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.
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.