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.



When I saw this a couple of weeks ago on CNN I jumped out of my seat. Charles Barkley puts it down. I know he published a book titled Who’s Afraid of a Large Black Man?, but by calling the religious right “fake Christians,”openly advocating women’s right to choose, and taking an affirmative stance on gay marriage, Sir Charles may be on his way to being born again as a New Black Man.


I’ve been following Melissa Harris-Lacewell’s work ever since I heard her debate Gloria Steinem on Democracy Now a couple of months ago on race, gender, and Presidential politics. I’ve since purchased and started reading her book Barbershops, Bibles, & BET: Everyday Talk and Black Political Thought and encourage anyone else to do the same.

An Obama supporter/campaigner, the following is an article by Harris-Lacewell about how Obama should manage the mounting attacks that the Clinton campaign has levied against him.


Melissa Harris-Lacewell

Redemption Along the High Road by Melissa Harris-Lacewell
March 5, 2008

The high road is a hard road.

Barack Obama is often compared to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. because of his soaring rhetoric and charismatic grace. But on Tuesday I night I realized that Obama is more like King in another way: He is leading a 21st Century non-violent, political campaign.

Over the past week the kitchen sink came flying at Obama, the political equivalent of Selma tear gas and vicious Birmingham dogs. The Clinton campaign tried painting Obama with the “scary Muslim” label by releasing a photo of him in Somali dress. Hillary whined that she was being treated unfairly during the debates, even as she piled on in a ruthless and unwarranted exchange that floated the suggestion that Barack was an anti-Semite.

She ignored her decades of political entanglements with dozens of indicted and convicted felons while charging Obama with having secret negotiations with Canada to assuage fears about his stance on NAFTA. She declared that because she was a woman, her presidency would represent change, even though her current fighting tactics and those she would resort to in a battle against McCain are recycled tricks from her eight years of living in the White House.


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.


Christianity is a bedrock of cultural blackness. There are, of course, Black Muslims, but not as many as Christians. Barack Obama was counseled by black ministers that if he was to have credibility in the community where he was organizing, he would have to join a church. Their counsel would seem to suggest that Christianity plays a central role in black culture. Were they “stereotyping” black culture? Christianity played a central role in the Civil Rights movement: that is, the black people with most influence over the community were Christian ministers.

In the program to the original Broadway production of the musical Hairspray, six of the eleven black cast members thanked God (not Allah) for their success. One the 24 white cast members, only one did that. This was another indication that Christian faith plays a central role in black culture – unless for some reason white actors have a commitment to suppressing evidence of their faith in their program bios, which obviously they do not.

Or: in the film of Waiting to Exhale, there is a quick exterior sequence of the protagonists leaving church on Sunday, despite that the movie is not about religion. Think about how much less likely that shot would be in the latest film with people like Drew Barrymore, Julia Roberts, or Katie Holmes. If they were seen leaving church – especially four characters together – then the movie would likely be about the church in some way. In Waiting to Exhale, that sequence was a nice touch of authenticity – in that Christianity is part of the warp and woof of the culture.


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.