Archive for the ‘Jeremiah Wright’ Category

Wright or Wrong?: My Take

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

I give up trying to get anything productive done today. I haven’t been able to focus for all the emails and phone calls from the media requesting comments on the latest Jeremiah Wright/ Barack Obama spectacle. I may as well let my blog readers in on the discussions I’ve been having with family, friends, and interviewers over the last couple of days.

What do you make of the latest round of speeches Jeremiah Wright has given over the last few days, forcing Barack Obama to come back out and put even more distance between himself and his former pastor?

What we see is that despite its signature wall of separation between church-state, America continues to be a place where religion and politics are deeply entwined. We are curious about the religious beliefs of our politicians because we think a person’s religious beliefs say a lot (or ought to say something) about the way that person treats people and does politics.

But more to the point, what we see here is how both religion and politics have the potential to drive wedges between families, friends, and members of the same faith and political groups.

What are we to make of the timing of Jeremiah Wright’s latest round of media appearances?

First, when would have been a better time for Wright to come out and start speaking again? Invitations to speak for the NAACP are issued months ahead, and booking the National Press Club is not something granted you just because you asked. Meaning, these engagement have probably been on the books for awhile. Besides, I know Jeremiah Wright is a minister, but do we really think Wright had the prophetic gift of foreseeing Obama losing Pennsylvania far enough in advance to choose this as the ideal time for reminding the American public of his history with Barack Obama?

What do you make of the rumor that someone in Hillary Clinton’s camp hired Jeremiah Wright for the National Press Club speech?

I love conspiracy theories too. But, are you kidding? You obviously don’t know Jeremiah Wright. And neither does Hillary Clinton know Jeremiah Wright, if it’s true. Haven’t you noticed? Jeremiah Wright is just as apt to rip into a Clinton as he is to rip into the U.S. gov’t.

Is Jeremiah Wright doing this to get back at Barack Obama?

Why does everything have to be about Barack Obama? Can it be that the only thing on Jeremiah Wright’s mind is clearing his name and not leaving to Obama to define who he is which Obama sought to do last month when he cast Wright as the eccentric uncle everyone has in their family? Perhaps Wright sees this as an opportunity to use the spotlight on him to shed  broader light on the black church.Wright Obama

Did you get the feeling from watching Jeremiah Wright speak there at the National Press Club that this was all about male ego?

All about male ego? No. Is male ego at work somewhere in all that’s going on? Yes. What else is new? When has male ego not been a driving force in politics and religion?

Here we have this historic chance to get a Black man in the White House, certainly Jeremiah Wright understands the importance of this moment, knows the consequences his comments are likely to have on Obama’s campaign, and wouldn’t want to blow the chance for a former member of his congregation to become President of the United States.

Is that a question or a statement? Both men have made it clear. One is a politician and the other is a preacher. Both seem prepared to do what he has to do to get his message out there. 

Am I hearing Obama’s supporters saying:  “Don’t blow it for Obama. Keep all the colorful relatives in the attic until after the election”? If it is, it doesn’t work that way. If 90% of black voters are behind Barack Obama, as his supporters like to claim, then Obama can’t court black votes and expect black people to shut up and remain on their best behavior just so he an make a good impression on others. Besides, I thought Obama is the candidate who’s trying to bring the races together and sow seeds of reconciliation. Well, here comes Uncle Jeremiah to the reunion. Make them love and embrace Uncle Jeremiah, and you’ve done something.

Do you think this latest Wright/Obama spectacle has hurt Obama’s bid for the White House?

That depends. This latest drama will not cause black people to desert Barack Obama. Black people are smart enough to see through the drama. Now, will it turn white voters off from voting for Barack Obama? I don’t know. I’m not a white voter. I’ll venture an educated guess and say that I suspect that it will turn off some white voters. Correction: I suspect that it will turn off a lot of white voters. (Teh heh. Teh heh.) But will it turn off enough white voters to sink Obama’s campaign? That remains to be seen in the coming weeks. But I will say this: if the only way white voters feel comfortable voting for Obama is if he distances himself from fiery, brash, radical thinking black men of his past, like Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then Barack Obama may win the White House, but he’ll be forever a loser in the eyes of his own people (the black ones anyway).

Do you agree that Wright is the one under fire, not the black church.

Both are under fire.

