivative of Latin-American liberation theologies, and that’s not true historically.
And what happens is that Cone takes the prophetic dimensions of black Christianity, and he places it in the language of black power where God is on the side of black people. Jesus is on the side of the oppressed; and wherever there is evil, wherever there are oppressed people, that’s where we find Jesus. Jesus is not locked into some distant past; he’s present in the lives of those who suffer. And so there is this interesting kind of a reinterpretation of the Bible – there’s a high Christology in black liberation theology. There is a sense that this particular iteration of the black church tradition takes on a particular kind of life in light of the kind of register of African-American politics at the moment. Jeremiah Wright comes out of this tradition, and so I want to make a turn to him for a brief moment.
Wright’s Christianity for some served as a proxy for the claim about Obama’s otherness. So I’m really struck. The argument is kind of loose; it’s not really tight. Obama appeals to pluralism as a way to allow for religious belief, but then he sanctions, he cordons it off. He constrains it by appeal to public reason. You tell a story about religious toleration and pluralism in the United States; that story reveals a highly racialized religious landscape in which blackness and Christianity are disciplined in particular sorts of ways. We tell a story about how that particular form of Christianity erupts in the public domain to challenge the state in light of the second-class status of black folks. And then it gets rearticulated in a particular sort of way, let’s call it black liberation theology. And so here we have Obama claiming in the beginning the power of the black church, and then here we have Jeremiah Wright coming back on the backside. I can’t wait until we talk about this.
Wright’s version of African-American Christianity bore the imprimatur not of Martin Luther King’s message of love but of the fiery rhetoric of black power – the effort on the part of black theologians to translate the African-American church tradition into the idiom of black power. And it’s precisely in Obama’s connection to the so-called “rabid sectarian voices of black power” that potentially undermined for some his claims to universality. Remember Patrick Buchanan’s blog, “A Brief for Whitey,” which said that we’ve seen this before. This is just simply the shakedown politics of black power. He, that is Obama, unlike his marketed image, is really black. And is therefore a candidate only for them, because black candidates can only be niche candidates. We can only represent black people, right?
In this instance, the theological orientation of Wright stands in for African-American Christian communities as such. How many times did we see, not only on the part of Wright – I’m defending the black church – that the press represented in interesting sorts of ways Jeremiah Wright as a stand-in for African-American churches. And what is obscured by such broad strokes, it seems to me, is the amazing religious diversity of African-American communities. Part of – what we’ve talked about last time, nuance and complexity – part of what we have to do is begin to tell a story about African-American religion that’s not reducible to King. There’s a story of African-American religion that actually accounts for people like T.D. Jakes, that accounts for folks like Creflo Dollar – people you might not know– for example, Carlton Pearson. Some of you might know him. Or let’s talk about someone like Reverend Ike of the ’60s and ’70s. Reverend Ike actually lifted particular dimensions of his biography from Oral Roberts.
There is an interesting cross-fertilization between certain expressions of African-American Christianity, particularly African-American religious fundamentalism, a story that hasn’t been told, with mainstream white fundamentalism that goes all the way back to the ’20s and ’30s. But we can’t tell that story because of the hegemony of a certain vision of what African-American Christianity is. That is, it’s always already tied to a certain understanding of King, that prophetic tradition. There is much more diversity, even in the story that I told earlier. There is much more diversity there. And this becomes really interesting when you think about – just yesterday, I was reading an op-ed piece in The New York Times by Caitlin Flanagan and Benjamin Schwarz. It was about the “Showdown in the Big Tent,” about Proposition 8. And folk are trying to figure out how could these black folk vote for Proposition 8 given this particular understanding of black Christianity? And we saw in the data, the Pew data, how mainline black denominations are as conservative as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses. But there’s a tendency to think that mainline black Christians are, by definition, progressive and prophetic.
So we have to begin to disrupt a certain kind of narrative. Now, we see, I think a similar logic – and of course, all of this kind of just gestures to what we should talk about. We see a similar logic at work in the rather crazed attention – I’m shifting – given to the question about which church will President Obama and his family attend? Will he join a black church or not, and what might it suggest if he does or does not? Such questions, I believe are freighted with the weight of our current national malaise, not just our economic woes. But there is the fact – and a dangerous fact it is – that we can no longer without fear of recrimination talk about race explicitly, at least when it comes to President-elect Obama. So the choice of place of worship, its cultural locus, becomes a critical site for the continued interrogation of his identification. Is he really black after all? And what better way to signal his true identity than his presence in a place, during the “most segregated hour” in American life. But if he decides not to attend a black church, learning the so-called lessons of his Trinity experience, is this an indication that we have truly arrived at a post-racial moment?
The somewhat manic character of this hand wringing bears the burden of a historic neurosis: the fantasy of a black-less America. As Ralph Ellison noted, not with a hint of the vitriol of Jeremiah Wright, “It is a fantasy borne not merely of racism but of petulance, of exasperation, of moral fatigue. It is like a boil bursting forth from impurities in the bloodstream of democracy.” This wishful fantasy of absolving our national sins by getting shut of blackness has reached a crescendo with Obama’s ascendance, only to be snatched back to the ground by the ever-present realities of race in our daily doings, and, in this case, our worshipping. But as Ellison noted, and as I believe with all my heart in this most critical of moments, that the nation could not survive – I think this is true – the nation could not survive, “deprived of their presence because, by the irony implicit in the dynamics of American democracy, they, black folk, symbolize both its most stringent testing and the possibility of its greatest human freedom.” And it’s precisely within this paradox that we find ourselves at this moment; and once again as it has always been, or often been, religion stands as a primary space where the mess gets worked out.
CROMARTIE: Thank you, doctor. Thank you.
GLAUDE: That’s a lot.
CROMARTIE: Well, we have – that’s a lot, and we’re looking forward to getting into it here. And we’ll start with Kevin; you’re up first. Pull the mic and I’ll point.
KEVIN ECKSTROM, RELIGION NEWS SERVICE: Just to follow up on what you were just talking about: about Obama and Prop. 8 and homophobia within the black church. Obama himself has been a little skittish on the gay question, and he doesn’t want to get into it very much. But at the same time, he’s also talked about when he addresses black clergy, he says that they need to get over their own homophobia. And they need to – there’s work to do there in the black church. But if you look at the exit polls from Prop. 8, it was black churchgoers who really voted for this in whole heart. So I guess my question is, do you see any of that changing under Obama? Will he be able to move the black church on these issues at all? Will he even want to or try to? I’m just sort of curious, with him in the bully pulpit, if any of this is going to change?
GLAUDE: Given his skittishness, I don’t think so. I think part of what needs to happen – and I’ve said this publicly – is that there needs to be a much more vibrant conversation among progressive black Christians with other Christians who hold positions that lead them to vote for Proposition 8. We have a conversation within the black community that’s driven by two extremes: revulsion or indifference. That frames how the discussion takes place in interesting sorts of ways within African-American religious communities. And this is particularly dangerous given the AIDS epidemic that’s destroying communities across the nation – not to identify AIDS with gay communities. But there is a sense that unless we begin to have a much more vibrant conversation within black churches about sexuality, more broadly, we can’t muster up the resources to respond to the epidemic or the crisis that’s really consuming our communities.
So that said, I don’t know if President-elect or President Obama will lead the way in this conversation precisely because I think he’s a bit skittish, not only on the gay issue. I think he’s a bit skittish in terms of being identified with a certain, particular kind of cultural locus. That is to say, if he finds himself in the middle of that discussion, he’s going to find himself in the middle of a much broader discussion about race. I think there’s a kind of general evasiveness vis-à-vis this issue. This is why the issue of which church he’s going to attend is so freighted, it seems to me.
Part of what I’m suggesting here is that I don’t want to suggest to someone like my sister that she cannot hold the position that she holds, and she cannot make the argument in the way that she wants to make the argument about the position she wants to hold. I think I can make a counterargument on Christian grounds to her as to why she ought not to hold that position. That’s a different kind of move to say – in order for her to put forward her position in public space, she must translate it in the way that it’s publicly accessible. That’s a different kind of move to me. So, but –
CROMARTIE: Mike Allen, you’re up next, Mike Allen, and then I think Lauren and Kirsten – I don’t know, maybe you got your questions in earlier but Mike Allen’s up.
MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO: Professor, thank you for challenging us. And you seem to be skeptical of the idea that it’s still true that Sunday morning is the most segregated hour of the week and I was just hoping you could just talk a little bit about how true or untrue that still is.
GLAUDE: Well, I was just trying to hedge my – my instinct – my intuition is that it’s still – Friday night’s probably as segregated too; Saturday night too. I just don’t have the exact figures so I didn’t want to just state it, you know.
ALLEN: Okay, thank you. And I was – I was very intrigued by what you said about the former customs about burials. And I wonder if you could talk about other –
GLAUDE: I’m sorry, I didn’t hear that one.
ALLEN: You pointed out that it used to be that African-Americans would not be buried in white – by white congregations. I wondered if you could talk a little bit about other remnants that we still see of practices like that.
GLAUDE: Well, I mean, there are remnants of it – there are senses in which burial grounds are often associated with particular religious institutions, yes? And those institutions bear the characteristics of a legacy of racial segregation. And so the very ways in which Americans, to this day, recognize their dead – the various rituals that we engage in – are often rituals that take place within very segregated physical spaces. And that’s still today.
ALLEN: Right. And then, more broadly, are there other customs like that, other practices where we still see the remnants of segregation – the customs and practices of our churches?
GLAUDE: I suspect that there probably are but I would say less so. I have to think a little bit more about so I can give you an example. It will come to me in a minute.
CROMARTIE: Okay, Rachel Martin is next.
RACHEL MARTIN, ABC NEWS: I have a couple of questions. The first – you’ll forgive me as I try to talk through I think what you were saying. I hear you saying – and that’s more a statement of my inability to grasp, not your clarity. I hear you saying –
GLAUDE: That was nice of you.
MARTIN: – if religion shapes or informs your opinion about an issue like abortion, then you owe it to your religion to make that argument in the public sphere in that way using that language and basing it on those religious tenets.
MARTIN: If you don’t, you are somehow being un-Christian, A, and number two, you’re actually never going to resolve the differences because you haven’t argued it in an authentic way that truly represents your opinion. And if I’m hearing that correctly, how does – and I think this is speaking to what you were saying as well, Kirsten, earlier – how does that work in a secular society?
GLAUDE: Well, let’s just challenge the premise.
CROMARTIE: In 25 words or less.
GLAUDE: Yeah. In 25 words or less?
CROMARTIE:�� I’m just kidding.
GLAUDE: We have to challenge the premise that it’s actually secular, that’s the first thing. We know that “god talk” organizes much of our deliberations – even though there is a kind of presumption of methodical atheism informing public deliberation. We know “god talk” circulates throughout. So I want to challenge the notion that we live in a secular society that requires, in some significant way, the disciplining of “non-secular commitments.” Part of what I’m trying to suggest is that if we are going to create a space for genuine democratic deliberation, people need to be explicit about the reasons that they actually hold for the positions that they are taking. And we need to be able to engage in a kind of conversation about those reasons. It is incumbent upon me, or me as a kind of “secularist” to make an effort to understand the position of the non-secularist who is putting forward a view that same-sex marriage is evil or homosexuality is an abomination.
And I think there are resources available to folks who are not Christian and folks who are Christian. For example, to engage them on the grounds in which they’re putting forth the argument. I don’t think it resolves much if you ban those sorts of claims from the public domain. We just have to deal with it, it seems to me.
