Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Responding to Wright

I took the time to read the full transcript of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's speech yesterday to the National Press Club, and quite a bit of it was cause for concern, starting with this:

Maybe now, as an honest dialogue about race in this country begins...

Was all the dialogue about race that we've had before now dishonest?

Maybe this dialogue on race -- an honest dialogue that does not engage in denial or superficial platitudes -- maybe this dialogue on race can move the people of faith in this country from various stages of alienation and marginalization to the exciting possibility of reconciliation.

How are we supposed to reconcile white people with Rev. Wright, after Wright's denunciations from the pulpit of white people themselves? Much of the "denial and superficial platitudes" have been coming out of Wright's mouth.

Liberation theology started in and started from a different place. It started from the vantage point of the oppressed.

OK. That makes sense.

I take and trace the theology of the black church back to the prophets in the Hebrew bible and to its last prophet, in my tradition, the one we call Jesus of Nazareth.

Wright sees Jesus as nothing more than the last prophet? What's the deal?

This statement prompted me to look for the statement of faith of the United Church of Christ denomination (not to be confused with the Churches of Christ). Then I compared it to the Nicene Creed, and the UCC was less definite about the divinity of Jesus. This is a concern for me.

Back to Jeremiah Wright:

The prophetic tradition of the black church has its roots in Isaiah, the 61st chapter, where God says the prophet is to preach the gospel to the poor and to set at liberty those who are held captive....

It was preached to set African-Americans free from the notion of second-class citizenship, which was the law of the land. And it was practiced to set free misguided and miseducated Americans from the notion that they were actually superior to other Americans based on the color of their skin.

He's got a point about the release of captives bringing freedom to both sides of the equation.

Isaiah 61:5 says, "Aliens will shepherd your flocks; foreigners will work your fields and vineyards." I'm not sure what we're supposed to do about that verse.

When you read the entire passage from either Isaiah 61 or Luke 4, and do not try to understand the passage or the content of the passage in the context of a sound bite, what you see is God's desire for a radical change in a social order that has gone sour....

God's desire is for positive change, transformation; real change, not cosmetic change, transformation; radical change or a change that makes a permanent difference, transformation. God's desire is for transformation, changed lives, changed minds, changed laws, changed social orders and changed hearts in a changed world. This principle of transformation is at the heart of the prophetic theology of the black church.

I don't agree that Jesus, in Luke 4:18 - 19, proclaimed a desire for "radical change in a social order that has gone sour." Taken in the context of His ministry, His proclamation was for individuals' freedom from slavery to sin. Jesus preached--and delivered through His death and resurrection--changed lives, changed minds and changed hearts. He did not preach changed laws or changed social orders.

The social orders that were changed in the name of Christ were those that were made by individuals whose lives were transformed by the overwhelming love and the salvation of our Lord Jesus. Case in point: William Wilberforce, whose fight to abolish the slave trade in Great Britain was depicted in the movie Amazing Grace.

These two foci of liberation and transformation have been at the very core of the United Church of Christ since its predecessor denomination, the Congregational Church of New England came to the moral defense and paid for the legal defense of the Mende people aboard the slave ship Amistad.

Interesting. I have that movie, but I didn't remember what church supported the Africans.

God does not desire for us, as children of God, to be at war with each other, to see each other as superior or inferior, to hate each other, abuse each other, misuse each other, define each other or put each other down.

True. So how does he defend his anti-white statements in his sermons? He doesn't even preach what he preaches, let alone practice it.

Wright explains that the way people see God determines the way they see people. His example that follows is not his view but that of a hypothetical presumably white person.

If I see God as male; if I see God as white male; if I see God as superior, as God over us and not Immanuel, which means God with us; if I see God as mean, vengeful, authoritarian, sexist or misogynist, then I see humans through that lens.

My theological lens shapes my anthropological lens. And as a result, white males are superior; all others are inferior. And I order my society where I can worship God on Sunday morning, wearing a black clergy robe, and kill others on Sunday evening, wearing a white Klan robe.

Whoa. Is this a historical example, or does Wright believe this is the perspective of the white church today? He doesn't say.

To say, I am a Christian, is not enough. Why? Because the Christianity of the slaveholder is not the Christianity of the slave....

And what we both mean when we say, I am a Christian, is not the same thing. The prophetic theology of the black church has always seen and still sees all of God's children as sisters and brothers, equals who need reconciliation, who need to be reconciled as equals, in order for us to walk together into the future which God has prepared for us.

