The Baltimore Sun

Moral criticism part of role of the clergy

In the current flap over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's comments, it's important to remember that clergymen criticizing their nation are nothing new ("Reacting to Obama's words," March 20). And neither is outrage over such criticisms.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, the Rev. Pat Robertson connected the attacks to American toleration of homosexuality, while Pastor Wright found fault with our foreign policy.

Whether the toleration of gays or our foreign policies are, in fact, sinful is for the reader to decide. But what is striking is that both pastors, despite their very different politics, agreed that the root cause of the attacks was an American moral failure.

In doing so, they followed a long-standing tradition.

Indeed, Pastor Wright's namesake, the prophet Jeremiah, filled many pages with graphic, often horrifying images of the destruction of Jerusalem. He was brutally direct in laying blame for these horrors on the sins of Israel, not on the foreigners at the gates.

The prophet Jeremiah criticized his nation in the harshest terms, in wartime, no less. Can we conclude from this that he hated Israel? I think not.

Neither is it fair to conclude that Mr. Wright or Mr. Robertson hates America.

Moral criticism is a legitimate function of the clergy, and its intent is positive - to warn us and correct our behavior.

Do we seriously expect our clergy to shower our nation (or ourselves) with nothing but praise?

That said, our pastors are as human as we are; they can and do go over the top. Both Mr. Wright and Mr. Robertson have used inflammatory language and made extreme statements on more than one occasion.

For that, they deserve criticism, and both have gotten a good deal of it.

But let's not mistake their excesses for hatred of any group or of this country.

Hank Barru

Glen Burnie

Obama's candor shows real strength

I was struck by the genuineness and candid words of Sen. Barack Obama's speech in Philadelphia on Tuesday ("Obama attacks racial divide," March 19).

To be able to speak with such understanding and wisdom when one's back is against the wall is a sign of the kind of character and strength that I seldom see in our elected officials.

Mr. Obama is truly a peacemaker and an advocate for change. But are we ready to give up our prejudices, our anger and disappointment and the need to blame others for our deficiencies?

That would be a big step for some of us.

We are ready for our leaders to change. But are we ready ourselves to do the changing?

Mr. Obama inspires us to understand first and then act.

In a world of fast foods, sound bites and quick fixes, we as a people may just need a leader worth following.

Vivian Morgan


Ambiguous attitude to past is troubling

The question we should be asking is not about whether America is ready to discuss in depth the question of race but whether Sen. Barack Obama has the courage and will to divorce himself totally from his former pastor and mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright ("Reacting to Obama's words," March 20).

That question certainly was not answered in Mr. Obama's recent speech on race.

Instead, he stressed again the guilt of the American white community.

Mr. Obama's ambiguous treatment of the past continues to trouble many of us.

Nelson Marans

Silver Spring

U.S.-led war now fills Iraqi cemeteries

In defense of his five-year long, poorly planned, generally mismanaged and ultimately unnecessary invasion of Iraq, President Bush declared, "Because we acted, Saddam Hussein no longer fills fields with the remains of innocent men, women and children" ("Five years on, Bush defends invasion," March 20).

That's true enough. But the more than 94,000 civilian Iraqi casualties in this war ("War's Toll: Five Years in Iraq," March 20) suggest that it is now Mr. Bush himself, aided by legions of apathetic citizens, who fills the fields.

Doug Ebbert

Bel Air

More DNA sampling could protect public

I could not agree more with The Sun's editorial "Expanding DNA database" (March 20). But I would make two additional points about why the expansion of DNA sampling is a good idea.

First, numerous crime victims could be saved from victimization through the early apprehension of criminal suspects an expanded DNA database would facilitate.

Second, the civil liberties of innocent people incarcerated for crimes they did not commit could be protected if a broader-based DNA library made us better able to find the true criminals in the crimes for which they were convicted.

Henry L. Belsky


The writer is a trial lawyer.

Trying to ban vices a waste of resources

Steve Chapman nailed it in "The real scandal is that it's illegal" (Opinion

Commentary, March 17).

Mr. Chapman ticks off many paragraphs about how criminalizing prostitution enriches organized crime, endangers prostitutes and impedes public health efforts.

As he suggests, all in all, the war on prostitution is an expensive failure.

This argument also applies to the war on drugs - ever-increasing arrest rates, drug confiscations and the world's largest prison population do not indicate that we're winning anything at all.

Just like alcohol prohibition, the so-called war on drugs is a failed public policy.

It criminalizes otherwise law-abiding citizens, undercuts respect for the law and guarantees gangs and crime organizations are here to stay.

Worse, it throws away billions and billions that should be used for constructive purposes.

Drug use is really a social and public health issue, not a criminal matter.

Didn't we learn anything from Prohibition?

Melvin Barnhart


Glad to see curbs on too-easy credit

After reading "Home loans harder to get" (March 21), all I can say is, better late than never.

This fiasco developed out of greed by banks and mortgage companies and individuals who bought into the idea of living the good life, whether they could afford it or not.

Many of the banks and mortgage brokers who made these loans out of greed and the borrowers who signed on for mortgages they couldn't afford will get government help.

But the funds for this should come out of the pockets of the highly paid bankers and mortgage company CEOs, not from the average citizen who lived in an apartment while saving for a home he or she could afford.

Dolly Nemec


Captive pachyderm no reason to rejoice

It's impossible to get excited about the new baby elephant at the Maryland Zoo, knowing that this intelligent, complex animal is likely never to know a moment's freedom ("It's a boy, weighing in at 290 pounds," March 21).

Elephants in zoos regularly die decades short of their expected life-span from debilitating diseases related to captivity.

In their natural homelands, elephants often walk up to 30 miles a day. They explore, forage, meet up with old friends, seek out extended family members and mud bath opportunities, and pay their respects at elephant graveyards.

Elephants' basic need to engage in such activities is completely thwarted in captivity.

Instead of wasting money on attempts to breed more elephants to keep confined in cramped and unnatural spaces, zoos would serve the species more responsibly by funding efforts to reduce the key factors causing the species' decline - poaching and habitat loss.

Jennifer O'Connor

Norfolk, Va.

The writer is a volunteer for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

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