Tuesday, April 29, 2008

the wright stuff

Reverend Wright has sure stirred some things up.

I have to admit that his last speech at the National Press Club seemed poorly timed for Barack. But his interview on Bill Moyers was one of the most succinct and beautifully-expressed explanations of the African-American Christian experience and the often smacked-down “liberation theology” that I’ve heard. I wouldn’t want to put words in the mouths of the black pastors I meet with monthly in a small group, but I imagine they would say “amen” to his interview. Hey, I’m pasty white and I agreed with his observations.

Most of this isn’t about politics; it’s about the tension between nationalism and the Kingdom of God, and between the radically divergent paradigms of mainstream white evangelicals and black evangelicals. I hope it gets a conversation started. Face it—it’s the elephant in the room. And no, that wasn’t a not-so-subtle reference to the GOP. Honestly, this isn’t about politics. This is a Body of Christ problem.

One only has to hear Wright in context. Like most of us, sound bites simply don’t do justice. Can you imagine dismissing the moral, prophetic and theological relevance of the psalmists based on Psalm 137:9—“Happy is the one who takes your babies and smashes them against the rocks!” (NLT)? As a matter of fact, Wright’s interpretation of that particular verse through the eyes of the oppressed is masterful.

I’ve written about this before, so I won’t now, except to say: don’t get the Kingdom mixed up with Americanism. It’s not that America is a bad place; it’s just that America is made up of sinners. Just like England. Just like Germany. Just like Iran. Just like Israel. Otherwise, we’ll just stop planting churches and doing outreaches around here. Democracy may be the best human government; but it’s ultimately not what God has in mind. He’s building a Kingdom, and in His Kingdom, you don’t get a vote. You don’t get to decide what laws are passed. You don’t get to choose the type of judicial system you prefer. You don't get to form a lobby or PAC group. He’s the Benevolent Dictator. He has an asbestos bumpersticker on His fiery chariot that reads: My Kingdom…Love It or Leave It. And you don’t even get to agree to disagree. Get real.

What’s more, Christians are called to live incarnationally. That means we slip into the skin of the oppressed. Jesus didn’t just become like “us”…uh, like the average getting-by-okay-suburban guy. He became a slave who died a criminal’s execution. And then we’re told to have that same attitude in us, according to Philippians 2. That means the people with the power (and who ultimately has more Real Power than Christians?) must be the ones who reach out to empathize with (as Jesus did), to as best possible become one of (as Jesus did), to suffer with and for (as Jesus did)…the least, the last and the lost, as the clich√© goes. It’s part of our gig, folks. And systemically, those people are typically the minority, the marginalized and those that look different from whomever has the power and money.

Anyway, watch Wright’s whole interview. And try to listen incarnationally first. Watch both part one and two; they're mind-stretching.

And be wary of the press…whether Fox or CBS. Bottom line: it’s really about ratings…and dollars.

Enough from me. This should stir the proverbial pot.


  1. Thank you for posting the link to Bill Moyer's interview with Jeremiah Wright. It did stretch my mind and help clear up my negative perceptions on Jeremiah Wright. Thanks for keeping it real from the pulpit and from the blog.

  2. I just watched the bill moyer's interview - what Jeremiah Wright has to say is powerful stuff. And it's uncomfortable...which is probably why so many people have such a problem with it. but (at least from the interview) it seems that what he has to say has strong roots in the Bible. The Bible is definitely good at making people uncomfortable.
    There was a reason that the founding fathers separated church and state - because they are not, nor should they ever be, the same thing.
    Rev. Wright had an excellent message - that government's fail. Every single one will fail eventually. It's only Jesus that will not fail us. So, where does our allegiance lie? With our country first or with our God first? That's definitely something to think about next time I flip on CNN for the latest election coverage. Maybe I'll turn the tv off and pick up my Bible instead. It contains much more truth, relevancy and importance than CNN or Newsweek could ever hope to anyway.

  3. Great comments above, but I do not believe the founding fathers ever "separated church and state". I agree, first our allegiance lies with our Heavenly father, but to the credit of our founding fathers, their desire was to create a county based on Him. It's my impression that they wanted to create a country (government, etc..) that was not separated from God, but based on Him and His Word. Man is not perfect so obviously a government, a church structure, a company, etc... based solely on man will ultimately fail, but if that organization will stay based on the truth in God's Word, why should it ultimately fail?

