A Man Was Lynched Yesterday

Lynchings of black people in the US were common occurrences following Emancipation and throughout the first half of the 20th century. The NAACP would hang a banner from its offices in New York City the day after these horrible events to alert people of the city to what had happened.

Today, we hang this banner for Jesus of Nazareth, who was lynched on yesterday.



From the beginning, when major news outlets reported on Barack Obama’s “controversial” membership in Trinity United Church of Christ and his relationship with its (now) retired senior pastor Dr. Jeremiah Wright they never were interested in contextualizing the story. Wright appeared on Fox News’ Hannity & Colmes over a year ago to help “contextualize” TUCC’s mission and message, but Sean Hannity wanted no part of it.

The most recent flap about Obama’s relationship with Wright has been reported with similar incompetence by white media in both “liberal” and “conservative” outlets.

To help add necessary context to Dr. Wright’s sermons, why not seek the expertise of those who could help explain why Wright would have the audacity to exhort that God Damn America? Why not seek to understand how someone could say Jesus was a poor black man who lived in a country run by rich white people? Most are so aghast that Wright made such claims from the pulpit, that wrestling with what he said hasn’t been the order of the day. I’ve heard a lot of “he shouldn’t have made those statements,” but not much of “his statements are erroneous because…” Maybe its because (for the most part) Wright is right, but it’s a truth that most citizens of the U.S. don’t want to hear.

Below, two scholars help to put Dr. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons in context by taking African-American experience seriously and recalling the prophetic protest tradition within the Black Church. They offer necessary context for those who don’t seem to get it. But it really makes me wonder. If we don’t “get it” now, will we ever?



Barack Obama & Jeremiah Wrigh

What’s Right with Jeremiah Wright?
The Daily Voice
Randall C. Bailey, Andrew Mellon Professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at the Interdenominational Theological Center

The current turmoil regarding Dr. Wright’s sermons reminds me of the reactions to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s 1967 sermon against the Vietnam War delivered at Riverside Church in New York. In that sermon he charged the U.S. with crimes against the Vietnamese people and challenged the military industrial complex and the economic destruction of this nation due to that war. King saw the interrelationship between racist actions in the U.S. and in Vietnam and connected the dots. He did this in the finest tradition of Black preaching. King was castigated for speaking about issues other than civil rights and for criticizing the nation and government. We should not be surprised that more than 40 years later people still decry the marked difference in the ways in which many Black clergy approach the tasks of theologically calling the nation to judgment.


Our Jeremiah
Melissa Harris-Lacewell, Associate Professor of Politics and African American Studies at Princeton University

A black orator stood before a rapt audience, his voice rising to a crescendo as he made this fiery statement: “Statesmen of America beware what you do! The soil is in readiness, and the seed-time has come. Nations, not less than individuals, reap as they sow.

The dreadful calamities of the past few years came not by accident, nor unbidden, from the ground. You shudder today at the harvest of blood sown in the springtime of the Republic by your patriot fathers.”

Sound familiar?

These are not the words of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the embattled minister of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ. These words were uttered by Frederick Douglass in his appeal to the U.S. Congress for African-American voting rights.


Four major democratic primaries are tonight, but I’m still reeling from this interview.

Why? Why did Civil Rights stalwart Rep. John Lewis feel the need to trivilize Bloody Sunday by comparing the historic march from Selma to his decision to withdraw his endorsement for the Hillary Clinton campaign?

I can accept that it was a very difficult decision to make, but to emphatically assert that marching in Selma was easier than switching his support to Barack Obama’s campaign suggests that he is so beholden to the interests of white political power brokers, that he is willing to trivialize his own persecution as recompense for thinking and acting independently.

I don’t want to believe that he has become so emotionally (and some would argue politically and economically) invested in the Clintons, that he is numb to the civil rights activism that gives him such political capital in contemporary US politics.

I don’t want to believe that Lewis is so disconnected from his own story that he would embarrass himself on national television by allowing an astonished young white journalist to remind him that he was physically beaten and bloodied in the cause for racial and human justice.

I don’t want to believe that his “love” for the Clintons is deeper than his “love” for black people and the black freedom struggle.

But the truth of the matter is that this interview suggests all of this and more.

In these comments, Lewis re-historicizes himself as an accidental activist who blindly “did what he was told” rather than one who resisted injustice with courage and intention. One whose motives may not have been as noble as I first thought.

