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Letter alleges racism in Obama attacks


7:00 A.M. EST Sept. 1, 2010

Episcopal Bishop John B. Chane greets President Obama at the inaugural prayer service held at Washington National Cathedral. Photo courtesy of Donovan Marks, National Cathedral.
Episcopal Bishop John B. Chane greets President Obama at the inaugural
prayer service held at Washington National Cathedral. Photo courtesy of
Donovan Marks, National Cathedral.

More than 90 Christian clergy and laity have signed a letter calling for church members to speak out against racially motivated attacks against President Obama.

The Rev. Gil Caldwell, a retired United Methodist pastor in Asbury Park, N.J., and one of the founders of Black Methodists for Church Renewal, wrote the letter after seeing criticism of Obama he felt went beyond the usual political sniping all presidents face.

Caldwell pointed to such examples as the repeated demands to see Obama’s birth certificate and the continued charges that Obama is not Christian. Caldwell also pointed to a South Carolina Republican Party activist likening Michelle Obama to a gorilla.

“If, despite any differences we might have with President Barack Obama, we have not understood that the assaults upon him (and his spouse and children) have a racial component, we are deaf, dumb and blind,” he wrote.

He stressed that he does not regard all criticism of the president as racist, and he also disagrees with some of Obama’s policies. Racism, he said, occurs when people judge Obama by a double standard they would not use if the president were white.

Caldwell’s letter, titled “The Elephant in the Room is Race,” follows an Aug. 25 statement signed by more than 70 Christian leaders condemning misrepresentations of President Obama’s Christian faith. That statement was released by the Eleison Group, a consulting firm started by Burns Strider, a former adviser to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and faith outreach director during Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

At Caldwell’s request, the Rev. Vance Ross, an executive with the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, has circulated his letter to other Christian leaders. Most of the signers are also black United Methodists.

The Rev. Gilbert  H. Caldwell
The Rev. Gilbert H. Caldwell
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Ross said, as a follower of Jesus, he felt he needed to speak out regarding the criticism Obama has faced.

“We are called to love all people, and speak on their behalf when they are treated unjustly,” he said. “It seems like we’re moving backward, and by our silence, we indicate consent.”

The Rev. Maxine Allen, another signer of the letter, agreed. Allen is the minister of ethnic ministries for the Arkansas Annual (regional) Conference and campus minister at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

“Until we stop talking that we are living in a post-racial society,” she said, “there will always be an elephant in the room.”

United Methodists need to break their silence, Caldwell said in an interview, because the fears he sees today are not unlike some of the passions being stroked during the civil rights movement. During that period, Caldwell participated in the March on Washington in 1963 and registered black voters during Mississippi Freedom Summer in 1964.

“Martin Luther King writes of his concern for the moderates, whose fear and/or quietness caused them to be silent as the civil rights movement moved forward,” he said. “I do not want historians to write of The United Methodist Church of this moment that it was silent in the face of soft as well as hardline racism.”

*Hahn is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter.

News contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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