Here’s something we can all agree on: Jeremiah Wright is no Joel Oesteen, that’s for sure.  Jeremiah Wright’s fiery, defiant, idiosyncratic personality notwithstanding, ignorance about the black church, about black liberation preaching, and about black preaching abound in this whole political spectacle. The black church is under fire if the only kind of black preacher that white America will tolerate as pastor to its aspiring black presidential candidate is one who does not criticize America from the pulpit, does not comment on white privilege in her or his sermons, and is humble and remorseful when s/he has been clobbered by the media – then the black church is definitely part of what’s under fire in this drama.

Which brings me to my last point.
The worst thing that can happen is for black people to let the media make us choose between Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright. We must hold on to both men recognizing that both are fighting powers beyond their control and navigating and negotiating them the best way they know how. Though neither has been faultless in the way he has projected himself, both men represent styles of leadership, masculinity, and oratory that we’ve come to appreciate in the black community and which we shouldn’t have to choose between because we need both. Barack Obama: calm, measured, deliberate, and idealistic, and Jeremiah Wright: fiery, brash, defiant, and pragmatic.

Now, if you don’t mind I’ll go back to reading the biography on Hillary Clinton that I started last evening.

An Unrecognizable God to Some

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

You would think that I’m through with talking about the whole Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright fray. I am. But you don’t always get to choose what to talk about and what not to talk about. Sometimes you have to seize the moment and wring it for all that it’s worth. Besides, how many black clergy women scholars of religion do you know who blog regularly? That’s my point. Sometimes you don’t get to make the call. Your calling calls you.

As a black woman who’s both an ordained clergywoman and someone who taught biblical studies for eighteen years at a divinity school I don’t have the luxury of sitting by and allowing white America question the black church’s trustworthiness in shaping the spiritual formation of Barack Obama, even though Obama is not my candidate of choice. I must speak up.

The fiery liberation theology laced preaching of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity Church is nothing new to those of us in the black church. Even with all of its sometimes rhetorical excesses and over the top metaphorical reaches, we get it. Even if we don’t always agree with the preacher’s  point of view, we get, for the most part, what he or she is saying. We get it so much that none of us has ever gone out and assaulted a white person because of something we heard in a black pulpit. We get it so much that we’d never dream of bombing a white church with little white children in it.

Black liberation preaching like what we’ve heard from Dr. Jeremiah Wright begins with the question, “What is God saying to the poor, the homeless, the despised, the disenfranchised, and those suffering and overlooked in our society?”  It’s probably safe to say that the God the poor and disenfranchised worship on a weekly basis would be  virtually unrecognizable to the God worshipped on a weekly basis by the wealthy and the privileged. And vice versa.mural

The reactions of white America this week to snippets of Jeremiah Wright’s preaching is comparable to the reaction of many white  seminary students when they read for the first time the writings of black scholars of religion like James Cone, Jacqueline Grant, Gayraud Wilmore, Anthony Pinn, Dwight Hopkins, Emilie Townes, Linda Thomas, and others who write in the black liberation theological vein. Fear. Alarm. Disgust. Bewilderment. Some white students never get past their initial reactions. “Do blacks really feel this way?” “Is this what they say about us behind our backs?” “How dare they?” Others go on to appreciate the voices and perspectives of those they’ve never heard from before. My point is that black theology has been a part of the curriculum of divinity schools, seminary classes, and classes on black religion for the past three decades .  So, I ask myself this week, where are the many white pastors who cut their teeth reading black theological texts and are they doing our teaching proud by helping to explain to their congregations the theological  and historical underpinnings of black religion and black church preaching?

With the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr a week away, it feels like a slap in the face to hear white America now questioning whether the black church can be trusted to produce bridge-building leaders. The black church has been like a feeder institution to America when it comes to producing black leaders with the courage and integrity to call American back to its earliest moral vision and remind the country of its lofty promises to its citizens.

It seems to me that the question is not whether white people can trust the black church, and whether white people can trust a black church like Trinity UCC to have shaped a black leader white people can follow. The question is what role has white churches and white pastors played in recent months in building bridges between the races in light of this presidential race?

We’ve seen what the likes of the divisive, xenophobic, hate-mongering, rabidly right wing conservative teachings of white preachers Jerry Falwell, Pat Roberts, John Hagee, have since the Reagan years wrought on our society. If our current leader is the best the white church has had in recent years to offer as a bridge building president, then the white church has failed miserably and owes an apology to this nation’s racially diverse citizenry.

I find myself wondering what my former white divinity students who are now pastors are preaching about these days. Will race come up in this Easter Sunday morning in their sermons? Those who studied with me and other black professors and know something  about the history black religion and liberation hermeneutics, ideological criticism and post colonial theory, womanist theology and prophetic preaching. They read our books and took our exams. I wonder if they have stepped up like prophets  and taken the Obama/Wright fray as an opportunity to talk to their followers about Jesus and his stand with “the least of these.” I wonder if my former white students who are now pastors are doing a better job at preaching and producing build bridgers than Trinity Church and other fiery prophetic black churches have done in shaping men like Barack Obama or women like the late Barbara Jordan. I just wonder.