MARTIN: And then, I have second question that’s about the role of –
GLAUDE: Sure – that’s not satisfying, I’m sure.
MARTIN: No, but we’ll take it up later. (Chuckles.) I wanted to ask you about the role of black churches, understanding that there’s a lot of diversity when I say that. If this country is to ever get to a point where it has made peace with its past and its present, when it comes to racial divides, what is the role of religion and in particular the black church. Can we have segregated churches at all and be in a country where racism doesn’t exist. In order for racism to not exist, can the black church exist, if it is premised upon this division. If it came about as a result of white supremacy, does it need to go away before we can become something different and better hopefully.
GLAUDE: It’s an interesting question. So the same holds for white churches?
GLAUDE: It just seems to me that part of what we have to be very careful of as we aspire to a genuine post-racial moment, is that we not lose sight of the cultural differences that matter. I am African-American, I’ve been raised in a particular tradition; there’s a particular tradition of struggle that’s crucial to how I understand myself. It offers me a certain set of moral vocabularies in order to understand the world and my interactions with my fellows. And I don’t think that tradition is reducible to racism. It might be an outgrowth – it might be an outcome of racist practices but it’s not reducible to it. So I could still make the case for culturally specific institutions that are valuable – that are treasures – but are not reproductions of a certain kind of racist logic.
It’s almost like – there’s an old19th-century argument William Whipper and others used to use that we need to rid ourselves of race language if we’re going to rid ourselves of racism. We can’t identify difference. We need to stop using language of black, white, color and these sorts of things. And beyond portraying a kind of peculiar sense of the way in which language works, in some significant way, you rob yourself of the kinds of tools to specify the specific conditions under which you live your life. So part of what I’m saying is that we don’t need to get beyond cultural, specific institutions that have rich histories that are meaningful in order to get to a post-racial moment. We need to begin to think about how these can be valued apart from the hierarchical arrangements that white supremacy instantiates.
If we can do that, then I could be black and proud without that being interpreted in a particular sort of way. Does that make sense? All right? Because what worries me is that folk are constantly wanting – how can I put this, and I’m going to put this in as visceral a way that I can. Folks are constantly urging – and I’ll just say “Me,” and that’s a big “Me”, capital “M,” – that in order for us to get to where we need to be, I need to give up “Me.” In order for President Obama to be president of the United States, he has to evade the body he inhabits, which is impossible. We have to – this is the fantasy of a black-less America that Ellison was talking about. And if that’s the precondition for us being released from the sins of our past, then we are doomed to Dante’s hell.
CROMARTIE: Let me tell you where we are real quickly because there are a lot of you that have got your hands up: Carl Cannon, Kirsten, Lauren, Matt, Jacqui, Mark, Sally, David, Cathy, Barbara.
CROMARTIE: And so I’m going to – I’m going to –
GLAUDE: I’m leaving now, so –
CROMARTIE: No, I’m not – and there comes E.J., Richard. Here comes everybody. And so I’m going to play my role as moderator to interrupt some a little bit to keep us moving along. I want to get everybody in, and I know a lot of people have got a lot to ask, so – yeah, meaning interrupt the speaker. But also the long-winded questions too, if they get that way. Go ahead, Carl, you’re up next.
CARL CANNON, READER’S DIGEST: I have a long-winded question. (Laughter.) Eddie, I’d like to contrast two statements of President Bush: one when he was running for president and the other when he’s leaving office – to try and amplify this unease that Kirsten and Rachel and I have with “god talk” that risks sounding exclusive. The first one was December ’99. It’s a debate in Iowa; some of us were there. Bush is asked for the political philosopher or thinker he most identified with.
GLAUDE: (Chuckles.) Yeah, I remember that.
CANNON: He says Christ because he changed my heart. Now – parenthetically – the next day in The Des Moines Register, he said, I thought who had had the most influence on my life – that’s what he heard. Apparently in these debates, they do some wool-gathering. But I’ll give him that. The point is, then the moderator, John Bachman, came back and said, you know, that really wasn’t an answer. He said, well, what do you mean? And Bush said, when you turn your heart and your life over to Christ and you accept Christ as your Savior, it changes your heart. It changes your life and that’s what happened to me. It’s like, you know, it’s a white thing, you wouldn’t understand that kind of answer, you know. (Laughter.) But this electrified evangelical Christians – they talked about it. But it alienated Libertarian conservatives and mainstream Protestants and alarmed Jews because it seemed exclusive.
Now, real quick, last week, Michael and I went to an event, Rick Warren gave President Bush a medal. And he was extolled by Bono and former President Clinton and by Barack Obama in these testimonials for saving or extending the lives of 2 or 3 million people in sub-Saharan Africa. And then he was asked why he did it. And he was asked by Rick Warren of all – isn’t there a national security component to all this money in AIDS and HIV/AIDS? And Bush allows that there was: that if terrorism takes root when there’s no hope and in these communities there could be no hope. Bush said, there’s an economic thing too. He said, having these thriving African economies would help our country and theirs. But then the third reason he said, the biggest is morality. And he started to – he sort of did this flight of fancy that Bush does. He said, you know, there’s a higher government. And he realized that didn’t sound quite right. He said a higher calling, and then he just goes – God. (Laughter.)
Nobody would be offended by that. And he’d given these other two reasons. I submit to you that in the public square, the Bush in 2008 has this about right and the Bush in 1999 alarmed people. But I’d like you to respond.
GLAUDE: Right, part of the question I would have to ask is how – what are we to do with the earlier Bush. What are we to say to him? You can’t say that? And on what grounds can we say that? And then what happens when we make that move? So I’ll give you an example. There is an interesting way in which the religious right coalesced around how it was characterized. What it began to – or shall we saw form it’s claims and complaints in a way that bore resemblance to civil rights claims. Our exclusion constitutes a violation on the lines of civil rights exclusions. I can’t be who I am in this particular space because you won’t allow me to. What follows from that for the meaning of democracy?
Interestingly enough, some of them are anti-liberal at their heart – aren’t necessarily committed to a liberal project in any specific sense.
CROMARTIE: You mean liberal, small “l” –
GLAUDE: Small “l.” Yeah, small “l,” not liberal in terms of –
GLAUDE: So part of what I’m thinking – no. No, I’m talking about anti-liberal in terms of liberalism.
CROMARTIE: That’s what I mean.
GLAUDE: No, okay, all right. Great – I just wanted to make sure. The question becomes now, what do we do? I’m asking it again, what do we do with fellow citizens whose genuine reason, for not necessarily not answering the question – direct question, but giving you an expression of what motivates her to act in the public domain. What then do we do? Could it be necessary at that point to ask a subsequent question to begin to get – I’m sorry, go ahead.
CROMARTIE: No, no – you – I’ve just got about four people doing this to me –
GLAUDE: Well, that’s good! (Inaudible) – them out.
CROMARTIE: – and that means they want to – they want to – and I’m – Rachel and Cathy and then others are waiting.
MARTIN: Does the president, though, as the president, abdicate his right to do that? It’s one thing for “Joe Six-Pack” to say –
GLAUDE: He wasn’t the president then – at the moment though.
CROMARTIE: He was a candidate.
MARTIN: In general, I would put to you, as the president, do you – maybe – you don’t get to do that anymore. You don’t get to make arguments with that language because you represent something bigger.
CROMARTIE: Don’t answer yet, I’m going to get a few people in.
CROMARTIE: No, no – Kirsten and then Cathy I’ve got you down. You’re on the list. I’ve got about six people saying they have little point.
POWERS: I’ll be brief. I just keep hearing you say that people are being kept from saying something. I just don’t think people are being kept from saying anything. I think Christians are free to say whatever they want. Muslims are free to say whatever they want. The idea that they don’t have to offer any other reason I think is problematic. For example, let’s take gay marriage. They can say, well, the Bible says that it shouldn’t be allowed and therefore it shouldn’t be allowed. The Bible also says that you shouldn’t get divorced except under very narrow circumstances, and we don’t change our laws to reflect that. In fact, we have no-fault divorce throughout the country. I could go through a lot of other things that happen in the Bible. I find it a little disingenuous, frankly, when people do come out – and I’m very serious Christian, so I’m not saying this being judgmental against Christians – but I have a problem when people cherry-pick issues. They come out and just announce, we have to have laws against this; we have change the constitution because I believe this.
GLAUDE: This is precisely the kind of response I think is requisite. I want to disagree with your initial claim because how I framed it was the very ways in which Senator – then Senator Obama, now President-elect Obama’s arguments around how religious claims make their way into public deliberation. He put some constraints on it. He said that in order to make a certain kind of claim that’s informed by religious reasoning, that religious reasoning has to be publicly accessible – it has to be universalizable. That’s what he said. To that extent, he’s just like Neuhaus. Neuhaus says very clearly that one cannot rely on the authority of revelation as a way of making certain kinds of public claims.
POWERS: And do you disagree with that or agree with it?
GLAUDE: I’m trying to say that that move doesn’t resolve the initial problem. The initial problem is religious difference – religious plurality, religious claims bumping up against each other. You don’t tidy up the mess by excluding certain kinds of claims from bumping up against each other. We have to create a much more vibrant deliberative space so that we can begin to interrogate those sorts of claims to ask for further reasoning. What I don’t want are folk retreating to their private domains and then entering the public domain stealthily – doing things under the guise of different kinds of reasons as opposed for the reasons that they actually hold.
CROMARTIE: I know Father Neuhaus’ work very well also, and I just want to make clarification that Neuhaus was saying the fundamentalists bring public arguments, not just biblical arguments. I thought I heard then-Senator Obama say the same thing. You’re disagreeing with both of those.
GLAUDE: No, I’m just saying it’s not sufficient.
CROMARTIE: Okay, it’s not sufficient.
JACOB WEISBERG, SLATE GROUP: (Inaudible) – brought up a point here – if you hope to be persuasive to people who don’t share a religious view – if you have to figure out a way to generalize the claim, which is not the same thing as saying it’s inadmissible or unacceptable – you know that speech better than I do, but I vaguely remember it from the time. He was speaking to a group of liberal religious leaders and he was saying, what is the place of your views? He was saying, if you hope to have a bigger voice, you have to be able to speak to people who don’t share them. And the way to do that is to generalize the plan.
GLAUDE: I thought it was a stronger version of the claim.
CROMARTIE: I think you’re right.
GLAUDE: That weaker claim was there but I think a stronger version of the claim was actually in the – (inaudible, cross talk).
CROMARTIE: Let me get a few more people in here before we get too deeply philosophical, which is fine with me, but I just got about 12 hands up and everybody’s doing like this, so.
GLAUDE: I might quit.
CROMARTIE: My next person is Lauren and then Matt and Jacqui and Sally and Mark and others. But Lauren Green.
GREEN: Let’s go to the black church. Are the black churches – are black people black first or are they Christian first? And I pose that even to the white churches. Are they white first or are they Christians first? Is their main vent to preach the gospel or is their main vent to preach the gospel of whiteness or blackness?
GLAUDE: I think it’s important to understand any witness historically and contextually. I tried to make the argument that the adjectives matter –in the sense that there is something called African-American or black Christianity. It, in its particulars, stands as a refutation of white Christianity. It’s a claim that white Christianity is idolatrous, at its root. To the extent to which we can begin to flesh out theological positions, to begin to flesh out liturgical kinds of differences and the like, we could. But the basic claim is that historically, African-American Christianity emerges within the context in which they are literally expelled from the ecclesia of white Christianity – of white Christian institutions.