  4. It's stuff like this that make me proud of you...this and when you reference some emerging polish neo-punk band.

    While I have the microphone here, I'll throw out a few book recommends on related topics for those interested: The Politics of Jesus, John Howard Yoder and Christ and the Powers. Hendrikus Berkhof.

    I'm sure there are better books out there on the issues specifically dealing with the black/white tension in evangelicalism, but these two books changed my theological understanding of politics, nationalism and Jesus' social radicalism...

  5. Dave and/or Joe and/or other wise counsel,

    Some friends and family have asked my opinion on the following statement from J.Wright.

    - The moderator of the event at the Press Club today asked the following question, "Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the father but through me.’ Do you believe this? And do you think Islam is a way to salvation?"

    Rev. Wright answered by saying, "Jesus also said, ‘Other sheep have I who are not of this fold.’" -

    I know this is slightly off topic from your original post and maybe not what you're interested in discussing. But if you have thoughts I'd love to read them.

  6. I listened to the bill moyer interview. What really bothers me is the talk about "God damn USA" was given the sunday after 911. To me that is totally inappropiate for a pastor to do this.

    Reminds me of the time when I was in this legalistic church and they said "since one of Ham's sons was cursed that all black people are cursed" very inappropiate too and inflamatory. And really a bunch of crap just like wright stuff is.

    I put both of these in the same catagory that they are both bigoted racist speeches.

    If Dave got up in front of the stage after 911 and said the same thing as the "esteemed" RevWright, I would think he was off his rocker and needed to be sent to a hospital.

    "the Wrong stuff" should be the title.

    btw, If this is what Obama thinks, 20 years sitting in wright's church, then I personally do not care for him.


  7. Personally I think it was a great sermon after 911. Uncomfortable yes but the message was definately the truth in love. The fact the sermon was given after 911 made it more powerful in the hopes to prevent the act of taking innocent life due to an evil act. As we all know now the warning was not heeded and we are now in Iraq. A wrong does not justify a wrong. A tooth for a tooth that was exemplified by the US action in retaliation. I don't know how many of you lost loved ones in 911 but would you be able to say to the terrorist "I love you"? Yeah... but that is what Christ told us to do.

    I listened COMPLETELY to what Wright had to say and I would have to say that, that man's ears and eyes are open.

    To BRAD or anyone else: Where can I find where the statement by Wright, "Rev. Wright answered by saying, "Jesus also said, ‘Other sheep have I who are not of this fold.’" -" can be found. I would like to see this in the whole context :).

  8. anonymous,

    Here's the transcript. It's about 3/4 of the way down.


  9. Thanks Brad for the transcript link. Pastor Wright is one intelligent man and is truly fighting the good fight. One thing I noticed towards the end was the topic of other speakers and the subjects like, "First of all, let me remind you of our future speakers. This afternoon, we have Dan Glickman, chairman and CEO of the Motion Picture Association, who is discussing trading up movies in the global marketplace. On May 2nd, Bobby Jindal, the governor of the state of Louisiana, will discuss bold reform that works. On May 7th, we have Glenn Tilton, CEO, United Airlines, and board member of the American transport association."

    Man do those topics pale in comparison to the awesome q&a that Wright gave.

    As Wright stated, things or sound bites taken out of context can cause a lot of hurt and missed chances to understand things of real importance.

    BRAD: Do you know what Bible verse that Wright spoke of regarding the other sheep have I not of this fold? For whatever reason this did not seem right as what I have been taught is that Christ is the only way to salvation. I will admit my history and understanding of Islam is not strong but that statement would seem to suggest that Islam is another way toward salvation. Perhaps others of higher cerebral understanding could help me in understanding the underlying message in that statement provided by Wright.

  10. Not sure I'm comfortable with all of this. I came from a church that assumed if you were a Christian, you were a conservative Republican. While I AM those things, it did not equal Christianity. I don't want the Vineyard to go to the other extreme...

    Winston Churchill said, "Democracy is the WORST form of government...except for all of the others." Our government has problems, but I will maintain that with all her blemishes, America is still the most benevolent super power the world has ever and will ever know.

