Monday, April 28, 2008

Rev Wright Message is Lost in Style of Delivery

On Fox News Sunday, this is what Barack Obama said about his spiritual mentor and pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright:
He is somebody who has obviously been the subject of some pretty sharp attacks. It's understandable that somebody, after an entire career of service, would want to defend themselves."

Reverend Wright made it very clear this morning in his talk to the National Press Club that his belief is that it's not himself that is being targeted by the media, but instead it's the black church that's being targeted. He came out fighting, with the gloves off in defense of the black church, despite media pundits insisting that he was doing it merely to defend his own legacy. [transcript of Reverend Wright's remarks provided by WaPo]

Reverend Wright, to me, appeared to be ready for a fight before one question was asked of him. Curiously, he mocked the term "spiritual mentor". His frustration and anger with the American mainstream media was obvious. In the Q&A session following his speech he sometimes appeared condescending by turning the question back toward the character of the person who'd asked the question rather than showing, as a leader should show in the toughest of grillings, that magnanimous kindness and solemnity of purpose are key to educating others in a way that helps them spiritually understand and connect with the message of respect for differences that I think he'd like to convey. He tended to proverbially bang others about the head with his theological intellect rather than to teach by what I think most people would consider to be a more humble example of the more ideal spiritual teacher. Humility, when all is said and done, must transcend all matters of race and politics if you're going to make 'the connect' with someone's heart and mind.

I felt sorry for Reverend Wright. I came out liking him more and understanding him better after seeing him speak strongly about his faith. He's got a great sense of humor and timing. It's no wonder he's so well-liked in his church. I also think it's brave of him to have stood up at this time and proclaim what's been his heart and soul's constant mission while he walks the Earth. That mission isn't to get Barack Obama elected to be President of the government that Reverend Wright already so obviously disapproves. No, sir, that's not his mission. He made that clear. He showed that his mission involves his allegiance to Jesus Christ over any government and his dedication to what Reverend Wright believes he was called to do for his own local community. As a Christian, I have to ask myself: How can I disagree with that, when all truth be known? If I stood before God today and He required me to choose between defending a vote in Washington D.C. and standing by what I've personally learned to be the Truth and the Word, there would be no question as to how I'd reply.

I have studied religion and I understand where Reverend Wright's heart lies. I've embraced a good part of what has encompassed traditional liberation theology taught to me by mentors within my own Catholic faith..on issues like Immigration...and War. I'm from the city where Rev. Daniel Berrigan and his brother Philip (who'd entered the Josephite order, which was dedicated to pastoral work with African-Americans) took over the pulpit during the 1960s at the city's Cathedral, protesting the U.S. presence in Vietnam. Controversial men. These were men of God. Men who recognized the times when politicians couldn't say what needed to be said our of fear of losing office. These men (and women) took the heavy social responsibilty to be the leaders that no one else had the courage to be. They aren't particularly popular among secularists on the Left of American politics or those who insist upon a form of patriotism that makes no excuses for sheer ignorance on the Right.

I'm not in either of these groups. I'm a Progressive Christian with an eye on progressive issues. I am, however, personally sorry that, as Obama's pastor, that I haven't heard Reverend Wright, who tends to focus on the African-nature of his ministry, reaching out far enough to give white society enough credit when credit has been long due. His failure to be bigger than the division he labels as the culprit has had a perverse way of making him look like the divider.

The emphasis in liberation theology seems to have shifted, over time, from a focus on the poor (and "poor" transcends all color and ethnicity barriers) to a focus on those marginalized by race and ethnicity .. and I think that we have become a more divided society because of that evolution. I supported candidate John Edwards, in good part, because of my personal faith and the extent to which I believe in traditional liberation theology which is focused on ending Poverty - race, gender,and ethnicity notwithstanding. Edwards' color and gender didn't matter. It was his firm stand and leadership on the issue of Economic Justice that I (and people like Martin Luther King III) respected and support to this day.

I heard Reverend Wright tell Bill Moyers in his recent interview, based on a statement by theologian Martin Marty, that white churches were living in a bit of a fantasy, the evidence being a church bulletin announcing a social tea while there was so much suffering all around. I have to say that I was really turned off by that sentiment. If there's anything we need today in the religious world, it's tolerance for all cultures, even if you feel like "the oppressed." We also need a clear sense that our spiritual leaders are reaching out over the hard lines of organized faith and race-focused theology, embracing and projecting an aura of inter-religious harmony. If race and politics mean less to or leaders than God's word, then spiritual leaders should bend over backward to show it. Reverend Wright is only human, and his greatest shortcoming is that he really doesn't forward the inviting spirit of integration and tolerance, focusing instead on race/ethincity-based liberation theology. He tends to project more of a segregated and defensive tone than a courageously humble call to understanding. Because of this, I believe that the best of his message to the larger American society is unfortunately lost.