GREEN: But do the blacks just run the risk of doing the same thing, of creating –
GLAUDE: I don’t think so, absolutely not. No, I don’t think so.
CROMARTIE: Matt? Matt is next and then Jackie.
MATTHEW CONTINETTI, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I find it a little bit hard to believe that Christ wasn’t adopted or appropriated to – on behalf of the oppressed up until James Cone wrote his book. I’m a little bit worried –
GLAUDE: I didn’t make that claim.
CONTINETTI: Well, you said that this was the first time that this happened, that that’s what he’s expressing. What are some of the precedents leading into black liberation theology? What else was in the political mix when he wrote his book in the middle of the 20th century? Then, speak to the larger black church today, besides the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. He’s clearly descended from that line of theological thinking, but clearly, he’s not the only option. So what are some of the alternative options? Those are my two questions.
GLAUDE: So the first point was that Cone writes in 1969 Black Theology and Black Power, and it’s an effort to translate, as I said, the prophetic black church tradition into the idiom of black power. It’s a response, in interesting sorts of ways, to the secularization of black public space. And what I mean by secularization is not the privatization of religious belief, but the kind of pluralization of belief. One of the interesting references in that text is to Ron Karenga’s “Us Movement” and the kinds of new pieties of black power that were emerging – Kwanzaa, a certain kind of indebtedness to the sources of one’s being. So these new rituals of blackness that were emerging at the time that, in some significant way, called into question the relevance of a certain kind of Christian witness – black preachers as hucksters, as hustlers and the like. We saw that visual representation throughout the time – just think about Richard Pryor’s representation of the preacher in Car Wash. I hope you remember that.
CROMARTIE: Oh, yeah. I can do the scene.
GLAUDE: Oh good, well, I can, too. (Laughter.) What’s interesting about that moment when Daddy Rich sits on the shoeshine box – on his right shoulder is a picture of King and on his left shoulder is a picture of Daddy Rich. So there are these different kinds of traditions of black Christianity that are coming. I think the context is this really interesting moment where we have to begin to ask where black Christianity is being de-centered.
CROMARTIE: What’s the center? What’s it being de-centered from?
GLAUDE: It’s being de-centered from being the center of black life – it’s being pushed aside; it’s competing with other dimensions of black life.
CROMARTIE: Like politics.
GLAUDE: Exactly. The second question was, what are some of the alternatives? Remember, I said that one of the interesting things about the Jeremiah Wright instance is that not only did he say that he was defending the black church, in which there was an identity established between him and the black church as such, he became a stand-in for the black church – a shorthand among those of us who were writing about this moment. What happened as a result was a kind of a flattening of all of the differences within black church life. So the fact is that we have black televangelism, the black electronic church – folk like T.D. Jakes, folk like Creflo Dollar, folk like Bishop Eddie Long – a kind of interesting development within black religious life that’s not reducible to some kind of socially charged, liberal, Christian orientation.
CROMARTIE: The point was, Senator Obama was a member of one church, not all those churches. So that’s why there was this utter preoccupation with Jeremiah Wright.
CONTINETTI: And it’s Wright who was saying he was the black church.
GLAUDE: Right, and that’s what I’m saying. In both instances, his claim led to a flattening. Remember, I said, you see, but – you don’t know. Part of it was, listen to what he’s saying but, more importantly, look at them! They’re shouting! There was this, in terms of the framing, of just how the worship service was taking place and how that was then characterized in interesting sort of ways: this is a site where something very strange is going on. And it’s interesting, too, the same kind of reaction – not same – but a similar kind of reaction was taking place around Sarah Palin’s Pentecostalism. We didn’t know what to make of that. These folks are speaking tongues and doing all this other stuff –
CONTINETTI: But I think it really was what they were saying, and I’ll give you an example. Father Pflager, for example, was just as controversial – he’s white, and he’s saying exactly –
GLAUDE: Depending on who you talk to.
CONTINETTI: (Chuckles.) But he’s saying the same things and equally offensive to wide swaths of America. So it’s not necessarily –
GLAUDE: In the black church tradition, I mean, Father Pflager in Chicago is a specific – even though he’s represented in a particular sort of way – when that footage shows him doing that and crying and then they cut –
CONTINETTI: But you would agree that if Obama had been a member of Reverend Jake’s congregation, that controversy would have – there would have been no controversy. It was –
GLAUDE: More than – yeah, probably, because you wouldn’t have had the loop.
CONTINETTI: Wouldn’t have had what?
GLAUDE: You wouldn’t have had those sermons, more than likely. It’s just different –
CONTINETTI: Yeah, but it was what was being said that was the –
GLAUDE: But it’s not reducible to what is being said, in my view. You think it’s simply that; I’m trying to suggest to you that it became much more than that. Maybe I’m wrong, but I –
CROMARTIE: Okay, let’s get some other in here. Jacqui, you’re next and then Mark and Sally. What’s that? Yeah, you’re on there. And others are on there, I promise – Cathy, Barbara, E.J., Richard – David’s in there.
JACQUI SALMON, THE WASHINGTON POST: I wanted to circle back around to your discussion of the stories that were done about what church Obama was going to go to. As someone who wrote one of those stories, I was curious about something.
We called – we must have called probably 16 or 18 churches in Washington, D.C., and talked to them. The white churches responded. They showed us the letters they were sending him; they really wanted him to come to their church, made a pitch. Black churches wouldn’t play. They did not return our phone calls. When they did, they said they hadn’t written those letters, didn’t want anything to do with this. They didn’t want to go anywhere near this. And I don’t mean to appoint you the spokesman for Washington area black churches –
GLAUDE: Thank you.
SALMON: But I wanted to know, given your background, whether you had any insights on this. Why were they uncomfortable with this?
GLAUDE: I can’t say anything definitive about why they were uncomfortable. My intuition is a kind of suspicion about the motivation driving the question.
SALMON: Of us? The motivation of us?
GLAUDE: Yeah. Especially given what happened at Trinity.
SALMON: In other words, unpack that a little bit. What do you mean?
GLAUDE: That is to say there is a certain characterization of black church practice that can – that could have easily fallen into a certain characterization, of President-elect Obama, of the church itself, and black communities generally.
SALMON: They didn’t trust us?
GLAUDE: No, not at all. That’s my intuition.
UNIDENTIFIED: We’d go through their tapes. We’d sit through their service.
GLAUDE: Right. And then you’ll just start showing up to the church.
GLAUDE: And start, you know, looking at, you know the bulletin and showing up to funerals. Yeah, you know, these sorts of things. So, I think there’s just a general hermeneutic of suspicion.
GLAUDE: A healthy hermeneutic of suspicion in this regard. (Chuckles.)
CROMARTIE: Okay. Mark? Mark’s next and then Sally Quinn.
MARK KATKOV, CBS NEWS: If I could get back to the beginning of your talk, when you were presenting Romney and Obama in the same group – this notion that religiosity and revelation can be separated in the public sphere. During the campaign, I talked to a lot of both liberal and conservative evangelicals after those speeches. And, the liberal evangelicals said, yes absolutely right. The conservative evangelicals, by and large, were very cynical about both of them. They said, no, what they’re really saying is that their revelation is not our revelation.
KATKOV: It’s a false claim, and it’s unsustainable. I guess we’ll find out tomorrow from John whether – how that played out in the actual vote. How would you respond to their response? Are they right?
GLAUDE: No, I think at that point it becomes the occasion to begin to have an argument, to begin to have a conversation. On what grounds would you say – that their revelation is not your revelation. Both of you identify as Christians. How would you then differentiate your view from theirs? Are you making the claim that they’re not Christian? If not, then what role might their understanding of revelation play? In other words, it becomes the occasion for a substantive and hopefully nuanced discussion. Now, the assumption is that, typically, folks who hold that view are not up to nuanced discussions. At that point their views, as the late Richard Rorty would say, constitutes a conversation stopper. Maybe I, naively perhaps, am not committed to that notion. You frown.
CROMARTIE: No, I’m not frowning. I never frown in Key West.
GLAUDE: (Chuckles.) You see how I’m beginning to answer the question, or am I evading it? Those moments of marking hard differences for me become moments for democratic deliberation, not moments to shut down democratic deliberation – even though our typical response is that those moments are actually shutting down deliberation. Right? I want to say it’s precisely at that moment that the hard work of democratic conversation begins.
CROMARTIE: And let me just make an advertisement for strong democratic deliberation. If you go to pewresearch.org/religion – (laughter) – you can read the deliberation that we had here a couple of years ago with the leading authority on Mormonism in America, Richard Bushman – for three hours on Mormonism. That was a very civil moment of democratic deliberation. I do want to say that we did a whole session on Mormonism with Bushman. It was outstanding. But anyway, Sally, I’m sorry did –
GLAUDE: Did that get at the answer to your question or no?
KATKOV: Yeah, at this point. At lot of the folks I spoke to said it was really just a play for votes. And they were deeply cynical about it.
GLAUDE: Oh, yeah. And you know, on a certain level, you have to say that perhaps they’re right. But for me – I said this at lunch today – if your interest is not about who wins the White House but rather about democracy as such. My interest has always been throughout this process: how do we talk about the civic energies, civic democratic energies, requisite to take – to keep us from falling over the precipice? How can we begin to talk about everyday, ordinary folk engaging in a democratic process in such a way where they not only feel invested, but they’re making meaningful decisions and engaged in meaningful exchange about their well-being? And part of what I want to say is that my sister – she would be so angry with me right now – but my sister and I have heated discussions –
CROMARTIE: On the record?
GLAUDE: On the record. We have heated discussions, and I think many of us have those sorts of discussions in our families, in our personal relationships. I can see how those can be modeled more broadly so that we don’t have what we have in California right now around Proposition 8.
CROMARTIE: Sally Quinn is next.
GLAUDE: But maybe that’s –
CROMARTIE: And then Richard Starr and Cathy Grossman.
SALLY QUINN, THE WASHINGTON POST: I want to get back to your opening statement about Obama’s speech because, again, I’m not totally sure I understand what you were talking about. I read that speech a lot. I read it again about two weeks ago. I read it because I thought it was at the time pitch-perfect. I’m speaking as someone who was an atheist until about two or three years ago, and so I’m always – I’ve got my ear out always for any kind of –
CROMARTIE: Pitch-perfect speeches?
QUINN: Yeah. (Laughter.) What he did was – first of all, the point he was making which I thought was brilliant to a group of Democrats – say we’re not going to let the Republicans own this. We’re going to take it back in the same way that he took back the flag. It was like the Republicans owned religion and the flag. Excuse me, but you don’t own it. We’re going to take it back. It seemed to me that that was more or less the simple message. But the other message is that this is a country that’s founded on freedom of religion, and that’s what we’re here for. We will accept everybody, and he specifically talked about believers and non-believers. I didn’t feel that there was any exclusion in any way. I also didn’t feel that it was tolerant because I think tolerant is a bad word. I think tolerant is sort of an arrogant word: we will tolerate you but not totally accept you.
QUINN: I thought it was completely embracing of everyone and totally pluralistic in a way that I have never heard anybody speak about religion – any sort of public personality speak about religion in this country. Compared to Romney’s speech, which I thought essentially disenfranchised anybody in this country who basically was not a Christian –
QUINN: Certainly – I felt that way when I listened to it. That was my perception. Not only that, but certainly not people who were secular in any way. Did he not make a statement that there is no –
GLAUDE: Now, that –
QUINN: – freedom without religion, there is no religion without freedom.