    I'm frustrated with racial politics; with race hustlers like Jackson and Sharpton. If American could ever HONESTLY talk about race, their might be some true healing. In our politically correct world, no one can speak their truth and seek real common ground.

    As a "recovering political junkie" I will be sooo glad when this election is over. I have no dog in this hunt and believe that one of those Three Stooges is no better/worse than the other...

    Hope this is the end of Politics 101 at the Vineyard.

  11. I am horrified by such a sermon after 9/11. What healing did that bring?
    I am getting weary of the "Blame America First" crowd! Hard to believe you thought it was a good sermon, Anonymous-not all Christians are pacifists; should we have just let the poison continue to grow in Afghanistan?
    And please remember, the 9/11 terrorists were not poor and oppressed, they were highly educated, affluent men who had been raised to hate.
    I'm with the person posting before me; I'd prefer to leave the politics to Fox and CBS. I don't want any politics, especially liberal politics in my church.

  12. This is indeed, the elephant in the room.

    Thanks for talking about this, it helps us to get to our own conclusions.

    Our press usually shows only the conveniently controversial parts. We need to see the big picture.

  13. I am the one anonymous that stated that I found the sermon after 911 to be uncomfortable but needed. As Wright expounded in his interview, he is talking about the things of God. Not politics. Give to Caesar the things that belong to Caesar but give to God the things that belong to God. To the other anonymouse :), no I do not think that we should be pacifist but very active. But my weapons are not with guns but love. No I am not trying to be a flower child but as one stated these individuals grew up raised to hate. Should we reinforce that learning with self righteous actions to "teach" these terrorist a lesson in "love" by going to war? I remember when Peter in the garden cut off the ear of the guard when they came to take our Lord and Savior. What was the message Christ had for us telling his disciple to put away their weapons and then proceeded to heal the ear of the guard? The things I read in Jeremiah Wright's sermon did not deal so much with politics versus injustice to a group of oppressed people.

    I hope this dialogue keeps this going. This is good.

  14. I appreciated hearing this interview. I regret allowing my opinion to be wrongly influenced by the "sound bites". As I heard the strong "God damn America" message, I heard a hard truth expressed- God can not, will not, ever- bless the injustices in this nation or any other nation......period. Jesus was often firm and hard when putting his finger on wickedness. It seems easier for us to ponder the "I have loved you with and everlasting Love" messages. We need the balance of grace and truth.

  15. Lots of us "anonymous" people here this week!

    I'm the person who brought up pacifism. You know, I don't how to respond to Christians who say their "weapons are not guns but love". What about justice for the Afghan women? Can you say TALIBAN? Its a crime the world stood by and let that happen to those people all those years...

    And what of our Christian brothers/sisters in the Armed Services? Are they wrong? You have the right to your own opinion, just remember you did not earn that right, a soldier with a gun defended it for you.

    I cannot hang with Rev. Wright. You can be right in wrong ways and even on the points I think he makes effectively, he loses me on the whole dramatic "God damn America" thing.

    Well, I've beaten this dead horse long enough, but I know that for me:

    Racism is as disturbing in African Americans as it is in caucasians. It's divisive and ignorant.

    America is not always perfect, but I agree with another poster who said it is surely a benevolent super power.

    VCC is a great church which has done a wonderful job balancing sound Biblical doctrine with social justice issues; I only hope we don't screw that up.

  16. I hope people do not confuse my position of being in Iraq as also not supporting the troops. Please do not confuse the issue as I do support the troops as America has done many great things. But America has also done some evil things as well. And those evil things are the things that Rev. Wright is saying that God will not bless. He says that God condemns or damns those things that are not of God's character. Things like racism as you stated are are surely not blessed by God. So why not condemn America when it has systematically oppressed a segment of the population with government support. Surely God would not bless those acts.

    America has gone many great and wonderful things but we must not turn a blind eye to the things that are not so wonderful and great. Nationalism is a great thing but it can at times make people blind. I remember watching a few soccer games where international teams would lose and the pride suffered in those loses would create a backlash so violent and inhuman that it boogled my mind as the fans seemed to forget it was a soccer game. Imagine if they lost in real life...

