Sometimes, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright seems like a loud, tuneless singer at a karaoke bar who needs to hand over the mike and sit down.
Other times, I think that if you could set aide his most inflammatory statements, such as suggesting that the federal government spawned AIDS as an assault on the downtrodden …
That if you looked past his defensive tone with reporters asking legitimate questions about such statements …
That if you could ignore his disloyalty to his former parishioner, Sen. Barack Obama, who tried hard to avoid the political expediency of kicking him aside …
… he just might make sense.
But I don't want this column to be about my opinion. I wanted to survey local African-American leaders, especially Wright's fellow pastors, to hear what they and members of their congregations thought.
With two exceptions, they either wanted to avoid being drawn into the controversy or felt — like I do, to a degree — that they weren't qualified to comment on a national issue.
Imani Asukile, a Pasco-Hernando Community College administrator and author of a photographic history of African-Americans in Brooksville, is qualified, having read transcripts of Wright's recent speeches and interviews and having twice heard him preach.
"He was mesmerizing," Asukile said.
Wright is part of a long religious tradition — aligned with the Liberation Theology movement in Latin America — that sees the church as a force against oppression, Asukile said.
This view is so much like Obama's that their long association is no mystery, he said. They only clashed when Obama sought to lead a government that favors the rich and powerful over the church-goers Wright represents.
Just read passages from his speeches, Asukile said, such as this one from Wright's address last week to the National Press Club:
"God does not want the powerless masses, the poor, the widows, the marginalized … locked into sick systems which treat some in the society as being more equal than others in that same society."
I can't argue with that, nor with another point Wright made in that speech: that his church in Chicago had aided the poor, sick and homeless, "while our government cuts food stamps and spends billions fighting an unjust war with Iraq."
Asukile went on to say that Wright was a legitimate successor to Martin Luther King Jr., whose image has been overly softened by endless replays of his "I Have a Dream" speech.
King was harshly critical when he had to be, Asukile said, and "cleared the sky for ministers who came behind him (such as Wright) to be even more aggressive in their language."
But at the same time, black Americans face less oppression than they did during King's time, which I would say calls for less aggressive and more thoughtful language — language more like Obama's.
That Wright seems to be undermining Obama's presidential campaign and his hopeful message gets me to the one other opinion I was able to solicit, from Irene Wells, pastor of the New Jerusalem Church of God in Spring Lake.
"I think (Wright) needs to let it rest and not carry it any further," Wells said.
"I think he's messing (Obama) up really bad."