QUINN: I thought that was appalling. I couldn’t believe that anybody had said that. That’s what I mean about disenfranchising a huge number of people because of – there are probably 13 percent of this country who are non-believers and a lot more who are non-believers who won’t admit it.
CROMARTIE: By the way, I would say quickly, Sally. Governor Romney did come out about three months ago and say, I made a big mistake in that speech.
CROMARTIE: One thing I did was – I didn’t say you’re also free not to believe.
QUINN: Right. It was a big mistake.
QUINN: And it was –
CROMARTIE: Big mistake.
QUINN: But I –
CROMARTIE: If he’d come to this seminar, he wouldn’t have made that mistake.
QUINN: I don’t think you can – I couldn’t compare the two but also because I didn’t feel anything that was at all exclusive about Obama’s speech –
QUINN: – even if I had been a devout Christian from any denomination. Also, I just want to ask you one more question. Where do you think Obama should go to church?
GLAUDE: Let me answer the – the latter one is easier.
QUINN: Answer the first one and then – yeah.
GLAUDE: Whatever, wherever is best for his babies.
CROMARTIE: His children.
GLAUDE: Wherever, whatever is best for his children.
GLAUDE: I know he’s a politician, but I’m a religious naturalist in the great tradition of George Santayana.
QUINN: What does that mean?
GLAUDE: I don’t necessarily need a transcendent god in order to understand the beauty of the world, but I like these stories. These stories mean so much to me.
GLAUDE: They orient me to the world. They become the source of what I take to be the beautiful. They allow me to understand myself as an ethical and moral agent as well. But I understand how religious vocabularies provide us with the languages requisite to weather the storms. As he’s raising these babies, I hope he takes that as the paramount consideration as opposed to the political question. But that’s, again, me being naïve.
In terms of the first question, I can concede this claim that Obama’s speech was pitched perfectly and Romney’s was off-key. I can concede that. But I think there are elements of exclusion in the strong version – I’ll take Jacob’s point, at its face, if you don’t mind me calling –
GLAUDE: (Chuckles.) If there was a weaker claim, that it was about persuasiveness, I’ll grant that. But my thinking is that the stronger claim is that religious claims in public spaces must be subjected – must be accessible to public reason. To the extent that he’s making that claim, a certain kind of fundamentalist belief will have a hard time being expressed in the public space, and that’s an exclusion.
QUINN: I’m just interested in Jacob’s and E.J.’s and Jeffrey’s view of that. I mean, both of you being Jewish and E.J. being Catholic.
WEISBERG: I remember thinking about that – (inaudible) – speech was brilliant for a bunch of reasons. I mean, it was –
CROMARTIE: Pull the mic over please, Jacob.
WEISBERG: It was one of Obama’s greatest speeches, but it – two things – did what you said. It took back the political ground that liberals have conceded to conservatives, and it – the point of it as I understood – was trying to give liberals a way to talk about religion and politics. I thought it did that very effectively. But I also thought, as someone who identifies more as an atheist and a secularist than as someone who’s Jewish – although I am, that it was the first thing I’d read in a long time that articulated a way that religious people could talk to me. You know, in a way that I would find persuasive, that we could enter into a dialogue on sort of neutral terms as it were.
E.J. DIONNE, THE WASHINGTON POST: Can I just for the sake of the record – I found this relevant passage in Obama’s speech. What he says is, “This brings to me to my second point. Democracy demands that the religiously motivated translate their concerns into universal rather than religion-specific values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or invoke God’s will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principle that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all.”
QUINN: Right, right.
DIONNE: So it’s a strong claim he makes. I agree with what Jacob said about his speech. I think it’s certainly the best speech any Democrat has given on this since I can remember.
WEISBERG: Yeah, I grant that.
DIONNE: I thought that the problem with Romney’s speech is he was trying to do two things at the same time that were incompatible: He didn’t want people to judge him on his Mormonism, but he couldn’t give Kennedy’s speech and say religion is a private thing because the evangelical conservatives whose votes he was seeking in Iowa do not believe that. And so there was a contradiction at the heart of Romney’s speech that he never resolved. That’s why I think even if he had come to our sessions, he still would have said the same thing. Because what was on his mind was, how do I get through the Iowa caucuses? And he was right – as it turned out – he was right to worry about getting through the Iowa caucuses.
CROMARTIE: Okay, back to – did we finish? I think we got an answer out of Sally’s question.
GLAUDE: I hope so.
CROMARTIE: I’ll keep moving with Richard Starr and then David and Cathy.
RICHARD STARR, THE WEEKLY STANDARD: I have a short-winded question.
CROMARTIE: Oh good, good.
STARR: It may complicate the discussion, but it is short-winded. Is it not the case that the strong claim is not simply something that pastor Neuhaus and candidate Obama are making but is in fact embedded in modern jurisprudence? Such that if your sister came forth and won that argument with you, basing it on scripture, and persuaded millions like her, this is an invitation to a judge to say, I’m overturning this because this is an improper basis on which to make public policy.
CROMARTIE: Your answer is yes? Well, that’s one of the shortest questions and the shortest answers we’ve ever had. Thank you, Richard.
GLAUDE: Nevertheless, though, folks still give those sorts of reasons, yes?
STARR: Sure, I actually am sympathetic to your point about believers coming clean on the reasons for their arguments. But by doing so, they may in fact be guaranteeing that they will lose the argument in the public square. They may win it democratically. They may persuade a majority of their fellow citizens, but they may have guaranteed a public policy loss by winning it in that way. I think that may have been part of the motivation for – certainly for Neuhaus and his book.
CROMARTIE: Mm-hmm. It’s clear that we need to do another session for those who are staying after Tuesday afternoon on natural law and the history of Christian understanding of the natural law, both Protestant and Catholic. We’ll do that next May, a session on understanding public reason, natural law, in the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish tradition – and Islamic tradition also. We’ll cover everybody. David, you’re next and then Cathy Grossman.
DAVID KUHN, POLITICO: How you doing? We actually got into some of this last night.
GLAUDE: Last night.
KUHN: Jumping off some of your comments today – my questions have changed as the day has progressed, in the last half hour – on the subject of black churches. I think you have to separate the movement that Wright comes from – which comes from this more aggressive, assertive, civil rights response – those who felt King wasn’t moving fast enough and so on. He was a theological – it was a theological, Malcom X-esque religious movement that is very recent from the other discussion about the black church.
And the reason I say that is that there seems to be this – and I don’t know what you’re saying on this front – but there seems to be odd point if you’re – obviously the black church eventually rose out of the fact they couldn’t worship with whites. But there was also immediately a cultural component. It wasn’t simply segregation: like the call and response comes from indigenous African religious, like modern Christianity or Judaism. They have vestiges of early pagan religions that they formed out of, like Easter has it, Passover.
These – and by pagan I should say animist or polytheistic. My question for you is that you would argue though today that these traditions aren’t simply racially based, but they’re in fact a form – or would you argue this – but they’re a form of cultural – they’re almost a branch of Christianity themselves in a very small sense. And therefore, as we become more integrated and if a white person goes to these churches. Just because a white person would go to these churches, it’ll still maybe be a different form of Christianity in practice in how the church service goes than the white Methodist service occurring two miles away. And I’m sorry if this is confusing but –
GLAUDE: No, no. I thought my answer to Rachel in some ways echoed this point, when she said that should we see the disappearance of –
CROMARTIE: Would you mind speaking up?
GLAUDE: – would we see the disappearance of the black church if we reached this particular moment in our history? And I said no, I still think of it as a cultural institution that bears the imprint of a certain kind of history that has meanings that aren’t reducible to racist practices. I thought that’s what I was saying there. And so there’s also a story that – and I didn’t quite emphasize it but I do so in my work – there is of course a way to talk about the emergence of black denominationalism as being an outgrowth of racist practices within white-American churches.
But those denominations are also reflective of an increasing maturation of black communities within the United States. When we begin to think about black churches as the site for the formation of the beginnings of black civil society, they’re not reducible to racist practices but they cannot be talked about apart from them. Because in fact it is that context which calls it all into being. So black churches provide in interesting sorts of ways the first public space for African-Americans to engage in the kind of deliberations around the circumstances of their conditions of living.
And to that extent it becomes a site for a certain kind of exercise of citizenship, a certain kind of democratic participation.
KUHN: So let me just very quickly then, and I’ll then let go of the questions –
KUHN: If you accept that there is a cultural component to these churches certainly that came out of racial segregation, they are not that today. Though visually they are, as you point out – the most segregated hour. And so that’s the question: Do you think it’s incumbent on Barack Obama to not attend a mostly African-American church because of the visual symbolism it gives out at a superficial level certainly? And if it’s not, isn’t this a question that any minority group in any way faces when they assume the presidency – it has to deal with a “majority.”
In other words, are political reasons –
KUHN: – he’s now a politician, he’s the president-elect then soon president. And so –
KUHN: – symbolism matters, no?
GLAUDE: Right, it – absolutely. But couldn’t it very well be as symbolically meaningful for Obama to say I’m attending a black church and it shouldn’t matter to you?
KUHN: Certainly. I guess I’m curious what you think.
GLAUDE: Well, I think –
KUHN: I think that that’s a –
GLAUDE: – that would be a great gesture.
GLAUDE: I’m going to go to this black church, we’re going to worship and you know what America? It doesn’t mean that much.
KUHN: But would you prefer that he did that?
GLAUDE: I would prefer that he did that. But I would also prefer that he goes to – attends a church, whether it’s black, white, green, purple or yellow, that fills his soul; that fills his needs. Because he’s the most powerful man in the world, and he’s going to need some soul-filling – some soul tender-care – (laughter) – some tender care of his soul.
There’s a second part of your question where you talked about – you wanted to make a hard distinction between black liberation theology and this other tradition. That hard distinction has to be called into question. It’s not that hard. It’s just like we make a hard distinction between black power and the civil rights movement when most of the participants in black power were veterans of the civil rights movement. So we have to begin to see this as much more continuous, as opposed to discontinuous. It’s just a particular iteration of it that’s really, really fascinating.
CROMARTIE: Cathy Grossman is next.
CATHY GROSSMAN, USA TODAY: Okay, first I’m going to deal with what was my short follow-up question to an earlier question, where I think it was Carl who brought up – was it Carl or Rachel – who brought up the – when George Bush –
GROSSMAN: – talked about Jesus Christ and then later on – recently – attributed things to God. And I actually think and I wonder if you agree or disagree, that people react very differently when a politician says Jesus Christ than they do when they say God.
GROSSMAN: Because virtually 90-something-plus America has some idea of God, but not everybody agrees about Jesus.
GLAUDE: I agree.
GROSSMAN: People react very differently to those terms. I’ll go to my original question, which was: The people who opposed Proposition 8, the people who did not want to see Proposition 8 pass, and did not manage to recognize with the clear onrush of black vote, Hispanic vote, Mormon vote in various corners that there needed to be some communication with those communities – was their failure to reach out to these communities just ignorance? They just thought, well, black people are going to vote for this and we don’t have to worry about it. Or was it racism or just incompetence on their part that they did not speak to these concerns and make their case to the evangelical block and Hispanic communities?
GLAUDE: I don’t think it was racism – to remove the second issue. I think there was a sense in which the proponents for Proposition 8 out-organized the opponents. I can’t remember – as I recall there was a last-minute effort that recast the initiative in such a way that inclined people to vote for it. In other words, I thought that what’s at the heart of it is that they were outspent and they were out-mobilized. Thirdly, there was and there remains a decidedly conservative dimension to African-American evangelicals and African-American churchgoers who came out in dramatic numbers in support of Obama and that extended to their position on Proposition 8.
