Friday, June 12, 2009

Wright and Wrong

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable,
whatever is just, whatever is pure,
whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable,
if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise,
think about these things.
Philippians 4:8

For a serious Christian this is painful. For a pastor who cares about the prophetic role of preaching, this is excruciating. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. But it’s not good.

Before he retired, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, in Chicago, where the Barack and Michelle Obama were members for many years. During the Presidential campaign, Wright’s controversial remarks caused Obama to distance himself from his former pastor, and eventually to leave the church.

David Squires of the Daily Press conducted an exclusive interview with Rev. Wright at the 95th annual Hampton University Minister’s Conference, in which he asked Rev. Wright if he had spoken with President Obama since the election. His response was astonishing:

"Them Jews ain't going to let him talk to me," Wright said. "I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office. ...”

Squires’ report goes on to report that, “Wright also said Obama should have sent a U.S. delegation to the World Conference on Racism held recently in Geneva, Switzerland, but that the president did not for fear of offending Jews and Israel. He specifically cited the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, an influential pro-Israel lobbying group.”

This is way over the top. It is raw anti-Semitism and inexcusable bigotry.

In the past I have felt that the criticism of Rev. Wright reflected the limited perspective of pundits and commentators who knew little about Black Liberation Theology or the biblical tradition of prophetic preaching. And I still believe that was the case. But this one is different.

Sadly, when a pastor makes remarks like that it calls into question every comment that he or she has ever made. If we are certain (as certain as human beings can be) that this remark was bigoted, then it makes us suspect that other remarks, which might have had multiple interpretations, were also mean-spirited.

While Rev. Wright indulged his verbal anti-Semitism, a white supremacist was shooting an African American guard at the Holocaust Museum. James W. von Brunn and Jeremiah Wright make strange bedfellows. And words, however mean, are never the same as bullets. But the feelings and the events cannot be totally separated.

It was not a good moment for Rev. Wright. And that is his business. He will live with the consequences. But it was also not a good moment for anyone who cares about prophetic preaching and speaking.


  1. Rev Wright overestimated his value to Team Obama and underestimated his potential detriment to the future power behind the president of the USA. Obama is as far from the traditional Anglo-Saxson Protestant male president the electoral college could endorse. Only Hillary Clinton may challenged this premise. When the bigotry of Wright was exposed, the damage control team must have begun packing for Alaska to protect the underbelly of the republican faction. Dr. Trench, I believe your assumption is correct. Rev. Wright had been preaching mean-spirited, self serving, and racist lies weekly. Obama was an active member of Wright's congregation. The connection between the two men cannot be seperated. That is until another puppet master arrived. The new master wanted the presidency with Obama in front. So Wright is wronged and the largest cover up since Watergate goes unquestioned by the masses. Anytime unworthy leaders are dethroned it is a good thing. The lessoned learned may be that Wright is human and therefore flawed. Always question the source frequently and without restraint.

  2. I don't think Rev. Wright was preaching "mean-spirited, self-serving, and racist lies weekly." For the most part, his comments were well within the prophetic tradition, that's what makes this so sad for me. He has given up the right to be heard as a prophetic voice.

  3. Thank you for your comments Dr Trench. Let us agree Rev. Wright spoke inappropriately on occassions from the pulpit. As a preacher yourself, you value weekly sermon-12 minutes to guide people closer to God is not a lot of time! Sermons may be ordained, but there is plenty or room for individualism in its presentation. As a preacher, one would not let slip a "hot topic" unless they felt it it were essential to the message. Should his behavior be considered a lapse in judgement and/or personal interpretation?

  4. The connection between the two men cannot be separated but the opinions of the two men can be.

    When I think of Rev. Wright I think about the people of Trinity UCC (not just President Obama). I feel for them. What would it be like if a retired pastor of our church said something like that? The man was a pastor at UCC for more years than I have been alive. I will assume that in that time he did a great deal of good as well as utter soundbites that made people feel uncomfortable. Certainly during that time there has not been any evidence that he was anti-Semetic. The people must have loved him and felt loyalty to him. Recent news must be difficult for them.

    Is working with a pastor for the greater ideals of the Church the same as believing everything the pastor says? Do we go to church to do everything the pastor says or to be part of a faith community?

    If we keep the connection of Rev. Wright to President Obama, do we keep the connection to his church? If we keep the connection to his church do we keep his connection to all of Christianity?

    True, conservatives are pouncing on this and saying, "See, what did I tell you?" However I am sure there are athiests who are doing the same thing. "See, what did I tell you? Another Christian reveals his lack of moral authority."

    Although Rev. Wright's comments are indefensible I do not think we should take any joy in his fall for we,as Christians, all fall a little with him. (Which is what I took from Bill's original post.)

    Ultimately I wrestle with how to respond.

    I don't think we can just say "everyone is imperfect" or "we all have said regrettable things" and treat it like it was just a slip... it is much more serious than that.

    On the other hand it is too easy to put ourselves in opposition to an obvious wrong in order to claim moral superiority and self-righteousness. I think we lose our own sense of moral authority when we try to weave Rev. Wright's words into a net to take down others around him.

    I agree with Bill that this is not a good moment.

  5. Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey left Trinity because of their aspirations. Something quite disturbing was going on within the four walls of this church with Wright at the helm.