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 And by the way, his anger is by no means outdated.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 www.somethingwithin.com/blog