Part of what needs to happen, of course, is a kind of vibrant debate among African-American Christians who opposed Proposition 8 and their friends, with their fellow citizens on this issue. That’s how I would begin to answer that question. I think they were out-organized.
CROMARTIE: We’re about to go on a break in a moment but we have Barbara Bradley Hagerty and then Byron York and E.J. – did you get your –
DIONNE: Go ahead and kick me over the break, I’ll – (inaudible).
CROMARTIE: I might kick you over the break but no, I – (laughter) – we’ll see if we can get Barbara and Byron in and then we’ll take a break.
BARBARA BRADLEY HAGERTY, NATIONAL PUBLIC RADIO: Really, really interesting talk – thank you so much.
GLAUDE: Thank you.
HAGERTY: I’m going to ask two brief questions.
HAGERTY: Well, they may or not – they may be brief and they may not. But let me just – when I was thinking about the race speech, you know, what then-Senator Obama said was Jeremiah Wright’s mistake was basically that he didn’t acknowledge the progress that’s occurred.
GLAUDE: Right – (Chuckles.)
HAGERTY: I’m wondering what kind of percentage of the black church would side with Wright or would agree with Wright versus Obama. You know, Obama casts himself as kind of a Joshua generation. So how big is the Joshua generation versus the more liberation theology Moses generation? Go ahead – and do you mind if I follow up after that?
CROMARTIE: Go ahead and give the follow-up now.
GLAUDE: And that’s a powerful question.
HAGERTY: The second one is – and maybe it’s just I’m over interpreting – I’d love to know if my colleagues think I’m right – but I really did notice something fundamentally different in this election. That was something I thought would never really happen, except in the mind of Jim Wallace, which was the rise of the religious left. You heard about the Matthew 25 Network and you saw white Protestants, many of them white evangelicals, organizing around this notion of social gospel – which is huge in the black church. Then on the other side we have seen in the last couple elections conservative black leaders, religious leaders, siding with more of the evangelicals – mainly on the gay rights issue and on abortion. What I’m wondering is: Are we actually seeing a kind of realignment or a more powerful knitting together of progressive black and progressive whites – motivated by social gospel ideas on the one side – and then the knitting together of conservatives on the other?
CROMARTIE: Before you answer that, let me say that I think that John Green will have the data on that for us, won’t we, John?
HAGERTY: My sense is that like 90 percent of blacks voted for Obama, and I don’t think that’s because of religion. I think there were other issues there, but maybe I’m wrong.
HAGERTY: So but –
CROMARTIE: But a lot of the data on your question is one of the things that we’re discussing in your session tomorrow, am I right John? Okay.
GLAUDE: Just really quickly I think, you know, in just a shameless plug for my book In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America, the last chapter of that –
CROMARTIE: Say the title again?
GLAUDE: In a Shade of Blue –
CROMARTIE: (Laughter.) In a Shade of Blue –
GLAUDE: Pragmatism – that’s shameless, isn’t it?
CROMARTIE: No, that’s me doing that, not you.
GLAUDE: Oh, okay.
CROMARTIE: In a Shade of Blue, is that what you said?
GLAUDE: Yeah, In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism – (laughter) –and the Politics of Black America.
GLAUDE: I have a chapter in there –
CROMARTIE: University of Chicago Press? (Laughter.) Got it.
GLAUDE: The book actually came about as a result of my work with Tavis Smiley on the Covenant with Black America. I went around the country – really having town-hall meetings with folk all around the country trying to create a deliberative space for African-Americans to reflect on their condition. It was a really fascinating moment. The last chapter of that book is titled “The Eclipse of a Black Public”, where I take on John Dewey’s notion of The Public and Its Problems as a kind of framework to describe the moment that we’re in. And the moment that I think we’re in – in black communities – is that the languages, the vocabularies of struggle that were generated under the conditions of the ’60s and ’70s have been fundamentally transformed by the successes and failures of the ’60s and ’70s and by the transformations in the material conditions of black living since then.
So what has happened is that you’ve produced folk like me. I mean I grew up in a household with my mom who had her first baby in the eighth grade and my dad never graduated – graduated only from high school and delivered mail. Now I have an endowed professorship at the age of 40 at Princeton. And Cornel – and I talk with Cory Booker and Cory Booker talks about his journey. Or you talk about Michael Nutter or Adrian Fenty or you talk about all of these folk – these Harvard folk – who are behind the scenes of Obama – the Harvard black cabal, as it were.
There’s this interesting sense that something has fundamentally changed and transformed that we’re trying to mark. The term post-racial, as I said earlier, is a kind of lazy, American way of marking something that’s shifted. When Obama talked about Jeremiah Wright as not acknowledging the progress, he was in an interesting sort of way marking – however deliberately and strategically – marking a generational divide that is confounding black communities right now. That’s really confused an established black political class that is really impacting the various ways in which people imagine struggle. Black folk, particularly Obama, are now using the language of governance as opposed to the language of struggle. So that’s – it’s really a fascinating moment of transition.
HAGERTY: And do you have a sense for how many, I mean –
GLAUDE: No, I don’t have a sense of the percentages. But it’s happening in Trinity.
GLAUDE: Jeremiah Wright returned to Trinity to reclaim his church, his pulpit; and my classmate, Otis Moss III, who’s just a couple of years younger than I am, is having to deal with a church that’s divided in very fascinating ways between those who were shaped – I call them post-soul babies, and those who were shaped in the context of the struggles of the ’60s and ’70s. This is a really fascinating –
CROMARTIE: You say Reverend Wright just returned –
GLAUDE: He’s just returned, he’s not – Otis has not officially –
CROMARTIE: Is he trying to take himself out of retirement?
GLAUDE: He’s not – Otis has not officially been appointed.
CROMARTIE: Uh-oh. Byron you were next and I think –
BYRON YORK, NATIONAL REVIEW: Well, he didn’t entirely – (inaudible). I remember – I visited Trinity and –
YORK: I called in June, I think, the person who I had worked with arranging my visit. A couple of weeks later, I called. This was the first person that Reverend Moss had hired, and I call her on her cell phone not at the office. And she says, I’m no longer with Trinity; we’re having a bit of a problem. There’s a deep division and, they had the handoff to Reverend Moss and then Reverend Wright kind of came storming back.
GLAUDE: I don’t know if that’s been resolved as of yet – John you might know. I’m not sure if that’s been resolved, but it might have by now. I do know that there was an interesting tension there.
CROMARTIE: Anyway, on this Reverend Wright business –
CROMARTIE: I mean, the incendiary stuff – the killer words were –
GLAUDE: “Goddamn America.”
CROMARTIE: – “Goddamn America” and “chickens coming home to roost.” And after Obama gives his race –
HAGERTY: I’m sorry, are you starting a new question?
CROMARTIE: I’m sorry, is it – oh, I’m sorry; you weren’t finished.
GLAUDE: Remind me of the second question again.
HAGERTY: Do we see this new –
CROMARTIE: I’m sorry, Barbara.
HAGERTY: – do we see this new alliance between white and black?
GLAUDE: Oh, yes. Absolutely, yes. Actually, what’s interesting is that precisely because then-Senator Obama, now President-elect Obama has ascended to the White House, it will fundamentally change the very nature of African-American politics. We know that the voting trends have shown that African-American voters when you control for race tend to actually trend to the right in interesting sorts of ways around issues – around capital punishment, around, shall we say, core social value issues. African-American communities tend to trend towards the right in terms of ideological spectrum.
Now what happens with Obama’s ascendancy to the presidency – it actually releases them in interesting sorts of ways to be a cultivated constituency, in ways that Ken Mehlman understood, but was then dropped in interesting sorts of ways. There is an interesting alignment – I actually blog when I can on Beliefnet.com, a progressive blog of religious and, you know –
GLAUDE: Beliefnet.com. You know, Robert Thurman, the Buddhist scholar at Columbia blogs on there as well. There’s a sense in which there are progressive energies among those who hold religious commitments, even those of us who are rather strange in the very ways in which we profess our religious commitments, to say that this is not the sole purview of a particular ideological current. It has led to an interesting kind of alignment. But what’s striking is that we’re beginning to see – it’s starting now, it has to become more intense than that particular strand – engaging in much more substantive conversations with the more evangelical, conservative strand. We must begin to have these kind of internal arguments as to what we mean by Christian witness, as to what we might mean by living the life of Jesus in public. This is a conversation that is beginning to be had, and I hope that the substantive outcomes will be to the benefit of democracy in the U.S.
CROMARTIE: Byron, you’ll take us into the break and then we’ll take a break at –
GLAUDE: Back to this Reverend Wright matter.
YORK: Anyway, the incendiary, the killer words were “goddamn America” and “chickens coming home to roost.” So Obama gives this race speech. I remember after the race speech as they were filing out of the room in Philadelphia, I asked a number of black ministers, what their reaction was –
CROMARTIE: Were you there, Byron?
YORK: Yeah. And they all defended Reverend Wright a lot; and they said you’ve just got to understand the prophetic tradition, you’ve just got to understand this. But now Obama had basically in the speech declared these remarks – the specific ones that he said he didn’t hear – to be completely off-limits. He said that’s beyond the pale. On the one hand – and he wouldn’t distance himself or disown Reverend Wright at the time because, he said, of all the good things that Reverend Wright had done.
On the one hand I had these people telling me you’ve just got to understand, don’t forget the context and all of this stuff. And on the other hand you had Obama kind of declaring that this stuff was beyond the pale. And I think I heard you earlier making a little reference to them being, you know, pulled out of context. What is it in your view?
GLAUDE: When we look at that speech – that sermon in its entirety, that moment is a particularly powerful and incendiary moment, of course. But it is an interestingly powerful meditation on the concept of love in a very fascinating way he’s making. So I think there’s this role for prophetic language, within the black church particularly, that will always express – and see, I’m going to say it. I’m going to be very, very incendiary here – that white folks just got to wrap their minds around.
That is that there is an abiding, intelligible and reasonable suspicion about the American nation-state vis-à-vis black folk. That suspicion can find itself articulated in the pulpits in very powerful ways. The fact that these particular folk are suspicious of the nation-state – because you see it and don’t know it, surprises folk. At the very same moment when folk express the suspicions of the nation-state from the pulpit of John Hagee, or Rod Parsley’s – because I remember saying this on Hannity & Colmes, and Sean tried to –
CROMARTIE: You were the first person that called Sean Hannity “Brother Hannity.”
GLAUDE: We’re both Catholic boys. Part of what I was trying to suggest at that moment is that, first give folks in the pews a little more credit. They’re discerning; they’re making distinctions all the time. And suspicions about the state emanate from pulpits that are black and white all the time. It’s just why are these suspicions singled out as opposed to these sorts of suspicions singled out.
And I remember this question – I forget who said it – are we going to – it was in the media – are we going to start vetting all of the things said in American pulpits? Is this the road we’re going down? And then suddenly it went silent.
YORK: Let me ask you this: What was your –
GLAUDE: Am I right in that? (Chuckles.)
YORK: What was your personal reaction – what was your first reaction when you first saw the sound bites of Reverend Wright like all of us saw them?