Obama’s Home Church

Monday, March 17th, 2008

Even though I am a supporter of Hillary Clinton, it pains me to stand by and watch the right wing media, in its effort to discredit Barack Obama, mobilize its forces against  Obama’s home church Trinity United Church of Christ and pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright (now Pastor Emeritus). I have spoken at Trinity Church many times over the years and know Jeremiah Wright, the minister and the man, very well.  I can not stand by and watch in silence while a church and a pastor I know and love become collateral damage in a political battle. Trinity Church has long been a standbearer there on the southside of Chicago of what it means as a black church to combine charismatic worship, prophetic preaching, and social justice outreach. Jeremiah Wright is one of our modern day prophets, a long time advocate of gender justice and critic of homophobia in the black church.It grieves me to see the pains to which Barack Obama has gone to distance himself from his pastor and his church in his effort to maintain his mainstream appeal. But that is another story for another day. I thank my friend Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith for offering a guest column here on Something Within in defense of her former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, and her sister church, Trinity United Church of Christ.  Susan Smith pastors Advent United Church of Christ of  Columbus, Ohio, but we both have Jeremiah Wright to thank for introducing us to each other years ago when she was one of the assistant ministers there at Trinity UCC and I was a visiting speaker.
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The attacks on Senator Barack Obama, and on his pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah W. Wright, Jr., are only going to get worse. I cringed when I heard the clips of Pastor Wright’s sermons played on UTube and on television because I knew how it would come across to people who are waiting for “the thing” with which to stop Obama’s forward movement. The fact is that America is suffering from a disease called racism. It has never been really dealt with; in fact, Americans have spent an awful lot of time denying that racism is as bad as it is. But because the disease has not been dealt with, we still suffer from it; it is as though we as a nation have the HIV/AIDS virus, which always threatens to evolve into full-blown AIDS. People who have the virus must take medication in order to escape the disease. In the same way, we as Americans have to take steps to undo the damage done by racism, or else the virus will destroy us as a nation.

the pulpitPastor Wright has always decried racism. He has always fought to make African Americans understand that we must look racism in the face and identify it and not pretend that it does not exist. He has fought to make us understand that we should not be ashamed of who we are: black people. The way black people have been treated, not only here but around the world, is fodder for making us ashamed of who we are. Pastor Wright was the first pastor/preacher I heard say from the pulpit that in the name of God, we are not a mistake! He made the point that we were not a mistake of creation nor is our continued existence a mistake. He made us see the beauty and value of being African American and challenged us to be all that we can and are supposed to be. And he did all this using the scriptures. He showed us that civilization began in the cradle of He reminded us that the Nile River is in Africa. The message was, over and over, “stop being ashamed! Stop talking about your “bad” hair and your big lips. Stop thinking you are not intelligent because the Western world has led you to believe that.” I loved that message, and so did and do many others. 

Of course, he has a way of saying things that are purely and uniquely his. I have cringed sometimes at the things he’s said (and still do!), or the way he’s said them, but I’ve also admired and respected his consistency and honesty. He never preached against white people; he preached against racism, and to me, there was and is a difference. He never said go out and hate white people, but he did say to hate racism and fight against it; don’t accept it. 

But the vast numbers of people, especially those who are not impressed that a black man with what they say is a Muslim-sounding name is on the fast track to become president. Fox News is eating this up. It’s not just white people who will be disturbed by the selective-taken-out-of-context audio and visual clips they will see and hear ad nauseum for the next few weeks, it is black people as well. That’s another thing Pastor Wright has decried: the black bourgeoisie which has spent a lot of time trying not to be black. He taught us how Trinity was built in a so-called “safe” neighborhood where there was a large black middle class, because black people really didn’t want a whooping and hollering black church and churches in the UCC were supposed to be more sophisticated. Again, it was a message which resonated with so many of us.

What to do? Pray without ceasing, both for Pastor Wright and his family and the Trinity UCC family, and pray for Senator Barack Obama, because everything he says and does over the next few weeks will be more than critical. Pastor Wright has been our pastor, friend and staunch supporter, so now is not the time to get squeamish and back away.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, the scripture says, but of power, love and sound mind.It is with that spirit of power, love, and sound mind that I ask us to deal with the firestorm now. That, and a whole heap of prayer.