How Did You Feel When You Come Out The Wilderness: Jeremiah Wright Speaks

wright-caricatureHere’s a quick post.  Much shorter than yesterdays diatribe.

Again, it seems as though Jeremiah Wright feels comfortable to speak in public again.  Although still somewhat of a lightening rod, as evidenced by the fact that it’s news that he made an appearance, whereas for the previous decades of his ministry no one even knew he existed.  He spoke at a forum hosted by a Black student organization of Northwestern University, who received mixed responses when they decided to rescind their honorary degree–the first an only in the entire school’s history–amid the “weapons of mass destruction” that the media had fired solely at him and Trinity United Church of Christ.

Below is an excerpt from an article about his appearance.  Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Rev. Jeremiah Wright had offered the audience nothing more than a slight slouch and the occasional grin, but his very presence was enough to garner him two long, roaring standing ovations by the time he walked up to the Cahn Auditorium podium on Friday to deliver his keynote address.

“FMO unashamedly and unapologetically stands in support of Rev. Wright,” For Members Only Coordinator Zachary Parker had told a loudly cheering crowd. Parker was referring to Northwestern’s decision to rescind their offer of an honorary degree to Wright after his sermons made national headlines because of his ties to presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama.

But once Wright took to the stage and the crowd members found their seats, President-elect Obama’s former pastor delivered the keynote address for the “State of the Black Union” in a markedly softer and more humorous tone than the students who had spoken before him at the event, sponsored by FMO, the black student group.

Donning a brown and black African-pattern vest and carrying a black binder to the podium, Wright offered up “just some points of clarification” about the forces that had thrust him into the national spotlight. His “God damn America” sermon? A white professor at Harvard said a similar thing in 1901. The first ever election of a black President? “Incredibly powerful” and “awesomely inspiring.” Unfair treatment from the media? “Ray Charles can see that.”

Wright moved quickly into a history lecture of sorts, which he gave in a deliberate manner that was a far cry from the raspy intonations of his most infamous sermons. He offered his four decades of work in academia and 36 years as a pastor “in the hood” as qualifications for him to speak about “redeeming and reclaiming our community.” [emphasis added]

I always get offended when I read articles like this because the bias begins to come out in the article.  If you note the italicized portion of the above quote, I think such an observation still carries the weight of the unknown about the black preaching moment.  Whereas what Frank Thomas in his book They’d Like To Never Quit Praising God notes that traditional Westernized preaching attempts to move the listener on the basis of cognitive persuasion, Black preaching styles often appeal to the emotive senses.  It is evident because whites in this country were clearly emotional about how the felt toward Jeremiah Wright, Otis Moss III and the members of Trinity, albeit probably not the types of emotions that Wright would have wanted.

On AverageBro, he posted a clip from a Bill Maher show of all the D-bags that we officially can say goodbye to now that the election is over, and he included a quick clip of Jeremiah Wright.  I always have been and always be a Wright apologist–you should know why by now–and one commenter replied to my question “I’m with Chris Matthews: I’m still trying to figure out how what Jeremiah Wright said was erroneous or untruthful?” and their response was that he was old school.

Actually, after listening to Rev’s sermons for years, I actually believe he was very much constructive in appealing to both the cognitive and emotive senses of the congregants.  Wright has a very conversational approach to preaching.  His rhetorical style does not at all fall in the stereotypical category of black preaching.  The crescendoes that were played endlessly this past spring were not even remotely indicative of the 36 years in Trinity’s pulpit and his 41 years of combined ministry.  Although the world saw an angry man, what the world really saw was a man who so moved by the ills of this world that much like Jeremiah, his namesake no doubt in the Bible, it was like “fire shut up in his bones” that he couldn’t keep it to himself no longer.

What most people have failed to realise about Wright was that in the midst of such impassioned sermons (not speeches or talks) was that he provided the proper tools for which both blacks and whites could live in harmony together.  I would make the same case for Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and Fr. Michael Pfleger. If anyone listens to these three men in their entirety, one will hear the building blocks that they provide for racial harmony. 