GLAUDE: I said Obama’s in trouble. (Laughter.) My first reaction was a political one: They got him. And I was trying to figure out why didn’t this show up earlier – who was doing the oppositional research in the primary? I was just wondering why was this so late in the game? And secondly I thought –
CROMARTIE: You remember it was the Senator Clinton campaign that helped get it going.
GLAUDE: Yeah, yeah but it was still –
CROMARTIE: But also it was –
YORK: It was in March.
GLAUDE: That’s not proven.
CROMARTIE: Unproven, yeah.
YORK: But anyway – your personal reaction?
CROMARTIE: Keep going.
GLAUDE: My personal reaction was, there’s some truth here. If it is the case – and Jeffrey said it. You said in your remarks that – in response to I think Kirsten’s question about America’s role – that we’ve done some good, we’ve done some bad and we’ve done some evil. If we have done some evil, then “goddamn America” makes sense on Christian grounds, rhetorically. It doesn’t fly well politically, but it makes sense. Now, whether not America is a source of AIDS and all that other stuff – that’s absurd.
But I could understand a person who preaches the gospel, and I’m willing to say that and accept the responsibility of what that might mean. If our nation is a purveyor of evil in the world – if one is a believer – it is not, shall we say, oblivious to the judgment of God – no matter how we tell the story of America being the shining city on the hill, it seems to me. My personal reaction, Byron, was they got him, oh my goodness; and then my second reaction was okay, oh – he’s says something that’s not too – let me go back and see the sermon.
CROMARTIE: But why do I wonder that you didn’t think that when Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson did the same thing?
GLAUDE: What do you mean?
GLAUDE: Right. There’s a theological difference there.
GREEN: Yeah, I think he blamed it on homosexuals and –
CROMARTIE: No, my point is simply this: Whatever you blame it on, it’s theologically probably incorrect to try to speak what the mind of God is in a tragic situation and give it sort of – (inaudible).
GLAUDE: Right, but what I was saying is that it’s a theologically different claim to say if one’s state is the purveyor of evil that it will be subject to the judgment of God.
CROMARTIE: As opposed to the culture.
DIONNE: As opposed to somebody flying planes into buildings.
GLAUDE: Yeah. I think those are qualitatively different theological claims, that America is suffering the judgment of God because of its culture of sin has defined –
CROMARTIE: Right, right, yep.
GLAUDE: – I think that’s a very different claim. And maybe – am I wrong in – I think those are two different sorts of claims.
CROMARTIE: No, we’ll open that up after the break because we’re past break time.
CROMARTIE: Okay. Thank you for being so prompt. Michael?
MICHAEL PAULSON, THE BOSTON GLOBE: This a slightly self-interested question, but we were talking a little over lunch about the impact of the Obama election on African-American studies. Then I was listening to your – what seemed like – somewhat unhappy critique of the focus on Obama’s church, and it made me wonder. For those of us whose responsibility it is to write about religion in politics, what do you think we ought to be watching, vis-à-vis Obama and the black church over the next few months and years? What is it that we should be doing instead of chasing down where he’ll worship?
GLAUDE: The big issue for me is what Barbara alluded to in her question – the first part of your question. There’s an extraordinary transformation taking place within African-American churches that is not only formal – the way the churches actually look –the data showing that these mega-churches are showing up in vast numbers. And they’re non-denominational. We’re beginning to see the Pentecostalization of much of African-American religious life – that the worship services are bearing the imprimatur of the impact of Pentecostalism in interesting sorts of ways.
There is a place like New Birth in Atlanta with Bishop Eddie Long – it’s a Baptist church, and you should already hear the incongruity – Bishop Eddie Long in a Baptist church. And he explicitly says that he – what the Catholic Church got right was the structure. And so he’s trying to dismiss deacon boards – it’s just really fascinating in terms of what’s going on. The relationship between market, media, theology and the generational impact is really having a substantive impact on the form and content of African-American religious life. How do we think about that in relation to President Obama? I’m not sure. But it certainly suggests that this institution that has historically been seen as the site for so much political work – recognizable political work – is changing dramatically. And so then we have to ask ourselves, what sorts of political work will follow from that?
PAULSON: Let me just ask a follow-up. You were talking about the transformation taking place within the church. You referred several times, earlier, to liberation theology and the black church; so what happens, theologically, when Joshua gets to the promised land? Does liberation theology still animate those churches, or does something new happen because here we are?
GLAUDE: Well, the basic premise of liberation theology as I understand it was that Jesus sides with the oppressed. And to the extent to which there is always oppression in it’s first instantiation or iteration, Cone locates the oppressed among black people, particularly in the United States and in the ghettos. But now he kind of correlates, with questions around patriarchy, questions around the circulation of capital – so wherever there is oppression, Jesus speaks. And so to that extent, liberation theology – at least how I read Cone – always has a place and a role. But one of the interesting things about it is that liberation theology never really found its footing in actual pulpits; you can actually almost count the number of folks who self-identify, like Jeremiah Wright, on two hands.
So one of the critiques, for example, by his brother, Cecil Cone, of James Cone, was that this was just simply white theology in blackface and that it didn’t have indigenous roots in black, religious institutions. And so Cone writes The Spirituals and the Blues – the book on the spirituals and the blues – as a source for theological reflection.
We’re moving in a moment. I don’t teach in a seminary; I teach in a religious studies department. We’re now finding African-American religious studies beginning to emerge out from under the hegemony of black liberation theology. So people are beginning to write much more complicated works – studies of black religion – that are not driven by the telos of black liberation theology. So we’re going to see, over the course of the next few years, a body of literature that will really help us understand this unique formation in all of its complexity. That’s a long-winded answer.
CROMARTIE: We have, next, Perry Bacon. And then E.J. and then Eleanor.
PERRY BACON, THE WASHINGTON POST: Two questions: The first is, traditionally, a white politician who’s trying to win a lot of black voters would go and meet the religious leaders in the community: appeal to the Charlie Rangel or whoever of that community and so on. Hillary Clinton did all of this and got a lot of black pastors to endorse her, a lot of congressman that were black endorsed her, and won a very, very small percentage of the black vote – more than you would have expected, even. And the question is, do you think that’s going to change how the politicians appeal to the black vote?
And then, two, how the religious leaders – traditional people who are older – how their power is perceived and how they’re perceived now? Does Charlie Rangel have less power in his community because he endorsed the wrong person? How do you think it affects these traditional leaders in both churches and African-American leaders in politics as well? And the second question – this is sort of unrelated – is what kind of role do you think someone like a T.D. Jakes will play in politics in the next five or 10 years? Does he avoid that? Does he get into that, and so on?
GLAUDE: Well, I think black churches will remain extraordinarily important sites for political organizing and mobilizing. There is – and in some circles I’m a pariah figure for saying this –nothing about black religious institutions that is inherently progressive or prophetic. I think the prophetic voice is always in the minor key, and that’s just a theological position that I hold. And so these churches are not inherently anything; they’re made something by the people who inhabit them – and the person who leads that institution.
The extent to which these churches are important to communities – although, they’re increasingly not important to the communities in which they’re located. We’ve seen the disappearance of the niche church in interesting sorts of ways; the neighborhood church is quickly disappearing because people drive in from outside the place to go to their churches as opposed to the church being down the street like it used to be – but it’s still a site for organizing. What we see, also, is that even within major – even within mega-churches or large congregations – that the members are making decisions reflective of their interests, that they’re not just blind followers. The pastor, from the pulpit, could say I’m going to support Republican candidate X, Y, and Z, which a lot of mega-church pastors did not do this past election cycle, but the election cycle before. We saw in interesting ways that the congregants didn’t follow them. People were saying mega-churches are inherently conservative, but there’s some interesting data to make that a little more complex.
You still have to organize; so they’re going to remain a site of organization. Going back to the claim that I’m making about generational shifts – the post-soul babies, of which I’m one – we’re all finding our political voices now, our intellectual voices now. There will be an array of challenges to an established, black political class in every locale. One of the collateral effects of Obama’s run is that he’s made space for a new generation – a different cadre – of political voices. So the traditional brokers of African-American politics are vulnerable. They’re vulnerable in very interesting sorts of ways, in my view. Go ahead.
BACON: Vulnerable in the sense that they’ll have primary opponents or vulnerable in the sense that they just don’t have any influence, or what does that –
GLAUDE: In each instance, there will be vulnerability. They will have much more viable challengers. Constituencies will be much more critical. Precisely because the demographics of those constituencies are changing, given this kind of influx of young, new voters as we saw in the national election. That’s going to play itself out in local areas in very interesting ways. In terms of the kind of cultural logic within which politics plays out, the kind of cultural space, it’s beginning to take on a kind of tone – timbre, pitch, resonance – that’s not reducible to the aesthetic of a ’60s-inflected struggle. Does that make sense?
Part of what we’re beginning to see is that those of us who were shaped under different conditions and who have, historically, been locked out of black politics because we didn’t march, or because we didn’t – we hadn’t earned our bona fides by virtue of participating in Selma – we now have Ph.D.s and J.D.s. And not only that, we’re also starting non-profits and grassroots organizations around hip-hop. It’s going to be a really complicated moment, and at every level, they’re vulnerable, it seems to me.
CROMARTIE: Okay. E.J. Dionne is next, and then Eleanor and Kevin. And Jeffrey, did I see you nod to me? And Peter Boyer, you haven’t had your hand up, but I know you have a question.
PETER BOYER, THE NEW YORKER: I did have just one tiny thing I guess, maybe, I could –
CROMARTIE: No, but I’ll put you on the list. You want to let him ahead?
DIONNE: I don’t mind, he can go ahead.
CROMARTIE: Okay, pull the – Peter Boyer over here, because you’ve been doing some interesting body language things, and I thought we probably should – (laughter) – we probably should call on you no matter what.
DIONNE: Does that go on the transcript? Interesting body language things?
CROMARTIE: I know, that part is probably –
GOLDBERG: So then you could do a Google search, Peter Boyer, Key West, interesting body language.
BOYER: Because of the transcript, E.J., is why I’ve limited myself, so far, to body language. (Laughter.) I will say, but just, I hate to bring back up the subject of Jeremiah Wright, but following up a little bit on what Michael asked, let me put the question this way: That strain of the prophetic tradition, as expressed by Jeremiah Wright at Trinity – just in the particular case of Trinity – now that in Jeffrey’s term, “evil-doing America” has elected –
JEFFREY GOLDBERG, THE ATLANTIC: All right, all right. (Laughter.)
BOYER: – has elected a black man, but not just any black man, but a congregant at Trinity to the highest office in the land. Does that rob that strain of its juice?
GLAUDE: It certainly complicates it, Peter. You know, we’ve just experienced this extraordinary ritual of racial expiation called the Obama campaign, where we tried to shed the ghost of our racial past in this really fascinating way. To the extent that he’s won, the question of how will black suffering speak publicly is now a pressing one. Whether or not the traditional rhetorical modes will be as effective – I hope they will be – we would have reached an interesting phase in the maturation of African-American politics if one could rail against Obama as one has railed against Bush, without recourse to language, which historically has been the language of racial authenticity.
Instead of us saying, Clarence Thomas is wrong, those of us who might disagree with his judicial philosophy – too many people find themselves saying that Clarence Thomas is a sell-out. The latter sort of formulation isn’t helpful; it’s about drawing boundaries of inside and outside; it’s about policing the diversity of black positions. So I think there will be a role for prophetic voices; wherever power is operating, there’s a role for the prophetic voice. It’s going to be complicated because there’s a black man running the empire.
