The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Power of Words

I have slow to say anything about the controversy regarding soundbites from Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright's sermons over the last decade. I really have been thinking a lot and conversing with other people to hear what they're thinking as I formulate my response. But eventually one just has to say something, so here goes.

As so many have pointed out, there is a difference between a prophet/pastor and a president. Jeremiah Wright is one and Barack Obama wants to be the other. The president has to inspire us as a nation to be all that we should be, in its most moderate form. That means telling us enough truth about what we actually are so that she/he is trustworthy, but saying it in a way that makes it clear that we are not so bad and that we are loved. A prophet too tells us what we should be, but in its most radical form. The prophet shines a light on and emphasizes the parts of us that are far from what we should be, to the extent that we wonder whether we are or even should be loved. But the prophet loves us too. Jeremiah Wright is a prophet in a long tradition of prophets whose outrageousness is most apparent in the Old Testament.

Some people have objected that there is no difference then between my justification of Jeremiah Wright and the justifications of hate-filled religious figures both in Christianity and other traditions. I disagree. Whether a moral or political position is righteous or not depends on its explicit and implicit ends. Jeremiah Wright's ideal world includes people of all kinds, colors, and cultures. He has remained a part of the mostly white United Church of Christ and communes with other members of that church as brothers and sisters in Christ. He stands against oppression anywhere and everywhere and does not justify violence or hatred on the basis of nationalism, either American or Black. Wright is not hate-filled. There is a difference between anger and hatred. And by the way, his anger is by no means outdated.

I don't agree with everything Dr. Wright said/says or the way in which he said it. (Since I am an American, I pray that God never damns us despite the ways in which we damn ourselves.) But I do know that because he said what he said and said it the radical way he said it, we are having a conversation as nation that we have not had in a long time, if ever. Wright's work is not perfect, but he is not a kook. And his prophetic role is vindicated by the conversation itself.

I'll close now, but I also commend to you the discussion of these issues on Rev. Dr. Renita Weems's blog


Sunshine said...

I don't know where to begin. I understand that the view of Rev. Wright are ones I have heard among other black americans. I do know people who believe much of the stuff he says in those statements. And, I am sure out of all his sermons and statements, those are probably in the minority. However, I do not equate him with a prophet. First, a prophet speaks truth and I find a lot of falsehood in his statements.

I by no means defend all the actions of this country, but it bothers me to the bone that we are getting to a point in which everything we (America)does is somehow wrong, evil and selfish, but yet dignitaries and celebrates applaud and condone and make excuses for dictators like Chavez. We get criticised for going into Irag as occupiers, even by Nations that not only have a long history of occupying, but destroying cultures (e.g. Europe). It seems even those who live in war torn and oppressive countries and more pride in their nation than what people like Rev. Wright teaches about ours. It's like we have to feel guilty to live in America...forget that our government gives more humanitarian aid around the world than any other country, forget that on top of that Americans individually give about $300 billion annually in charitable giving (far above any other nation in the world). We get criticized for Iraq and "policing the world" but when we propose removing stationed troops from various countries like Germany, they ask us to stay.

I have had to learn a lot joining the church I am with now in DC. We are proud that we are very diverse with a healthy balance of black, white, latino, deaf, able-bodied, baptist, catholic, lutheran, etc...the struggle, however, we have is that diversity. Things that i may have not thought too much about if I heard in an all black church, suddenly I am more sensitive to because I have learned how words can hurt and divide.

I thing I noticed early on with your preaching, is your adherence to inclusive language. I think it's the same thing in a way. when one is charged with preaching and being a church leader, I don't think they have the luxury to be like the man on the street or in the barbarshop, they have a special responsibility ordained by God to do their best to speak and lead in a prayerful and open way. I agree prophets often speak about things we don't want to hear -- i am in the process of reading the bible in 90 days and am in Isaiah -- I am sure Isreal did not want to hear much of what he said. But, the reverse doesn't necessarily follow -- if someone speaks what people don't want to hear, does not necessarily make them a prophet.

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