Perhaps, the guily conscience of many whites was pricked so severely that they couldn’t contain themselves and they retailiated unlike before.  I would suspect that it is hard for a country to realize that despite the belligerent justifications behind it, that we in fact bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and much like Sarah Palin quipped in her Charlie Gibson interview, “never batted and eye” and in two fell swoops killed instantly over 200,000 innocent people.  We have occuipied a country in the Middle East without their permission, under false pretenses and we’re fighting for the right to stay there and continue to allow for “collateral damage.”  Then, we as a country somehow become righteously indignant when the same terror that this country was built on comes into our own backyard in the form of the World Trade Center being bombed with commercial jets on September 11, 2001.

Perhaps, black people don’t even want to face that reality in such stark terms.  I make that statement because there is a large cadre of black thought that was at best ambivalent on how to view Wright back in the spring.  They no more lumped him into the category of Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and treated him as “old school” and almost irrelevant to the promotion of blacks in the 21st century.  Obama’s candidacy and now election seems to have fueled such thoughts of a “post-racial” society.  It’s almost a cognitive dissonance because while in one breath blacks and some whites will openly and freely admit that racism still exists, in the same breath they’ll say that Sharpton, Jackson, and now Wright are old news.

The problem that I have with such cognitive dissonance is that since Obama’s race speech, prior to him taking a bus and running over Wright with it, then backing over him again when he rescinded his membership, Obama has not mentioned anything concerning race.  It was an aracial campaign.  Obama made his “black” appearances at NAACP regional meetings, the AME General Conference in St. Louis and his Father’s Day appearance in Chicago, but they were by in large portrayed in the media as merely stops on his “personal responsibility” tour.

Is this really what blacks who agreed with Jeremiah Wright really want to see as the future of this country?

I’m of the belief that our inability to deal with the harsh realities of this country’s history will doom us to repeat those horrors, perhaps in a different horror, but horrors nonetheless.  I know this may be a stretch for some people–but work with me here.  For instance, with the Prop 8 in California gaining so much national attention, let us remember that there was a time that blacks were not allowed to marry in this country and be afforded the same property rights that their white counterparts were allowed to.  And also, there was a time that blacks couldn’t marry whites because we were considered less than a person and less than human.  If we fail to connect historical dots, how are we going to move forward into the future?

I’m not taking a side either way on the issue of gay marriage, and I’m not totally likening the LBGT movement to that of the modern Civil Rights movement pertaining to the issue of racial harmony, but still let’s just look through another lens, rather than the ones that are often force fed to us by traditional avenues of media and religious thought.

I seriously do wonder how does it feel for Jeremiah Wright at this point in his life.  He preached a sermon last year on the Senior Stateman Sunday when both James Forbes, former pastor of the Riverside Church (yes, the same Riverside Church that Martin Luther King gave his speech castigating U.S. involvement in Vietnam on April 4th, 1967) and Charles Adams preached and Wright came from the famous passage of Psalm 37, the acrostic poem that has verse 25:

I was young and now I am old,
       yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
       or their children begging bread.

It was evident that he was finishing up his ministry when he preached that sermon at the eleven o’clock hour. It was full of rousing stories of ministry, of his childhood, and of life in general.  But, the sermon emoted a peace that passes all understanding that prayerfully he has taken with him.  I’m sure this has been a wilderness experience for him.  Perhaps including the second guessing a lifelong ministry–has my life amounted to nothing more than three or four 10 second soundbytes played in loop?  Actually questioning, “Did I get it wrong my whole life?  Was I that far off the mark?”

Well, I don’t have a heaven or a hell to send him, nor anybody too.  At times I wish I did at least have a political hell to send folks to because Ann Coulter and Karl Rove would be at the top of the list.  But since I don’t have the power, such decisions will be left up to the Almighty.  Personally, I wish that people would just take the time to walk in another person’s shoes and see things from others perspectives.  This is not to diminish your own perspective, but rather be aware that your way isn’t the only way and to resist being co-opted by tradition.