BOYER: But that particular strain – forgive me, and I hear you and I hope that it’s – dare I say, pray – that it’s true. But that particular strain that also contains maybe even as aspect of conspiratorial thinking, that talked about the CIA and AIDS and stuff, of which, one gathered, there was something of a receptive ear. That’s premised on a certain view of this country – a country that, perhaps, God might indeed damn. And now that that country has –
GLAUDE: Redeemed its soul.
BOYER: Well, in the flawed sort of way that it can – I mean, you know, we express ourselves in sundry ways in public life, and one of them is electing the person who leads us and makes policy. And now that, again, it’s so striking to me that he wasn’t just a black guy; he was a black guy who was in this congregation – this preacher with that strain of theology – reared up his babies. Now that this country has chosen that man to lead it, what happens to that particularly, in my view virulent, strain of thought? Does that go away, now?
GLAUDE: No. I don’t think so. It’s going to express itself at various registers. There’s a wonderful book by an anthropologist at the University of Pennsylvania, John Jackson, entitled Racial Paranoia. And I don’t see, with the election of Obama, the end of that. And to the extent to which a kind of paranoia – you know, Baldwin had this wonderful moment in The Fire Next Time, where he says that African-Americans didn’t – could not risk themselves believing that a white person would, shall we say, hold their humanity as more important than their whiteness. And so that moment, was in effect, a kind of moment that you had to brace yourself before the – it’s at the heart of the certain kind of paranoia that Baldwin was so wonderful in exploring.
So I think that will remain, precisely because the Pew data has already shown us, or demonstrated, this extraordinary gap between those African-Americans who are living in hyper-concentrated spaces of poverty, where, as William Julius Wilson says, work has simply disappeared, and those of us who have gained access to mainstream social capital in ways that black America could never have imagined. And so among those folks who are living in resource-deprived communities, blackness is still circulating in particular sorts of ways – a certain kind of ministry continues to work, continues to have power. So I don’t see it disappearing anytime soon.
CROMARTIE: In the same way, if I might add, that certain right-wing conspiracy theories didn’t disappear under Reagan or Bush, am I right? But they weren’t rooted in prophetic traditions, or some of those weren’t. Okay, I’m sorry, I jumped in the line; I forgive myself. E.J. Dionne, you’re up next.
GLAUDE: You’re forgiven.
CROMARTIE: Thank you, father.
DIONNE: Two quick thoughts – one’s quasi-theoretical. I want to go all the way back to the beginning about this whole public reason debate, which has driven me crazy for some years now. On the one hand, I do think there’s an obligation on the part of a believer to express his or her political views in ways that are accessible – his proposals or her proposals – in a way that is accessible to nonbelievers or people who don’t share the faith tradition. On the other hand, I also think that people should be free to – and may even have an obligation – to say that they, in fact, have religious reasons for taking a particular political position. I sense you’re struggling with this sort of contradiction, too; I’d just love to hear you out more on that.
And then, the other one is, again, just to go back to Jeremiah Wright. I remain, at the end of all this, mystified by the Wright we ended up seeing. I’d like your sense of him, before he became really famous. If you talk to an awful lot of people in the church writ-large, including some fairly conservative people, there was a lot of respect for Jeremiah Wright floating around out there. Again, it wasn’t just people who agreed with liberation theology. Yet, you can’t square what you’ve heard about him from some of those folks with the Wright, especially, you saw at the National Press Club that day. So I’d love it – even go – forgive me, Michael – even go off the record; I’d just love your insight on, who is this man as far as you know. How do you square this person we saw, especially, toward the end of that controversy with the person you heard described by an awful lot of people in rather positive terms over a very long period of time?
GLAUDE: Right, I mean, let me take that first one – the last one first. And some of it can be on the record or off the record, I don’t –
CROMARTIE: Okay, well, we’re on the record until you say off.
GLAUDE: Yeah. One of the striking things about Jeremiah Wright’s ministry is that it’s within UCC. I mean, and there’s like –
CROMARTIE: Say what UCC is.
GLAUDE: United Church of Christ.
CROMARTIE: Yeah, I just want to be sure.
GLAUDE: Right. And I mean, what’s the percentage of black folk in UCC? So I mean, obviously, Jeremiah Wright was doing something – I mean, he hadn’t just simply brokered this little space within UCC just for himself and Trinity to do weird things. So there was a kind of interracial dialogue that was taking place within that denomination that Jeremiah Wright was at the forefront of. So he’s a very complicated figure; he has an extraordinary social ministry that has done amazing work in Chicago, where he’s garnered extraordinary respect. But Chicago is a unique space, particularly in terms of African-American politics.
And so part of what – let me give you the answer that was said among my friends, who happen to be preachers. They said, you leave the pews at church, and what happened is, at the National Press Club, he brought the pews with him. (Laughter.) And he didn’t get in trouble until the question and answer period, would you say? Remember? And there was this kind of antiphonal moment – “Yes sir, say it!” – and he got caught up in the moment. That’s when he started misbehaving – you know, the kind of bodily theatrics, and not only the content, but the kind of performance of what he was saying just got him in trouble.
CROMARTIE: I don’t start doing that until tomorrow.
GLAUDE: Right. So part of what happened is that in any church, in any black church – and of course, I would say, in any church setting – there’s an insider’s discourse and an outsider’s discourse. There are ways in which we talk at home, and then there are ways in which we talk outside. And that line was blurred, and he suddenly became Louis Farrakhan. I mean, he was elevated to the kind of figure in the American public imagination, that – you mention Jeremiah Wright’s name, and he becomes as much of a lightning rod as mentioning Louis Farrakhan’s name. So much so that in the blogosphere, there was this slideshow of Obama and Jeremiah Wright, Farrakhan and Jeremiah Wright, Obama and Jeremiah Wright, Farrakhan – it was this really interesting thing.
I think what happened was a ministry that had been defined in interesting sort of ways by a profound commitment to the social gospel. It was often articulated within the context of a black community that is subject to particular kinds of forces, a ministry that is also influenced by the languages of black nationalism. Through his own theological orientation, it went public; and it went public in the National Press Club and got in all sorts of trouble. So I would want to say, E.J., that those elements were always a part of his ministry. It’s just, when they’re voiced publicly, certain elements stand out and others don’t. So we see and hear that which is recognized as incendiary language, as opposed to seeing and hearing what’s often said alongside of it – that which we might be committed to as well. So that’s a very long-winded answer to that.
The second – the first question is that you’re absolutely right; I’m struggling with it in a very – I think all of my colleagues at Princeton, we’re all struggling with this. And the kind of – you know, I get this from the philosopher Robert Brandom – and Jeffrey Stout has channeled this through his own work, Democracy and Tradition – he is a colleague of mine. What we’re committed to is expressive democracy.
CROMARTIE: Expressive democracy.
GLAUDE: Expressive democracy, and part of expressive democracy –it involves, for the most part, this insistence on the exchange of reasons. And what Jeffrey Stout does so well is that he’s so attentive to theological voices – whether it’s Hauerwas or the orthodox folks. He’s just very – trying in some significant way to engage them in light of these democratic values, which he believes – and I think rightly so – that his interlocutors share. And to the extent to which I can believe that fellow Christians who express their commitments differently than I do are committed to democracy, I want to engage them in a way that doesn’t force them to deny who they are, at root. Attention is there, but the overriding value, again, is my commitment to expressive democracy. That’s not an answer, but that’s how I’m struggling.
CROMARTIE: Eleanor Clift is next, and then I’ve got Kevin and Sally and Rachel.
ELEANOR CLIFT, NEWSWEEK: The tradition, in this country, when a new president is sworn in is that his full name is used – James Earl Carter, William Jefferson Clinton – you know where I’m going with this. Assuming –
UNIDENTIFIED: When he was sworn in, it was Jimmy Carter.
CLIFT: Oh. Interesting. I stand corrected, but I don’t think he’s going to say, I’m Barry, that way. (Laughter.) I’m assuming he’s going to go with his full name; I just wonder what your perspective is on the message that sends, mostly around the world, but also here at home?
GLAUDE: I think it sends a powerful message. During the campaign, I was waiting for the Obama campaign to say what Colin Powell said on Meet the Press. I was waiting for them to say it. They move Muslims from the photo op. I was waiting for the Obama campaign to speak powerfully in the very way that General Powell spoke, and I think by having Barack Hussein Obama said as his hand is on a Bible will be a profound symbolic moment. I know my son will revel in it, and I will revel in it with him. So I think it will be wonderful. And for some, it will be a sign of the apocalypse – (chuckles) – but that’s okay, that’s okay.
KUHN: Do you not think he repudiates himself if he then chooses this official occasion – the most official of occasions – to use his middle name? Does he then repudiate his campaign’s vociferous effort, often off the record, to not have this appear at all in the political discourse. If it did appear, it was immediately considered the dirtiest of dirty politics.
GLAUDE: Right. It’s a repudiation that I would welcome, David.
KUHN: Okay, that’s well said.
CROMARTIE: Okay, Kevin and then Sally and Rachel and Byron.
ECKSTROM: I’m wondering if we can just go back to something we were talking about earlier – Obama’s relationship with the black church. Specifically, what do you see happening over the next four or however many years, in terms of how he deals with them and how, perhaps, the black church deals with him? Do you think the black church, as diverse as it is, – but in a general sense – do they expect something from him, since he’s sort of one of their own? Do they have an ally there, or is he under any sort of special obligation to reach out to them? I’m just curious what you see of that delicate dance in the coming years.
GLAUDE: First, you’ve framed it; it’s going to be a delicate dance. But he’s going to be attentive in interesting sorts of ways, and I’m going to flesh out something I said earlier to an earlier version of this question. And what comes to mind is, Obama allowing Ebony to have him on the cover as the man of the year. And doing it in interesting sorts of ways – he had to be mindful – his folks had to be mindful of how that would be perceived. You know, Ebony is like, our magazine. “Our” magazine – (laughter) – and so for him to do that is to suggest that he will be attentive to various institutional manifestations of the black community.
I think he’s going to engage in a kind of interesting cost-benefit analysis of that connection; it doesn’t cost him much to be on the cover of Ebony. What will it cost him to affiliate with particular black churches, when he hasn’t seen all of the tapes of that particular minister, he might be attending? So that’s the first thing. The second thing is that I think African-American communities have already been primed to not expect anything from Senator Obama, or President-elect Obama.
CROMARTIE: Primed by his campaign or primed in general?
GLAUDE: Primed by his campaign, because the campaign provided African-American communities with this response when African-American communities wanted him to specifically address their issues. What was the response? “I cannot be the president of black America. I am the president of America. I will be the president of America.” That kind of formulation, has, in interesting sorts of ways – and I don’t think this is a good thing for African-American politics, by any stretch of the imagination. I will go on record as saying I think we might have seen the Obama campaign set African-American politics back a generation.
And let me explain what I mean, because I just saw Jeffrey’s face. What I mean by that is for the first time in 40 years, we had an opportunity to re-imagine African-American politics apart from the issues and themes and personalities of the 1960s and ’70s. There was a gaping hole there. And Obama’s campaign stepped in with a kind of wink-and-nod politics. That wink-and-nod politics was, in effect, I can’t be a black politician; but he appealed to the sentiments that have driven African-American politics for generations, for decades. So at that very moment in which we had an opening in order to generate a more vibrant deliberative space for black folk of a variety of interests to engage in the back and forth, Obama would come into black communities and talk about personal responsibility as opposed to policy. He would come into black communities and one time, at Howard University, he gives that extraordinary talk about the criminal justice system; we don’t hear any more about it.