Government isn't always as evil and antithetical to faith concepts as Reverend Wright has painted in the soundbites we've heard. His emphasis on what's worst about the American people's government surely couldn't have helped young Barack Obama to aspire to appreciate or to work in national government. Reverend Wright shouldn't need reminding that it was former American President John Quincy Adams who argued, and the U.S. courts agreed, that all human beings were naturally free people and entitled to that freedom under American law. My own direct(and very white) ancestor was a deacon in the same (very white) church that supported the Mende people (of the ship known as Amistad) and showed them that freedom meant more than a show-trial, housing and educating them in Farmington, Connecticut and raising $1,300 in pledges at a church service to help defray the travel expense because the U.S. government had refused to provide for their return to Sierra Leone following the Amistad trial. Those Farmington citizens spoke a new language that men and women of all colors could hear and embrace

It has never been a sin or cause of guilt to be born white. It was only a sin to feel you were more important than a fellow human being who wasn't. Reverend Wright plays into white guilt. I'm white and I can feel him doing it. In this day and age, it isn't a spiritually healthy concept. I belong to a multi-racial family myself and I just don't appreciate the message. I can't imagine that more-segregated whites will take kindly to hearing it.

I think the problem, politically, will be that Reverend Wright, while saying that racial differences shouldn't reduce social respect for the integrity of each and every human being, is communicating something altogether different from racial reconciliation by his own demeanor. He will likely never be an appropriate or relevant national leader/representative for racial reconciliation because he comes off sounding divisive while insisting he's not. He tends to talk down to and insult the intelligence of almost anyone who may beg to differ with him. I couldn't imagine Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaking quite that way while attempting to achieve social and political reconcilation within his own nation during its own time of turmoil. I suspect Barack Obama knew how the public would react to Reverend Wright's gruff and anti-political demeanor when he consciously decided to keep him out of the spotlight at the time that Obama announced his candidacy.


I can understand why Barack Obama genuinely likes and stands by Reverend Wright, if not Reverend Wright's blunt and politically dangerous statements. Obama's between a rock and a very hard place here. As a response to a statement regarding Obama's whole campaign having been designed to "prove Reverend Wright's jaded older generation wrong," I said on Jim Buie's blog the other day,
"It is the job of each generation to move away from the last in a hopeful and positive progression...with many hard lessons having been learned from those who came before us. It's my opinion, as far as the November election is concerned, that many non-black American voters will simply not understand and certainly won't embrace black liberation theology after hearing, through their own personal filters of life experience, the decidedly race-conscious fire that Rev. Wright has preached to his congregation. I believe that voters who aren't educated in theology and who hear the Wright soundbites will continue to be taken aback by what will sound to them like anti-American statements. (And we just know that voters are going to hear Rev. Wright's comments again and again in 527 ads and from mainstream media if Senator Obama becomes the Democratic nominee.) I don't think it's at all reasonable to think, especially after his speech on race, that Obama feels as Reverend Wright feels about the government. Yet, someone on the other side of politics will continue to try to connect him with that sentiment. This is something I will admit that I hate about politics....yet I don't anticipate that politics will change anytime soon."


Reverend Wright showed at the Press Club today that he's just doing his job .. while he knows that Senator Obama's interviewing with the Americsn public for another very important job. Reverend Wright unapologetically told us that doing God's work in this world, for African Americans and for the people of his community (he calls it the black church), is more important than Barack Obama or politics. How it will play out in the world of politics is anyone's guess.


'Kairos' refers to the "timeless realm" of God, a space in time where measurable time does not apply. We pause upon the brink of the unknown; we are each a part of the same phantom corps moving about the earth. The book of history remains empty and blank out ahead of us.

We're living in a moment of time which I believe will prove itself to be a great turning point in the history of not only America, but all of mankind. In order to have this moment in history be a reflection of purpose and principle in our lives, we simply must learn to speak a different language than those who are seeking to control the political agenda today in America. Reverend Wright knows it, though he may not be the best messenger.

We must learn not only to avoid speaking in the tongue of right wing or left wing talking points, but to create a new language for all men and women - regardless of their race and religious beliefs - to recognize and understand.

It must be a language which would be the basis of new and inspired conversations.

The book of history awaits. We each need to give substance to our reality, but we can only do it in concert with one another. I believe the good of mankind depends upon it.

So, here is our kairos time. We're pebbles in a great sea. Our language, uttered at the right time and with the right intonation, could make all the difference.

I wish Jeremiah Wright had the skills to better communicate what I believe to be his righteous message to a waiting society. Unfortunately, his public reliance on what many will politically detect as left-wing political statements will likely pigeonhole Obama as left-wing because of his spiritual association with Reverend Wright, despite his campaign's protests.


Starting Gate: The Wright Stuff by Vaughn Ververs [CBS]

Rev. Wright Strikes Back by Jack White and Melissa Harris-Lacewell [WaPo]

The Sin of the Reverend by Jack White []

The Wright Question by Jimi Izrael[]

Barack Obama's pastor Jeremiah Wright resurfaces to reignite race row by Alex Spillius [Telegraph/UK]

Wright Says Criticism Is Attack on Black Church by John Holusha [NYTimes]

Wright Defends Church, Blasts Media by Kate Phillips [The Caucus blog/NYTimes]

Rev Wright Fires Back, Hits Cheney by Cristi Prsons, Frank James [The Swamp, ChiTrib]

Rev. Wright lashes out at media, U.S. government by Aaron Blake [The Hill]

Rush on Wright vs Obama by Andrew Sullivan [Atlantic/Andrew Sullivan]