ABC Religious Expert Explains Away Obama Church

On Monday's "Good Morning America," the morning show featured a new religious expert who explained away some of the radical statements heard at Barack Obama's now former church. Father Edward Beck, the host of "Faith Matters Now" on ABC News's video site ABC News Now, also defended Father Michael Pfleger, the latest religious leader to make incendiary remarks at Trinity United Church. (In a video, Pfleger can be heard condemning, "I also believe that America is the greatest sin against God.") Co-host Chris Cuomo prompted, "You say he's much more than how he's being characterized as this kind of bad parody of an African-American preacher. Tell me."

Responding to the softball, Beck justified, "Well, everybody is more than a few sound bites can demonstrate." The two, along with NPR analyst Juan Williams were discussing not only Pfleger, but also the enthusiastic response the mostly African American congregation gave him and (on other occasions) the incendiary Reverend Jeremiah Wright. Again, Beck, who was appearing on GMA for the first time as a religious expert, offered standard liberal guilt by asserting, "But I think you have to understand underneath [the congregation's cheering] there is real sentiment. There is a feeling of being disenfranchised."

It was left to the NPR representative Williams, who is also a regular on ABC, to make the tough critiques about Obama's church. After Cuomo, who identified Obama as "the unity candidate," asked about the political ramifications, Williams explained that Americans are going to ask, "Why is [Obama] associated with these people who are so inflammatory and mean-spirited and even racial?" In very tough terms, Williams went on to decry individuals such as Pfleger and Wright:

JUAN WILLIAMS: They are stirring people up, appealing to their most base, racist sentiments. What you saw from Father Pfleger the other day looked to me like a minstrel show being put on for black people and I thought that he was mocking. He was bitter. This is not speaking to ideas of lifting people up or speaking to the Christ in us all, black and white and speaking to us as brothers.

Despite this, Williams was outnumbered by Beck and Cuomo. Beck glowingly insisted that Obama began a discussion on ethnicity "with that great speech on race that he gave." Oddly, neither Father Beck, nor Cuomo, who is also Catholic, noted that Chicago Cardinal Francis George has reprimanded Pfleger for engaging in politics. If Beck, whose "demo reel" can be seen here, is going to become a regular on GMA, conservatives, thus far, have no reason to be encouraged that he will offer a right leaning perspective.

On a side note, GMA reporter Jake Tapper should be commended for covering and actually playing Pfleger's latest comments.

A transcript of the June 2 segment, which aired at 7:33am, follows:

CHRIS CUOMO: And joining us live for some perspective on Obama's decision are NPR senior political analyst Juan Williams and Father Edward Beck, the host of ABC News Now's "Faith Matters Now." Gentlemen, thank you for both being here. Father, let me begin with you. You know Father Pfleger. You say he's much more than how he's being characterized as this kind of bad parody of an African-American preacher. Tell me.

FATHER EDWARD BECK: Well, everybody is more than a few sound bites can demonstrate. I mean, I worked with him for three years. I saw him get arrested for injustice against African-American people. He adopted an African-American child. I mean, he really walks the talk and I think you can't just look at this and say this is the whole person. He is more than that.

CUOMO: Okay, so this is who the man is. Juan, let me bring you in for what the impact is. How do you think this will play for Obama, the unity candidate? Is this going to be seen as more white bashing? How does this play for him?

JUAN WILLIAMS: I mean, you just heard in this latest clip that's come out where he says America is the greatest sin against God. It sounds more like, you know, the whole thing about God, you know, America coming from Reverend Wright. It stirs up all those feelings again. If you look at recent Pew poll numbers that came out, it indicates Barack Obama's favorability ratings have been sinking, especially with the swing voters as we head toward the general election. White women, Jews, Latinos, a real problem. People identify Obama as young, energetic, telegenic, intelligent, a man who is talking about change and unifying the races and then the second thing that comes to mind is, but, gee what about this Reverend Wright? What about Father Pfleger? Why is he associated with these people who are so inflammatory and mean-spirited and even racial? I mean, that mocking of Hillary Clinton goes beyond any black liberation theology. That's putting down somebody who has a fairly progressive record on race in America.

CUOMO: Now, as far as Obama is concerned, there has been the point made you have to separate him from the statements of others but there does seem to be a sensitivity. Something that's very interesting in what happens here though as we look at the video of that speech. The audience. The reaction of the audience. Predominantly black, of course, even though the preacher is white. Father Beck, how do you think whites should react to what they see here, the enthusiasm for this really negative speech?

BECK: Well, I'm sure they may be a bit frightened by it. But I think you have to understand underneath it there is real sentiment. There is a feeling of being disenfranchised. You have a white man, a priest naming this for them. And I mean, they don't always get to say it. You know, some people don't always name it for them. So they're going to react to it. And there's a certain environment in a preaching environment like that that is stirred up. There's an enthusiasm. And I think you're seeing all of that play out but certainly, there's real sentiment underneath that.

CUOMO: This is the reality. This isn't them being whipped into a frenzy by a charismatic speaker?

BECK: No. Let's not pretend that there is not a race issue still in America. There is. And black people know it and white people know it. I've been asking some black people, you know, around where I work, and I say do you think this is racism, reverse racism? They say, no, absolutely not. They don't think it's reverse racism. They think that real feelings are being demonstrated here. Are you can't take that away from them.

CUOMO: You get a different reaction from the whites in your congregation?

BECK: Yeah, whites are saying, is this what's going to happen if he's president? Are we going to be now turning the tide? Is this going to be reverse discrimination? So, people are a little bit afraid of it.

CUOMO: Now, looking at this politically, pragmatically, Juan, how do you think the Republicans use this? How good is this for them, in a manner of speaking.

WILLIAMS: Oh, you know, I mean, this is manna from heaven if you want to stick with the religious theme. Because what you've got is, it raises the risk factor around this young man who would be the first African-American president. It says, you know, he may be talking about change but what kind of change and do you really know him? And when you look back at his associations, it's with people like Reverend Wright and Father Pfleger. Yes, there's a history of bitter segregation in a city like Chicago but what are these ministers doing? They are stirring people up, appealing to their most base, racist sentiments. What you saw from Father Pfleger the other day looked to me like a minstrel show being put on for black people and I thought that he was mocking. He was bitter. This is not speaking to ideas of lifting people up or speaking to the Christ in us all, black and white and speaking to us as brothers. This is bringing us down to a low level and that's what Obama said in his remarks the other day, this doesn't speak to the kind of unifying theme that I want for my campaign, to quote him.

CUOMO: Well, I guess there are the two sides we're seeing. You're saying this doesn't speak to what the campaign is supposed to be speaking to but, Father, you say this is a reality. You bristle when you hear the word minstrel when attached to Pfleger.

BECK: Well, I agree the method was bad. He had a bad choice of words. I mean, he went way over the top, but I think you have to look at what is underneath it. Why do people respond to it? Why is he taking that approach? He's getting heard. He believes the message has to be heard. Now, he's using bad means to do it. But it's an important issue and I think what we have to pay attention to is the conversation that it needs to start. Obama began the conversation with that great speech on race that he gave. But it's not going to end there. That's not going to end the debate just because he gave a great speech. It has to continue.

Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock
Scott Whitlock is the senior news analyst for the Media Research Center and a contributing editor for NewsBusters.org