The pelican papers

A big bird’s eye view

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, prophet

Posted by Ron George on May 31, 2008

Barak Obama the Rev. Jeremiah Wright: Obama disavowed some of his pastor's  public statements

Barak Obama the Rev. Jeremiah Wright: Obama disavowed some of his pastor’s public statements

I’m in the habit of checking in with my mothers most days of the week from work. Back on April 28, 93-year-old Katz, my mother in law, had a lot to say about a speech she’d heard on TV that day — the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club, the public appearance that finally drove Barak Obama to denounce his pastor. “He’s a brilliant man,” Katz told me. “He knows so much and he’s an excellent speaker.” She went on to say that he didn’t seem like the reckless loudmouth he was being made out to be with soundbites on the Internet.

After watching a replay online, I couldn’t see it either. I listened to a podcast of that speech just this morning, and once again, I was moved by Jeremiah Wright.

I heard a prophet, a truth-teller who, by definition, was afflicting the comfortable while comforting the afflicted. The depth of his knowledge, the passion of his speech and the wisdom of his perspective put his audience to shame. The national press corps, so called, amply demonstrated its ignorance of Wright and his world by turning in some of the dumbest questions I’ve ever heard asked by journalists. (“Do you think people of other races would feel welcome at your church?” “Do you think it is God’s will that Senator Obama be president?”)

I heard a pastor who’s not all talk about Christian values. Wright’s litany of his congregation’s commitment to justice and peace — ministry by ministry to the indigent and poor and addicted; to youth, to the elderly poor — is one of the high points of his presentation, and which was notably absent from most news accounts of this remarkable discourse.

It’s not just that Wright answered boldly for all the controversial matters disseminated on the Internet. He demonstrated by his manner and strength of character his resolve not to cower at what he considers at attack not upon him but upon the black church in America, which, he pointed out, has existed on these shores longer than the Constitution.

The bulk of Wright’s speech was theology, theology from the ground up, well-established “liberation theology” that hears Jesus’ prophetic ministry with the ears of the poor and dispossessed. The theological rhythm of Wright’s speech was liberation and transformation, not just for those who are oppressed by the world’s power structures but for the power structures themselves. The message is that we don’t have to live this way, folks. We don’t have to settle our differences with warfare. We don’t have to lay up for ourselves treasures on earth in order to live. We can deal with our enemies as well as our friends by the power of love, which doesn’t mean rolling over and playing dead. It means speaking the truth to power, as Wright has done for decades at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Ill., and which he certainly did April 28 at the National Press Club.

Chrisitians — including Barak Obama — should be proud of this man, his congregation and the ministry from which he recently retired. If just 10 percent of the congregations in this world would rise to the challenges of authentic Christian ministry as Trinity has done over the past 30 years, the world would be a much different and far better place.

The news media, though, had another take on Wright’s speech. Instant analysts, for neither the first nor last time, seized upon a few of Wright’s words with which to confront Obama. First, horror of horrors, Wright said Lewis Farakkan was not his enemy; second, he wouldn’t disavow saying that America’s chickens had come home to roost on 9/11; and third, he wouldn’t distance himself from the idea that the U.S. government had infected the nation’s black community with HIV/AIDS.

I’m not going to get into that — ahem — contest, the kind of contest little boys do against walls, but this is not a hateful man. This is not a spiteful man. He is a compassionate, loving pastor and preacher who will not tolerate ignorance that leads to misunderstanding and violence against his faith tradition. I would hope that any and all of us would have such courage to stand up for what we believe and be as articulate as to why.

I have to say that I support Barak Obama and that I hope he’s elected president in November. That he has been a member of Trinity UCC for 20 years makes him even more appealing to me, and I pray that he will not disavow whatever spiritual formation took place in his life while a member of that congregation, even though he’s apparently given way to the expedient of disavowing Jeremiah Wright.

I pray these men will be reconciled, and that Jeremiah Wright will one day lead the nation in prayer from the White House.


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