While some label the Reverend Wright's words 'hate speech,' others point to a tradition of exposing social ills.
They're the campaign issue that refuses to fade away.
The words of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., Barack Obama's longtime pastor, continue to fuel controversy, in part because the contest for the Democratic presidential nomination is so close this year, in part because the words themselves pose a stark question about America's cross-racial discourse: When does speaking out against injustices cross into hate speech?
Senator Obama's Democratic rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton, stoked the fires this week, saying, "Given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor." Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who quit the Republican presidential race, seemed eager to damp the flames as he told MSNBC, "Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment, and you have to just say, `I probably would, too. In fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder, had it been me.' "
For many in the black community, however, the controversy over selected clips of Wright using inflammatory language has been blown out of proportion. More important, they say, it reveals little awareness among whites of the centuries of African-American struggle and its tradition of "prophetic preaching."
In response to the furor, "There's a desire to redouble efforts to portray the beauty and complexities and challenges of our tradition," says the Rev. Brad Braxton, of Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. "Many feel the need to remind people of how the black church tradition has been the soul and conscience of the nation."
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