The heart of my post re: Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright was not about politics. It was about race and how we perceive race in the American Church. Because I believe we must learn to listen to voices that we do not normally hear well I suggested that we try to hear this story in a less condemning way than we are prone to hear it as white Christians.
In today’s issue of the Wall Street Journal there is a fine article titled: "Blunt Sermons Rooted in Black Tradition." The new pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, Rev. Otis Moss III, the son of civil rights leaders, preached a sermon yesterday titled: "Why the Black Church Won’t Shut Up." He described how Jesus led the poor to Jerusalem, likening their plight to that of blacks under Jim Crow laws and the slaves who were shipped from Africa. Said Rev. Moss, "I’m sorry we’re a noisy bunch but if I shut up, you won’t know my story." I believe, as I’ve indicated, that this is the heart of the matter. Black Christians I know, and this is a broad statement, generally wish we "knew their story" and shared in it by shutting up and listening to them sometime. The man who taught me this, back in 1970, was the late Harlem evangelist Tom Skinner, who really made me mad until I talked to him and shut up long enough to hear him out. Tom never made it in the white world because he would not stop saying the things that shook me up. He preached the gospel so powerfully and biblically but it didn’t matter. On the whole whites would not listen to him. And whites would not fund him either. I found this out over the next few decades. Tom was a flawed man, as some of you well know, but he was a good man and a real Christian. I will always thank God for his getting in my face at Wheaton College about my own residual racism. I have continued trying to work this out for 38 years!
I’ve already made it clear that Rev. Wright stepped over the line, at least in my view. But I do not condemn him quite so as aggressively as some because I understand that this is a certain kind of preaching rooted in both the Bible and shared experience. I disagree with Wright’s social gospel and his personal representation of America as evil. But I grant him the right to say these things and I suggest we need to ask: "Why did he say them?" This is the hard part for white Christians who are financially comfortable and strongly connected to our own story of success and the American dream as we’ve known it. This story has worked favorably for many of us and our children so we figure our black brothers and sisters need to stop complaining and get in line and make just it like we did.
But the strong biblical cry for justice and love for the poor pushes me to listen to Jeremiah Wright even if I reject some of his message very strongly. Comparisons to listening to evil men and biblical wisdom do not apply to this context if I read the Scriptures faithfully in their larger context. I would, to make my point, gladly sit down with Dr. Wright and listen to him with real respect. I would reserve the right to disagree and I would also try to listen to him very carefully, asking lots of questions in the process.
Trinity United Church of Christ issued a statement saying Wright’s "character is being assassinated in the public square because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe. . . . It is an indictment on Dr. Wright’s ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15-or-30 second sound bite." I agree and think we should measure the man by the whole of his life, not just the offensive remarks. And I think I respond this way because of how I understand my Christian faith and what it leads me to do in this broken and messy world. This is really at the heart of being missional for me, which is the purpose of ACT 3.
I am submitting to you, my readers, that the simple thesis of white detractors about this issue is this—what they see here is Louis Farrakhan, race-hatred and anti-Semitism. They do not hear the rest of this story. Writers Suzanne Sataline and Douglas Belkin, writing in the Wall Street Journal, say today that "Wright’s sermons may sound spiteful to some,