    Also in response to the Taliban comment, I do not support the Taliban, but please entertain this thought. Do we know what happened to the lives of those Taliban before they took over Afganistan? I wonder how many of thier people they lost in wars to forgein invaders. I wonder how many lost children and in their HUMAN grief sought revenge? I am not saying that it is right but I think there is more to it then a group of fanatics waging a war that has actually gone on for quite some time before the US got involved. I wonder how we as a country would react if a group of outside invaders would come across the ocean and kill innocent women and children just because of a few extremist decided to take action into their own hands and roll the dice for a whole country that is just trying to work to bring food to the table. I bet their would be some real angry people with a bunch of Whys in their mind while holding their child as a casualty of war. War is a serious thing. Again I support the troops but our quest as a country whose policy of imperialism seems very Roman to me. And I think that notion of imperialism is what Wright was also speaking about. We cannot assume the rest of the world wants to be like the US. Because even though other people in the other parts of the world are different, that does not mean they are dificient as Wright also stated.

    Okay sorry I typed so long but we must learn to see through a different lens sometimes or we will miss a lot of beauty and truth that exist in this world.

  17. Dave,

    I'm glad to see you had to courage to speak about this sensitive subject. I only wish all pastors would use this as an opportunity to have some much needed conversations.


  18. Wrongstuff cont'd

    I read all the comments and I still come to the same conclusion. How can a pastor use his pulpit to spill hate and unforgiveness on all his people? I do not get it, where is the love and respect for the 3000 who died? All the iraq's who died and our soldier's who died?

    When people get up and say stuff like Wright, or any other white preacher and it seems like its hate, then its hate and bitterness. To me the whole speach was about politics and wrongs that happened way before my time.

    My question: When are we going to just be responsible for what we did with our own lives and not my ancestors?

    Where is the forgiveness and love from Wright? I do not see it. I question his motives. Maybe Wright needs a 12 step group to get over the unforgiveness that is stirring in his heart.

    I can still remember the million man march and the promise keepers march that was all about forgiveness. Did the RevWright go there?


  19. I defended a lot of what Reverend Wright said and I still do. I listened to the complete sermons and I know what Trinity has done in terms of public service to their community.

    Jim, not all racism was done only by our ancestors. The scars of those centuries of oppression are still there for many African-Americans and racism continues on today although maybe in more subtle ways, still harmful to many people. It's not just about Reverend Wright forgiving the sins of the past. Part of a pastor's job is to "speak truth to power". Part of a pastor's job is to bring hope to those who have little (as do many of Trinity's members). Part of a pastors job is to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.

    Reverend Wright went to far with some of his recent remarks. And it's made him look as if he doesn't balance love and forgiveness with speaking the truth and with trying to bring about social justice. But, it's not as if there was no basis for his remarks.

    A major reason I joined the United Church of Christ is their emphasis on social justice. More pastors should be talking about the things Reverend Wright talks about. It may make us uncomfortable. But, a lot of what he said needed to be said. It's just unfortunate when he really had the opportunity to promote some healing, he chose to undo a lot of the good he has done over the years.

  20. I for one did not hear any hate from Rev Wright after listening to his COMPLETE sermon and interviews. Also he mentions that the media cut out key parts of his interviews and speeches. Again as Rev. Wright stated, taking select sound bites to serve the media is not only incorrect but just simply wrong. Everyone please make sure you listen to the COMPLETE sermons and interviews as there was nothing but love in his words. Real love and not just some make me feel good plastic fuzzy.

  21. i believe Wright also served in the military during Vietnam so I would take a guess and assume he has a good idea about serving one's country. If people read and heard his story via the link provided they would have learned that piece of information. Now he is a soldier battling a different type of enemy. A far more dangerous enemy than Al Queda or the taliban.

    Regards, Eric

  22. Brian

    I see racism today, saw it in my dad, the church I grew up in, saw it in the us navy, saw it on past jobs, saw in my schools I attended. I saw it in the neighborhood where I grew up.

    I had this old black woman next to me for 10 years, she died last year. She was like a grandma to me, almost had the same last name and her dead husband had the same first name. I always thought of it as the fatherless taking care of the old widow. To me it was a God thing. I fixed her stuff and she fixed me breakfast. But I guess the point I am making is that she talked a lot about racism and how it effected her. So I saw it through her eyes, and she could talk, and talk, and talk. Well, if you ever get to sit down with an old person in there home and there the only person in the house, you will be there for hours if you let them. I have a picture of her hanging in my living room.

