Senator Barack Obama is not a Muslim, contrary to invidious rumors. But he belongs to a Christian church whose doctrine casts Jesus Christ as a "black messiah" and blacks as "the chosen people". At best, this is a radically different kind of Christianity than most Americans acknowledge; at worst it is an ethnocentric heresy.
What played out last week on America's television screens was a clash of two irreconcilable cultures, the posture of "black liberation theology" and the mainstream American understanding of Christianity. Obama, who presented himself as a unifying figure, now seems rather the living embodiment of the clash.
One of the strangest dialogues in American political history ensued on March 15 when Fox News interviewed Obama's pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, of Chicago's Trinity Church. Wright asserted the authority of the "black liberation" theologians James Cone and Dwight Hopkins:
Wright: How many of Cone's books have you read? How many of Cone's book have you read?
Sean Hannity: Reverend, Reverend?
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Since Christianity taught the concept of divine election to the Gentiles, every recalcitrant tribe in Christendom has rebelled against Christian universalism, insisting that it is the "Chosen People" of God - French, English, Russian, Germans and even (through the peculiar doctrine of Mormonism) certain Americans. America remains the only really Christian country in the industrial world, precisely because it transcends ethnicity. One finds ethnocentricity only in odd corners of its religious life; one of these is African-American.
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Theologically, Cone's argument is as silly as the "Aryan Christianity" popular in Nazi Germany, which claimed that Jesus was not a Jew at all but an Aryan Galilean, and that the Aryan race was the "chosen people". Cone, Hopkins and Wright do not propose, of course, to put non-blacks in concentration camps or to conquer the world, but racially-based theology nonetheless is a greased chute to the nether regions.
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