The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell is pastor of Windsor Village United Methodist Church, the largest United Methodist congregation in the nation. Often described as a ‘spiritual advisor' to President George W. Bush, Caldwell introduced Bush at the 2000 Republican National Convention and delivered the benedictions at the 2001 and 2005 presidential inaugurations. He endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president in January.
When you called President Bush to say you were endorsing Senator Barack Obama, how did he respond?
He had shared his thoughts with me about Senator Obama
months before I called and told him I was going to endorse. And he says he likes him as a person. He told me that early on, before the Senator even announced he was running for president. He has a tremendous amount of respect for him.
While the differences between President Bush and Senator Obama are very, very clear, allow me to share with you what their commonalities are. One, they have deep, resolute loyalty to their country, to their families, and to their God. They are both Christians. They both love their wives intensely. They’re both very good dads.
They are also strong believers in rebuilding the family
and rebuilding the infrastructure of our communities… Now, obviously, they have two entirely different approaches as to how to achieve that common good.
How do you know about Obama’s family life?
For the last 12 months, I’ve been talking to people who are part of the campaign very, very regularly. And I listen very intently to what they say. And the few times I have been around the Senator, I’ve noticed very carefully what he does…
Let me give you a little tidbit. When he was in Houston, we had a history-making number of folks show up here for the rally… As he was leaving the event I said, "Is there anything we can pray for for you?" And he said, "Pray for my wife and my children…." You know, he doesn’t ask for--he doesn’t ask that you pray for his strength or pray for his stamina so he can endure these 16-hour days. He’s not focused on himself. He says, "Pray for my wife and my children."
You’ve been pretty quiet about your support for Obama since endorsing him. Why?
Nobody’s asked me. But, I tell you what. As soon as he gets the nomination, it will become a lot more noisy. Let me share this with you. The check that I wrote to Senator Obama is the first check I’ve ever written to a politician who was running for local, state, or federal office.
So you see him as a unique candidate.
Yeah. There are several reasons. One, I think he’s just a solid man. He’s a solid, spiritual man, and I have a great deal of respect for him as an individual.
Number two, when he initially announced, they said, “Well, he will be a symbolic candidate. He has no chance of winning.” And then he began to attract, you know, crowds of 20, 30, 40,000. Then they’d say, “Well, he may attract twenty, thirty thousand folk at a time, but he won’t be able to raise any money.” And then he started raising a ton of money… Then, they said, “Well, he’s not black enough.” Well, clearly he is. Then they said, “He’s too black.” Well, that’s ridiculous. Then they said, “Well, you know, he doesn’t like white folk because his pastor says whatever.” And I think folks forget his mother was white, for goodness sake. The grandmother of his children are white. I mean it just--that’s just a ridiculous argument.
Then, they said, “Well, he’s Muslim
.” And he’s confessed his faith--I would say that he’s more of a Christian than some folk who claim to be Christian, because he didn’t grow up in a Christian house… He had to declare his faith separate and distinct from his--from the house that he grew up in.
As a pastor, how did you feel as Rev. Jeremiah Wright emerged as possibly the biggest stumbling block to Obama winning the Democratic nomination, maybe even the presidency?
The timing is unfortunate. I also think the media has blown it up a little bit. Quite frankly, some of the confusion is an issue of style versus substance. I am most appreciative of how Senator Obama has remained focused and on task in trying to call America’s attention to the many, many challenges that need to be addressed, and to get everybody back on point.
I think since they--whomever they are--since they could not find anything wrong with him as a person, there seemingly has been an attempt to reach out and find something wrong with those who are allegedly around him. Everybody keeps saying, “Well, he sat there for 20 years." For starters, he didn’t sit there for 20 years, right? He’s been a member for 20 years. He’s not sat there for 20 years. For three years, he was in law school. Another eight years, he was in the state senate, and another three years--or three years, really now four--he’s been in the US senate. I don’t mean to split hairs on this, but it hasn’t been 20 years.
And furthermore, truth be told, there are some things that Pastor Wright has said that are absolutely true. Now, you may not like how he said it, and whenever your metaphor overwhelms what you have to say, that can be problematic. But there are a number of African Americans in this country who affirm the ministry of Pastor Wright.
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