Do you think that Jeremiah Wright got a fair shake back in the spring?  The AIDS comment notwithstanding, what did he really say that people took offense to, in your opinion?  Should he have just went quietly into that good night, not even making this last appearance?  Do you think that an Obama administration is going to continue to be aracial or even non-racial?  Do they even have a responsibility to be anything but aracial or nonracial.

Again, did you actually read this entire post? :-)  (yeah, I know I said it was going to be short)

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

P.S. Don’t worry, I’m still going to do my post about Lady Michelle Obama

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12 responses to “How Did You Feel When You Come Out The Wilderness: Jeremiah Wright Speaks

  1. I listened to several hours of Rev Wright’s sermons on Youtube last spring. I really like his sermons. I talked about how some of my fellow church members responded in a post http://sociologicalconfessions.wordpress.com/2008/04/20/culture-style-race-pain/#more-47 — the post is only a little about Rev Wright, mostly about the discussion it sparked which is relevant to your post. I also just saw a good cartoon that I think is right on about how a lot of white people deal with race http://contexts.org/socimages/2008/11/11/color-blind-cartoon/ — I even had people criticize me last Sunday at my “race workshops part II” session for saying that New Yorkers, Jews in particular, have a different cultural style from upper Midwestern Whites. The guy said I was racist to say that!
    For the record, I believe in same-sex marriage and think it is really important.
    If you want more readers, I think the trick is a group blog. You comment on each others posts and the comments raise the traffic counts.
    You write good posts, but you can’t expect people always to comment.

  2. @older woman

    Yeah, I know I can’t expect comments on each post. However, it is interesting to see what blogs garner more comments than others, especially the ones that I put more work into than others.

    But alas, that’s the joys and sorrows of blogging. Only recently did I just come to grips with blogging for the sake of blogging, not just for comments. For whatever reason, no one has felt the need to comment, that’s cool.

    If by group blog you mean bringing others on as co-contributors. I remotely hinted that with other friends, but even getting them to do guest blogs was like pulling teeth and none of them seemed remotely interested. Hell, its only a few of my friends that consistently read it.

  3. Rev. Jeremiah Wright has always spoken truth to power–no matter what the truth or the power. In his own style, he’s made people think about what’s involved in following freedom’s pathway in NT scripture teaching. The pull of power and material prosperity have made many Christians blind to the instruction of Jesus as head of the church.

    When religiosity allows violent hatred of other human beings, ‘fundamentalism’ easily transmogrifies into dominationists teachings–because most church-goers have no clue of the ‘manifest destiny’ nature of Christianity in this culture.

    As we struggle to define what freedom means for all self-professed Christians, it seems that we must, out of absolute necessity, cast aside the material advantage of white privilege. Penalties exacted to support this unearned privilege exist only with conscientious efforts to maintain a perpetual, mainly nonwhite, underclass.

    Individually and collectively when it is time to reap what we have sown, it is painful to hear the truth–so we attack the truth-speaker because it is so much easier to convince ourselves that others are evil, hateful, and wrong because we do not really want reconciliation with those that we have are deemed ‘not qualified’ to speak truth to power on our behalf.

    The poor will always be with us in order for us as Christians to truly free ourselves of our idolatry-lusts for power, privilege, and dominion over others ‘less worthy.’ We have the opportunity to seek freedom in our daily walk with the teachings of Jesus. Love one another.

    We are because God is.
    Stay uppity…

  4. @dowl

    I think I’ve asked you before, but what exactly is “speaking truth to power”?

    I’ve kind of felt that it is a VERY subjective statement and subject to being defined by whomever for whatever. I much rather like the term “speaking truths that empower.”

  5. When dealing with real (or perceived?) progressive movement that takes into account more inclusive audiences, perhaps a better meme is ‘inconvenient truth’? (Think Al Gore.) Truth, defined as ‘fact’ whether historical, scientific, and/or generally accepted (provable) by the academic community–or verifiably affected groups.