I don't quite get this. At least, I don't get that he's making a contrast between the black church, which believe this about reconciliation among equals, and the non-black church, which believes... what? Does he believe that I, as a white person, don't want reconciliation, that I don't see equality among all of God's children?

For a man who wants us all to get along, he sure is doing a good job of offending whites.

Then it was time for the Q & A, and some of those were doozies. Wright doubled-down on some of the things that were quoted "out of context" from his sermons, the things he complained were just snippets, looped over and over.

Jesus said, "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles....

He really does believe that America engages in terrorism. That apparently wasn't taken out of context.

[Farrakhan] is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century; that's what I think about him. I said, as I said on Bill Moyers, when Louis Farrakhan speaks it's like E.F. Hutton speaks. All black America listens. Whether they agree with him or not, they listen....

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and he didn't make me this color.

Nobody put Wright in chains. Nobody put Wright in slavery. But is God Wright's enemy for making him "this color"? I don't get that statement either.

God doesn't bless everything. God condemns something. And D-E-M-N, demn, is where we get the word damn. God damns some practices.

And there is no excuse for the things that the government, not the American people, have done. That doesn't make me not like America, or unpatriotic.

Of course not.

What I said about and what I think about and what -- again until I can't -- until racism and slavery are confessed and asked for -- we asked the Japanese to forgive us. We have never as a country -- in fact, Clinton almost got in trouble because he almost apologized at Goree Island.

We have never apologized as a country. Britain has apologized to Africans. But this country's leaders have refused to apologize. So until that apology comes, I'm not going to keep stepping on your foot and asking you, does this hurt do you forgive me for stepping on your foot, if I'm still stepping on your foot. Understand that? Capisce?

Britain had a lot to apologize for in Africa. They owned much of Africa for a long time--as did Belgium, the Netherlands, and France.

Did the Civil War, the abolishment of slavery in America, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, and the Civil Rights Acts (1957 & 1964) count for nothing in terms of apologizing for slavery and setting things right?

MS. LEINWAND: In your sermon, you said the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. So I ask you: Do you honestly believe your statement and those words?

REV. WRIGHT: Have you read Horowitz's book "Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola"? Whoever wrote that question, have you read "Medical Apartheid"? You've read it?

I read different things. As I said to my members, if you haven't read things, then you can't -- and based on the Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.

I'll let that one stand on its own.

My position on Israel is that Israel has a right to exist; that Israelis have a right to exist, as I said, reconciled one to another. Have you read The Link? Do you read The Link -- Americans for Middle Eastern Understanding, where Palestinians and Israelis need to sit down and talk to each other and work out a solution where their children can grow in a world together and not be talking about killing each other; that that is not God's will.

So my position is that Israel and the people of Israel be the people of God who are worrying about reconciliation and who are trying to do what God wants for God's people, which is reconciliation.

He puts the full burden of reconciliation on the shoulders of Israel and none on the Palestinians.

In biblical history, there's not one word written in the Bible, between Genesis and Revelation, that was not written under one of six different kinds of oppression: Egyptian oppression, Assyrian oppression, Persian oppression, Greek oppression, Roman oppression, Babylonian oppression.

The Roman oppression is the period in which Jesus was born. And comparing imperialism that was going on in Luke, imperialism was going on when Caesar Augustus sent out a degree that the whole world should be taxed -- they were in charge of the world; sounds like some other governments I know -- that yes, I can compare that. We have troops stationed all over the world, just like Rome had troops stationed all over the world, because we run the world. That notion of imperialism is not the message of the Gospel of the Prince of Peace nor God, who loves the world.

The first paragraph here is one big fat lie of biblical proportions. Unless Wright is saying that the writing of it happened under one of those "oppressions." But even that isn't true, because both King David and King Solomon ruled over Israel and wrote Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon during times when the people of God were not oppressed. Unless the mere existence of an empire somewhere else qualifies in Wright's eyes as "oppression." For a preacher, Wright doesn't know his Bible that well.

Well, there are many white churches and white persons who are members of churches and clergy and denominations who have already taken great steps in terms of reconciliation. In the Underground Railroad, it was the white church that played the largest role in getting Africans out of slavery, in setting up almost all 40 of the HBCUs. It was the white church that sent missionaries into the South.

I'm glad he made a point of this.

MS. LEINWAND: Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but through me." Do you believe this?And do you think Islam is a way to salvation?

REV. WRIGHT: Jesus also said, "Other sheep have I who are not of this fold."


That's it for Reverend Wright's time at the National Press Club.

Barack Obama, however, reacted to Wright's latest public appearance by throwing his pastor and mentor of the last 20 years under the bus.


1 comment:

janice said...

Great analysis Skye!