    But I know there is still racism around but I do not think that a pastor needs to spill hate and reinforce it in the pulpit.


  23. Jim,

    I agree with you. A pastor does not need to spill hate and reinforce it in the pulpit. When I listened to the Reverend's sermons in their entirety, I did not see him doing that though.

    The Reverend's comments in his sermons did not create the racism he was talking about.

    I think more pastors need to talk about the subjects that make most of uncomfortable. In that sense, the Reverend was doing the right thing. In his sermons, he always did have a balance between what the problems are and what the ideal is(at least in the ones I listened to). Unfortunately, there was not that balance in his recent remarks.

  24. DISCUSSION about politics is folly. Personally, when it comes to Wright and others, I am reminded of what Mark Twain said:

    "Action speaks louder than words, but not nearly as often"

    That reminds me, I have two legs and two arms and there are people that could be served. . .

  25. Amen, Amen, Amen, Dave. Thank you for getting this conversation started. Full disclosure: I haven't heard the Wright speech in its entirety and am not sure I'm going to (recovering political junkie too), but I do believe that at core this is not about politics but about facing our own sins/beliefs/mistakes personally and as a nation.

    To make a vague analogy, in my personal life, operating from my natural self, I will almost always feel angry, self-righteous and defensive whenever someone accuses me of a deep crime or attitude problem. That feeling of self-justification and accusation swells in me if the person accusing me is at all flawed in their own character, tone or actions (i.e. they're human). On the other hand, when I have with all sincerity and to the best of my ability done all I can to make amends for past behavior so that I no longer feel shame or guilt and can freely accept God's forgiveness through his Son, other people's words and accusations rarely bother me. They may irritate the surface, but they don't nearly touch my vulnerabilities and cause me to lash out.

    I wonder how much this plays into the anger many people are feeling against Wright.

    Another full disclosure: for more than a decade I attended VCC wondering if I was the only eco-feminist, Green, anti-Capitalist, Asian woman among a sea of white, suburban, Republicans. But the love of Christ I found here was so overwhelming that leaving this church has never been an option. Political conformity has never been what kept me here and it won't be what pushes me away.

  26. Thank You Dave for your comments on Rev. Wright. I watched him and found him very interesting, very educated and yes provocative. I found myself afraid to tell others that even though some things I do not agree with him on, I was glad he said it. It seems today if anyone conducts themself outside of what the norm for the majority has set for accepted tones and vergiage we quickly label him, write him off and discredit what he has said and vilift them so we can right it off as the wacko left. Let's not forget the good this man has done, I can't judge him because I haven't walked in his shoes.Thank you for standing up and speaking out. It is after all about loving one another not just the ones we like.
    leslye s

  27. Bravo!Bravo!Bravo! Dave I am proud to be a member of this congregation because of your type of leadership ;) Wow! I am so impressed that you were not afraid to take this leap without considering what this could mean to so many that have shuned Barack because of it, knowing full well that all of us sit in churches ever Sunday or Saturday in which we do not agree completely with the pastor. We stay because a lot of our other needs are met there. Why are we not allowing Barack the same considerations that we allow ourselves.

    Keep fighting the good fight Dave!

  28. I have read the comments posted and began and deleted a response several times. I have always been confused that I can discuss religion with my black friends and we see everything eye to eye and are ready to welcome in the kingdom but when politics are mentioned suddenly appears a fork in the road and we are suddenly at different ends of the spectrum. The thing that confuses me so much is that my politics I view as in line with my Christian beliefs and my friends who are black feel the exact same way and yet we will disagree on the candidates that we support.
    If the idea behind this blog is to discuss the idea that as Americans we as a nation have sinned and come short of the glory of God, then I can certainly Amen that, and bring up many of my own points that the Reverend Wright did not mention that are also sins we need to repent of. Only God knows Jeremiah Wright's heart. As for Obama I won't judge him by his pastor since I have his voting record to judge by.
    Gladly looking forward to when Christ has set up his kingdom!