    Because the powerful (oppressors) generally control the ‘truth’ as it relates to power and benefit to the powerful who are most wealthy, ‘truth’ includes conventional wisdom that perpetuates that power and benefit for those who control the ‘truth.’

    Authority is given, submissively, by the less powerful and less educated or violently when required to maintain that authority by the powerful over the less affluent and the poor. ‘Speaking truth’ to power is in the context of challenging the authority of those who have controlled the ‘truth’ as it benefits a ‘superior’ powerful group to the detriment of those who are conferred (by law, religiosity, force) ‘inferiority’ status.

    Soo…when it seems that the ‘speak truth to power’ moments happen and they continue to do so, is ‘inconvenient truth’ a better description of inviting censure from the public (media controlled) when it is important to stand up in the tradition of MLK, Malcolm and other historically valient heroes for progressive causes?

    Uppity inconvenient truth?

    Off Topic (sort of)
    Revisionist history is not a negative when it corrects fact regarding manipulation of ‘truth’ as it benefits some and deprives others of actual human status.

  6. @dowl

    the problem I have with that statement is the assumption that the one who alleging that they are speaking truth to power has truth on their side.

    My version of truth is not the same as another, and I’d rather leave room for others at the table than just my one definite truth.

  7. Uppity, upon reflection…

    I’ve kind of felt that it is a VERY subjective statement and subject to being defined by whomever for whatever. “I much rather like the term “speaking truths that empower.”

    This makes sense–just as (23rd Psalm) personal ‘path’ of righteousness instead of text ‘paths’ of righteousness. Perhaps this less aggressive, less accusatory approach (more civil?) allows discussion and reflection without being unduly offensive and/or defensive.

    Thanks for the “speaking truths that empower.” I appreciate this post!

    …stay uppity with truths that empower–radically

  8. Hello there!

    Thank you so much for continuing to write about THE GREAT PASTOR AND ORATOR…Dr. Jeremiah Wright!

    The white media lynch mob TRIED to demonize and discredit Dr. Wright and that was also an attempt to intimidate ALL BLACK CLERGY into silence… to cause all black clergy to be leery of speaking negatively about the actions of the American government in public forums…

    Their tactic DID NOT work.

    We are not afraid to tell the truth ON America TO America.

    We are not intimidated into silence.

    We are not fearful of speaking historical facts in the pulpit.

    Dr. Jeremiah Wright is hardly the RADICAL preacher that the white media attempted to characterize him as… in fact…he is ONE OF THE TAME black preachers.

    The white media doesn’t even KNOW who the radical black preachers are and doesn’t follow the black church AT ALL…except to attempt to discredit an established mentor of pastors like Dr. Wright.

    Thanks for this post. Continue to write more about the greats among us!

    Peace, blessings and DUNAMIS!
    Lisa

  9. I don’t mean any disrespect, but after the show Rev. Wright put on at that press dinner, the man had no other choice but to back the bus over him.

    As a black woman, I have often gotten out of the way of progress, even when I felt I was maligned, and I did it all for the greater good.

    Say what you want about Rev. Wright, he is a grown man, and I am sure he could take it. If Barack had stood with Wright, would he still be the PE of the United States of America?

  10. how can you defend a racist america hater like wright have you lost your ability to reason?him and people like him are responsible for your criminal behavior and lack of personal responsibility and you make excuses for this jerk?you and you alone are responsible for what you do not the man as this racist jerk preaches it is not the man killing young black men it is other black men.this is caused by the democratic party keeping you dependent on government had outs and affirmative action through this b.s.out of the boat you will be better off.you tell me how it can be a good thing to have a 70% illegitimacy rate all subsidized by the democrats?this is the real reason behind the decline of black people after 1960.you can’t let some nit wit hater take control of your life and then complain when things go bad it is up to you to discard false premises and find the truth no matter what.

  11. I just discovered your block through the kitchen table; all i can say is you are one brilliant, highly and sophisticated thinker and you are able to keep it real.

    I have bookmarked this blog.

    thank you so much.

    Peace

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