A couple of Sundays ago, I preached a sermon from Exodus 17:1-7. In this passage, Moses has lead the Israelites out of Egypt, but now the people are in the wilderness dying of thirst. Moses, apparently unaware of their suffering goes to God and asks, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me?” Obviously, Moses had plenty to eat and drink. He isn’t complaining. But only gets worried when his neck is on the line.

John Lewis, apparently, was “unaware” of the degree to which his constituency was dissatisfied with their condition and his leadership. Like the Israelites, they “cried out” and he’s left dumbfounded, going to the Lawd/Clintons asking “What shall I do with these people?” Unlike Moses, though, since the Lawd ain’t in a position to save him, Lewis has to save himself. He chooses sides, but needs to let the Lawd know, that he didn’t want to do it and had to in order to save his life. They were going to kill me! (Sounds like Aaron, huh?)

In verse seven, the place where this event occurs is named Massah and Meribah because the people asked “Is the Lord with us or not?” Every commentary I read stated emphatically that the people should not have cried out and “tested” Moses/God. They needed to be patient. I argued in the sermon that we need to cry out and test God and the leaders who claim they are the ambassadors of God’s truth. The condition of the people was not Moses’ ultimate concern. They had to let him and God know their discontent in order for anything to be done about it. I said that we have a responsibility to “cry out” and that God can handle our cries.

Just like it’s possible that we’ve refashioned Moses as a liberator in the tradition, the text suggests that his motives may not be as pure as we’d like to think. The same can be said for many so-called civil rights leaders.

If I’m right, then John Lewis ain’t no different from Catcher Freeman.


It’s the forty year anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination and I just gave up on watching the MLK convocation on television. As soon as I saw U.S. presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee and Bishop Eddie Long sitting together on the front row, I had my fill.

The pomp and circumstance wreaked of the kind of hero worship that Ella Baker warned King himself about . A kind of “cult of personality” that attempts to compensate for the lack of a sufficiently organized mass-based campaign. Now that the cult can assemble around an assassinated MLK (resurrected by the nice, neo-conservative, non-threatening King we get every year in textbooks and television), opportunistic vultures can align themselves with his “personality” to gain momentum for efforts that defy the principles that got the man killed.


I can imagine King in heaven right now wondering if all his work was in vain.

I put this vid together some time ago for a friend. The footage is spliced from the documentary Citizen King and the audio is from King’s sermon “Why Jesus Called A Man A Fool.” I chose many of the scenes because it frustrates me how local and national news outlets fail to show the violent response to civil rights marchers’ non-violent protests. They contribute to perpetuate the “Santa Clausification” of King and all freedom fighters from that era by presenting the struggle as if non-violent protests were passive and non-threatening.

‘Why Jesus Called a Man a Fool” was given two years after the Civil Rights Act was passed, in August 1967. In this sermon King seems more discouraged about black progress than ever before, reminding those gathered that:

“any religion that professes to be concerned about the souls of (people) and is not concerned about the slums that cripple the souls—the economic conditions that stagnate the soul and the city governments that may damn the soul—is a dry, dead, do-nothing religion in need of new blood.”

The following clip is an excerpt from the climax of this sermon.

On this MLK holiday and despite the evidence that King’s legacy has been co-opted, manipulated, and exploited, may God give us the courage to plan, organize, and fight in the hope that we shall overcome some day.


This spiritual has gone through many incarnations from the cotton fields of the South to Mt. Moriah Missionary Baptist to MTV.

This version is my favorite right now:

Lizz Wright live in Basel, Switzerland November 2005 with Marvin Sewell-guitar, Ede Wright-guitar, Massimo Biolcati-bass, Rock Deadrick-drums.


“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.

To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanks-givings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.

There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

– Frederick Douglass, July 5, 1852

For the entire speech, click here.

Fire & Water
I recently purchased J.Period’s phenomenal mixtape, The Best of Lauryn Hill: Fire and Water. Those of us still searching for L. Boogie as the enigmatic Ms. Hill performs across the country, occasionally with the reunited Fugees, can find solace in this collection of her group, solo, and guest appearances from the early 90’s to now. Hill hosts the two-disc collection, giving us insight into her inspiration and development as a person and an artist.

In one remembrance, entitled the Message Music Interlude, Hill shares her reasons for rapping. She explains, “‘I think I chose to become a rapper because I had a lot of things I wanted to say and I wanted to make sure that it reached the people.” Hill continues, “At that point, R&B music wasn’t being used to make any statements. It was hip-hop. Hip-hop had Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, you had Eric B. and Rakim. And this was message music. I think that I kind of was inspired by a lot of these groups to start rhyming and have a somewhat conscious statement, a conscious message.”