We don’t hear about how his healthcare policies actually impact these folk whose infant mortality rates, hypertension, diabetes – we can go down the line. And when black folk wanted to ask, specifically, how these policies will affect black communities, the response was, “I can’t be the president of black America; I’m the president of America.” And so that becomes an interesting – at the moment in which space is open, it contracts almost immediately. I think communities have been primed not to expect anything, because he can’t give it. That was the condition for him being elected. I really believe that. Now, are those costs too high? I think so.
CROMARTIE: We’re about to come up to our break, but we’ve got three more to get in and I think we can do it.
GLAUDE: And I’ll be briefer.
CROMARTIE: Sally, you’re next, then Rachel and Byron.
QUINN: Can you – is my mic working? I want to go back to Jeremiah Wright. (Laughter.)
GLAUDE: Our national obsession.
QUINN: I think in all of my years of journalism, I don’t think I have seen a story covered as badly as this story was – by everybody, print, television, radio. But also, I didn’t see the black community standing up for Jeremiah Wright in a way that one might have thought. This is a guy who is unbelievably distinguished, who, for 36 years, had this extraordinary career, who is a real intellectual – he’s a linguist, he’s a philosopher. The projects that he did in community outreach were extraordinary. He had this fantastic – and in two, 20-minute sound bites, his entire career was destroyed. When you look at what he said – because I went back and looked at some of the other quotes from other religious leaders. When he was particularly talking about chickens coming home to roost and goddamn America, Martin Luther King said almost exactly the same thing about Vietnam, that God is going to punish us for what we did – I don’t have the exact quote in front of me –in Vietnam.
What’s his name – Bill Clinton’s spiritual advisor – Tony Campolo, after 9/11, virtually said we brought this on ourselves. He basically was saying, the chickens have come home to roost. In the Bible, Jeremiah talks about the Israelis saying, if you don’t shape up, we’re going to – God will destroy the temple. One right after the other, these people have said exactly the same thing that he said. The language was – and if you took it out of context, I don’t think they played the whole speech the way they should have, but when you heard it in context – it wasn’t nearly as inflammatory as it sounded just by those sound bites. But I also think that Jeremiah – he, in a way, was representing, as everyone knows, an older group. Barack Obama was not a child or an ancestor of a slave, so he didn’t come in with that perspective.
I went to the National Press Club the day that Jeremiah Wright spoke, and I was there as a guest, and so I was not in the press – the press balcony was up there. Lisa Miller, my colleague – several of my colleagues were sitting up in the balcony with the press, and I was sitting downstairs. Almost everybody downstairs was black because they were all Jeremiah Wright’s friends and colleagues and all that. And his speech was really good, smart, very on-the-money. Then the Q&A started, and the questions were coming. The people I was sitting around were responding like, “Say it, say it, brother! Go ahead! Tell it!” And people were laughing and they were clapping and they were screaming, and you could just see him just turn into this – oh my god, you know, look at me, right in the National Press Club.
I kind of thought it was funny until I walked outside, and Lisa and all the press came downstairs saying, oh my god, this is the biggest disaster they’ve ever seen in their entire lives. And it was so amazing to me that my perspective was so completely different from theirs because of where I was sitting and the response of the crowd that I was listening to. I then went over to the Shiloh Baptist Church, where they –
CROMARTIE: Sally, we are running out of time, but this is very interesting.
QUINN: Well, no, no, I’m sorry. There was an entire day, from 9:30 until 10:30 that night, of appreciation for Jeremiah Wright. His whole family was there. One after the other of educated Ph.D.s, lawyers – but older blacks talking. Each one spoke about slavery and the pain of slavery, each one. But after – what I’m asking you is, I don’t see that happening any more. That’s why I’m interested in this whole fight in the Trinity church between Otis Moss and Jeremiah Wright and how he’s managed to ease his way back in. Because Otis Moss is clearly the voice of the future, and this thing of slavery and where we’ve come from just doesn’t seem to be relevant – as Peter was saying – just doesn’t seem to be relevant any more.
GLAUDE: We have a challenge, and the challenge is that we’re about to see, for the first time in the history of the African-American sojourn in the United States, a cadre of leadership that has no biographical experience of slavery or Jim Crow. It’s the first time ever. And so we sound differently, we look differently, the rhythm of our speech – our tone – our voices are different. And so folks are having a difficult time wrapping their minds around it. I always say this, very quickly: I was confused by Reverend Wright’s mini-tour. I said to myself, if he had the right advisors, somebody would have told him, sign the book contract for six figures, write the book, and then the book tour will justify you being out there.
You will be pushing your book and you can defend yourself – I didn’t understand why he went out there so soon. And I think a lot of folks in the African-American community asked – why are you going out, doing this? Why are you feeling the need to defend yourself in this way, at this moment? You’re jeopardizing his candidacy; disappear for a moment. And so there was support but there was also a kind of confusion about his motivation and whether or not ego got in the way.
CROMARTIE: Can you explain, quickly, his relationship to Louis Farrakhan – his friendship?
GLAUDE: No, Farrakhan was honored in his church, and as a member of the community in which he lives. To understand the black community on the south side of Chicago is to understand the role of the Nation of Islam in that community, and there’s no way that you can disentangle them. Part of this litmus test of acceptability is, what’s your position on Louis Farrakhan – he simply rejected out of hand. It got him in a whole lot of trouble, obviously, because now he’s just like him – persona non grata.
CROMARTIE: Rachel Martin and then Byron.
MARTIN: This builds on the current conversation. You keep saying that Reverend Wright needs to leave the pews in the church; how does that jibe with what your thesis is, about being able to speak authentically in public spaces and about religion?
GLAUDE: (Chuckles.) Rachel, touché.
MARTIN: Truly, I mean, divorced from the political implications, which I understand –
GLAUDE: No, I think my point was not about the substance of his claim, but the performance of the claim. Part of what I was saying is that in the Q&A, which Sally witnessed, there was a kind of environment of insularity that felt like home and that environment allowed for a certain kind of insider discourse to make itself known. That’s not so much about the – what I mean by that is that at that moment, in that venue, to perform a certain kind of blackness on that stage was to place himself and Obama in jeopardy. So prudentially, it wasn’t a good move.
CROMARTIE: At that time.
GLAUDE: At that moment.
MARTIN: So you concede that there are certain moments when it might not be in your best interest to speak authentically about the religious motivations that inform your opinions and values?
GLAUDE: I’m distinguishing – because I didn’t think the content of what he said was the issue; it was how he said it, how he performed it. Most people would say he looked like a buffoon – look at how he’s acting. That moment when he looks this way, and then he runs back to the thing – and so there was a sense in which –
CROMARTIE: But there were words, too.
GLAUDE: There were some words, but I don’t think those words were the equivalent of faith claims in the public domain. I think I’m resisting the conflation of those two moments.
CROMARTIE: Before I go to Byron York, a quick point, if Peter could get his permission. He wanted to make a small, quick intervention and they’re both next to each other, Brett.
BOYER: (Inaudible, off mic) – I mean, it seems that –
GLAUDE: And by the way, he’s a homeboy, from Gulfport. (Chuckles.) That’s right.
BOYER: That’s why you can’t get too far from me, Professor. But on Rachel’s point, it seems to me that in the same – even if Reverend Wright had contained his physical expression that day, the actual words that he said. In other words, had he made a defense of his theology, it still wouldn’t have gone over so good, I would suggest. And I would go further, not to suppose motivation for your thesis, professor. But it seems to me that if theologically motivated – if faith-motivated folks go into the public arena and make a faith-based argument. Let’s just say that you believe what you believe as your poor, abused sister, to bring her back into the conversation. If she believes what she believes about Proposition 8 for reasons of revelation, but gets it that you can’t make that argument in the public square, isn’t your argument for making it in the public square on those terms, which is to say, reasons of revelation – the Bible tells me it’s wrong – isn’t part of that just setting up an a—kicking, as we saw what happened with the Reverend Wright?
If you actually go into the public square and actually preach what you believe, which we have also seen, as Michael pointed out, from Pat Robertson and all those guys, you lose. It only stands a chance of winning if, in fact, you find a way that it can be cast in terms of reason and stripped of its spiritual aspect.
GLAUDE: This is a species of Richard’s point that I’m engaging in a sleight-of-hand, that I’m trying to set religious folks up to be defeated in the public domain on democratic grounds, trying to rid the democratic process of certain kinds of dissimilation in order to get to some ends that I might –
BOYER: But can you imagine your sister winning that argument on the terms that you would have her argue it – I guess is what I’m asking?
GLAUDE: I imagine – no, probably not – but I imagine my sister having a conversation with those of us who might not hold her position whereby she’s asked to explain more fully what she believes and how I could engage her, and you might engage her, on different grounds. So, for example, she might make the case that scripture views homosexuality as an abomination, and I might argue with the resources of Eugene Rogers, a professor at the University of North Carolina, who makes the case that on scriptural grounds, same-sex love is actually justified – on scriptural grounds.
And so there could be an argument on public grounds, if I’m sensitive enough to engage her as a Christian on her own terms, so that we could, perhaps, generate conclusions that she might be willing, if she lost in the debate, to concede to – as opposed to simply being excluded from the deliberative process so that she has no buy-in, in terms of the conclusions, and then winds up blowing up stuff. You get the point? In that sense, I might be trying to generate consensus disingenuously, but I might not concede that just yet. In the case of –
CROMARTIE: This is a deeply, deeply theoretical proposition and point, and I think it best, would be continued over drinks.
GLAUDE: Beautifully done! Beautifully done.
CROMARTIE: At seven. Well, we actually did this some years ago – we had Rick Warren here and the conversation just kept going and going and going, and finally, I said, well, we could have this over cocktails, of which Rick did not join.
GLAUDE: I will join them.
CROMARTIE: He joined the talks, but not the drinks.
GLAUDE: I’ve got to call my mom and tell her I was compared to Rick Warren.
CROMARTIE: That’s a good point. But Byron, you can be the person to give us the – take us into the break –
YORK: I want to move away from Reverend Wright. Pollsters often ask the question, what do you think is the most important issue that the new president or the new Congress ought to address? It’s an open-ended question; they don’t give any choices. Race relations, from the polls I’ve read, is always right down at the bottom – maybe 1 percent, maybe 2 percent. We all know the issues in this election with the economy and before that, gas prices and Iraq and Bush-fatigue the whole time. And then you called the election of Obama – and I think it’s a quote – you called it, “an extraordinary act of racial expiation.” So my question is, to what extent do you think this election was about race?
GLAUDE: It was all about race. That’s why we were all crying – many of us were crying when we saw him in Grant Park. We couldn’t say it was about race during the election, but it’s historic, why? It’s historic precisely because he’s the first black man to be elected to the office, so it was all about race, in my view. The question is, how do we deal with the ghastly ghosts of our past? America has this extraordinary ability to retreat into its innocence – or its perceived innocence. These ghosts are constantly reminding us of how earthly and human this fragile experiment in democracy has been. So I think it was all about race. I think his election, for African-American communities in particular and for the nation more generally, is a signal that the true work now begins, as opposed to, we should all pat ourselves on the back. I think the true work begins January 20.
CROMARTIE: Ladies and gentlemen, again, it’s a mark of a great session when we even go into our break time and people are not getting up and leaving and running to the beach. Let’s thank Professor Glaude for a wonderful presentation.
This written transcript has been edited for clarity, spelling, grammar and accuracy by Cheryl Jackson.