Even in the face of remarks deemed controversial by the mainstream media (MSM) concerning Obama’s pastor, I feel that there is a need to speak on the issue of black preaching. I did some opposition research and watched the O’Reilly Factor on FOXNews and those who frequent his show are familiar with his segment called “Body Language” and I discovered that some light should be shed on not just the preaching moment, but rather the black preaching moment.
Now, I am not some world renown expert in the field of black preaching, but seeing as how this is my concentration, I have read some books about preaching and also preaching in the black experience, and I’ve been in church my entire life, that I am far more qualified to speak on this issue than the plethora of political pundits that have been commenting on this issue.
The Black Church, born out of slavery, and coined a “slave religion” by Albert Raboteau, was the birth place, naturally of the black preaching style. Let it be known that for the most part, the African American preaching experience is lost on someone who does not have the key. Well, what is the key one may ask. The master key is the black experience here in America. Other keys also fit into the lock, but often fail at turning the lock because some of the cylinders don’t fit the cut of the key all the way. Others such as Bill O’Reilly et. al. simply don’t have a key that even fits into the lock–and I’m sure that they’re just fine with that.
Using the above metaphor, the “preacher and the congregation share in encoding and deciphering of sermon element.” Interestingly enough, Bill O’Reilly last night was trying to make the point that Jeremiah Wright was full of himself, and was using hand gestures that tried to show that he was the center of attention and he was really passionate about what he was saying. In typical leading question fashion, Bill O’Reilly added “is that not what we see going on with Rev. Wright?” [paraphrased] The expert that he had responded by saying “That’s what preachers do” and O’Reilly looked slightly offended. I just laughed out loud.
I believe Obama in this mornings rousing speech, and more of the liberal political pundits addressed this issue of the black experience that was used as the filter with which to filter Jeremiah Wright’s sermon clips. I also brought up the issue that this was not the thoughts of someone isolated on the South Side of Chicago, but rather indicative of many of the sermons that I had heard from numerous other black pastors and preachers [SIDEBAR: One of the most notable exceptions to this rule is Fr. Michael Pfleger of the Faith Community of Saint Sabina].
Now, I must admit that with the exception of Rev. Wright’s particular outlook on AIDS, as the YouTube clip showed, I agree with most of the statements that were given. I’m not totally convinced that Rev. Wright necessarily believes that this change is not going to come as hinted by Obama this morning, but more that this was evidence of the preacher and congregation sharing in the encoding and deciphering of a sermon. One need only do Wikipedia search of Jeremiah Wright to get a list of books and sermons that Jeremiah Wright has written. [SIDEBAR: Jeremiah Wright’s 9/11 sermon can be found in his totality in 9.11.01: African American Leaders Respond to an American Tragedy]
Well one may ask why is it that the black preacher still speaks in coded language? I think at this point in pop culture, one need only ask a Rev. Wright as to the dangers of speaking in language that is easily decoded by those outside of the black church in the African American experience. Let it be clear that I am saying that experience is the primary key for unlocking much of what goes on in the black church. This is not saying that the black church is this exclusive entity that is only for those who have experienced the black experience, but rather those who are from outside must first acknowledge the black experience in the United States as a point of entry into the black church. Then and only then, can one understand the preaching moment in the black church.
Furthermore, I think that it is interesting that many of the politcal pundits (including Bill O’Reilly) were doing sermon critiques and they were no more qualified to speak on it than the intricacies of open heart surgery. I think that this shows that there is a need for a public theologian of sorts; me and Soul Jonz’s author have discussed that issue at length. There is not one person who has shown themselves capable in the public eye of deciphering and decoding pop theology–what many call Americanity.
That being said, let’s put ourselves in the other’s shoes. To black America, put yourself in the shoes of a white person living in Montana who has had limited interaction with black people. The same holds true for those white people living in Montana to put themselves in the shoes of a black person who has lived in Georgia and clearly has a different outlook on white America where seeing the Confederate flag in store windows and on the back of pickup trucks is a blatant reality.
Keep it uppity, and keep it radical, JLL
2 thoughts on “My Theology of Preaching, Pt. III: Coded Language”
Nice written up… I’m on the Tribune now talking about this same topic and it is quite pathetic at this time in history white folks don’t understand at all that the effects slavery has had on the black community. Like you said, without the understanding of the black experience one can’t understand our preaching style, music, etc. Google Black Wallstreet, interesting read.