On Easter Sunday, April 24, 2011, the Obama family attended Easter services at the historicShiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. Senior Minister Dr. Wallace Charles Smith welcomed President Obama and then delivered the sermon, “The Resurrection Changes Everything,” from the Gospel of Saint John.
President Obama is not the first, other Presidents including Bill Clinton, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush have also attended services there. In May 2006, First Lady Laura Bush went to the Shiloh Baptist Church where they were helping seniors sign up for Medicare prescription drug plans. The First Lady applauded the church’s community involvement
As expected, Townhall.com and other conservative activists, Fox News, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze, AC’s Mark Whittington and Rush Limbaugh chose faux arguments to again exploit President Obama’s claim of Christianity. The cheap shots include, Obama is really a Muslim since he pays more attention to Muslim holidays, even though Obama has always attended Christian church services; He never issued an Easter proclamation, even though no President has routinely done so, while at the same time they conveniently failed to recognize that he did host an Easter prayer breakfast and a Easter Egg Roll. But the most egregious accusation is that President Obama attends churches that seem to focus around hate for America, and pastors who employ race baiting. They use quotes from an address by Dr. Smith as President of Palmer Theological Seminary delivered on January 15, 2010 at a Windows on the World Seminar titled “Race in America” as examples of race baiting.
On Easter weekend of 2010, President Obama released an Easter message that reached out to Jews, Muslims, Hindus, agnostics and atheists alike. He said, “The rites of Passover, and the traditions of Easter, have been marked by people in every corner of the planet for thousands of years. All of us are striving to make a way in this world; to build a purposeful and fulfilling life in the fleeting time we have here. A dignified life. A healthy life. A life, true to its potential. And a life that serves others. These are aspirations that stretch back through the ages — aspirations at the heart of Judaism, at the heart of Christianity, at the heart of all the world’s great religions.”
Despite the opinions of Obama’s dissenters, the former does address the meaning of Easter and of Christianity, for it puts the meaning of Easter in the context that it should be placed.
Of course, critiques compare Dr. Smith with Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ of Chicago, as being equally anti-American and racist.
But is it hating America if a person is critical of America’s policies or actions? Is it racism if a man or woman of God gives a sermon on race? Of course not! It is how Americans should respond and it’s the responsibility of religious leaders to speak out against racism.
It’s not race baiting when a pastor of a predominantly African-American church speaks frankly of race in order for his congregation to have a better understanding of a condition that makes them vulnerable to harm or risk every day. They don’t generally speak of racism in predominantly white churches because white folks are not affected by racism in the same way as non-white Americans; it’s only a peripheral issue to them, and when they do it’s in generic terms. However, it is race baiting when folks use racially sensitive and inflammatory statements to influence the actions or attitudes of a group of people who already have a predisposition to hate, exploiting their hate in order to promote their own self-interest. An African-American church’s intent is not the same as those of Townhall.com, Fox News, or of a Beck and Limbaugh.