Lauryn Hill intentionally chose the medium of hip-hop music over R&B to express to “the people” messages of justice, hope, and freedom, despite and through oppressive circumstances. As a Black Christian who considers himself a liberationist, her reflection led me to ask the question: Why not express protest through gospel music? After all, traditionally, black “sacred” music has inspired black protest movements in North America from enslavement to the present. Or has it?

Several weeks ago, I attended the annual meeting of the National Black Presbyterian Caucus (NBPC) in Charlotte, North Carolina themed “Stride Toward Freedom: Justice and the Gospel.” My wife Neema and I led a workshop and spoke on a panel for the event, which featured preaching and lectures by AME Bishop Vashti McKenzie, Presbyterian pastor Dr. Karen Brown, and Dr. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity UCC in Chicago.

Wright shared two lectures with us, the second offering a seething critique of the Black Church’s lack of progressive politics past and present. On the one hand, he lamented that many Black churches have yet to purge themselves of white supremacist ideology such that in our worship experiences, we would rather sing European hymns, anthems, and Westernized Negro spirituals than claim our black heritage through the singing of gospel music.

Later in Wright’s lecture, however, in an ironic twist, he expressed frustration with the theology of contemporary gospel music. He asked, “Who determines the theology for the Black Church today?” Responses ranged from Rush Limbaugh to T.D. Jakes to Tavis Smiley. Yet Wright’s response caught many of us by surprise.

“Musicians,” he replied, generating a pause in the room.

He then explained that a good number of mega-church pastors and black televangelists began their careers as musicians who then shifted to pastoral ministry. Donnie McClurkin, Marvin Winans, and Jakes himself, he argued, all began their careers as musicians without proper theological education who through song and sermon lead millions of black worshipers astray with an over-emphasis on false notions of biblical prosperity, a theological individualism borrowed from the religious right, and a failure to acknowledge the socio-political implications of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Wright was particularly annoyed with Donald Lawrence’s Prayer of Jabez inspired ” Bless Me (Enlarge My Territory).”

Yet, interestingly enough, the very “traditionalists” that Wright derided earlier in his lecture make a similar critique of the lack of theological substance in gospel music. Who would disagree that a traditional hymn offers more depth than the average top 10 hit on gospel radio? If Wright’s critiques are valid, then the road to sonic liberation seems to be clouded by the white supremacy of traditional hymns and the conservative theology of contemporary gospel.

What is the progressive Black Christian to do?

While reclaiming the spirituals is one strategy, and Africanizing the hymns and anthems of the church is another, where are the contemporary expressions of black “sacred” music that uplift an understanding of salvation inclusive of theologies of liberation? Where are the songs that critique a church and society that idolizes whiteness, maleness, wealth, and heterosexuality? Where is the music that brings a gospel of hope to the downtrodden, despite our institutionalized oppression? It is disappointing that A Black Theology of Liberation seems not to have influenced the medium of music that informs the theology of most black Christians. Or has it?

The Best of Lauryn Hill reminded me that the Spirit of God that inspired enslaved Africans in America to sing “Go Down Moses (Let My People Go),” “I’m On the Battlefield (For My Lord),” and “We Shall Overcome,” still lives, and is moving in the brush harbor of hip-hop.

Hill’s catalogue reveals that her music is a wellspring of black liberation theology, as this “Abyssinian Street Baptist” is “out to change the focus from the richest to the brokest.”

Where else but in hip-hop can we find a Womanist collaborator like Common express openness to a feminine vision of the second coming? (“Waiting for the Lord to rise, I looked into my daughter’s eyes, and realized I’m a learn from her/ The Messiah might even return through her, ” title track from Be). Where else but hip-hop can we find a postmodern prophet like Jill Scott taking and holding on to her freedom, representing God’s glory along the way (“Golden,” Beautifully Human)? There are even Christian hip-hop artists who aren’t afraid to see the political as spiritual, as hip-hop Jeremiahs Grits wonder if a balm exists in the Gilead of a racist post-civil rights United States, “Black man, wake up/Black man, feel me/ Dr. King said we would overcome/ Will we?” (“If I,” Dichotomy B).

To be fair, not all of hip-hop is concerned with liberation, but neither is all of gospel music. Yet, hip-hop music seems to have created a space for the social gospel in a way that contemporary gospel music has not. Hip-Hop psalmists understand as James Cone did 35 years ago that “Any message that is not related to the liberation of the poor in a society is not Christ’s message. Any theology that is indifferent to the theme of liberation is not Christian theology.” I’m sure that hip-hoppers worldwide would say”Amen” to that.