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?
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.
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.”
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.