Suburban Black Clergy Speak

John ArmstrongRace and Racism

My morning Chicago suburban paper, The Daily Herald, has a front page story titled: "Misplaced Scrutiny: Suburban Black Clergy Speak." It includes interviews with five African American ministers in my region commenting on the present Wright-Obama controversy. It is safe to say that four of the five ministers clearly see Jeremiah Wright’s comments this last week as over-the-edge and inflammatory. But is is also safe to say they understand the reasons for this very differently than most white Christians. What was helpful to me was reading how serious Christian leaders in the black community understand and now process this national controversy.

1. They believe that the media is using Wright to unfairly attack Obama. They see, in most cases, that there is a "subtle" institutional racism in this response. Terms like "political posturing and propaganda applied unfairly to a candidate" jump out at me from the interview.

2. They further believe that Jeremiah Wright has done a great deal of good and almost none of that matters to the media at all. One man said, "I know his church. I know his work." (His point was that it was a very good work and that it had done a great deal of good for thousands of people, a point I have made from the outset.) Another added, "Without the election there wouldn’t be much controversy."

3. They do believe, universally among the five men, that racism is still a major issue in America in ways that whites do not. Says one minister: "I think there is a tenor of racism, and the country is struggling with how it relates to African American leaders."

4. Barack Obama is clearly hurt by this discussion, maybe even significantly. Said one, "I believe Obama has been placed in a no-win position, and I believe he’s answering questions that would not be asked of a candidate of a different hue, so to speak." Added another brother, "No other candidate, pastor or religious adviser has been given the same scrutiny. Giuliani was not asked about his conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. Romney was not attacked about the beliefs of his church. McCain was not attacked for Falwell’s stand on gays."

It is this last comment that I most profoundly agree with as I read the interview. One minister, when asked how his flock sees all of this, answered: "We know Rev. Wright to be a champion of social justice issues and it’s just untimely for those efforts of his to be overshadowed." Another added, "Yes, we are very politically astute and involved, but it does not dominate our worship experience." The same brother concluded: "The word of God and the need to save souls, care for the needy, help those Jesus called ‘the least of these’ is far greater than the media frenzy of this debate." Amen!