America needs Jeremiah Wrights
Without the prophetic, bold voices and organizing ability of leaders like Pastor Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago there would be no U.S. Senator Barack Obama with a decent chance at becoming the first Black president of the United States.
And it is a sad testimony that to protect his credentials as a unifier above the fray the Senator is fueling the media characterization that Rev. Dr. Wright is some retiring old uncle in the church basement instead of respecting Wright for the towering astute father of progressive social and global causes that he is.
For 20 years, Rev. Wright has been a "friend, mentor and pastor." This is how Sen. Obama described him in a letter dated February 5, 2007.
In that letter, the senator wrote "I constantly remember Rev. Wright as the shepherd who guided me to my commitment to Christ one Sunday morning at Trinity. I often consider, as I work in the Senate how he lives his life-a life of service to Trinity, Chicago and the nation; his activism on behalf of causes that few would champion and his dogged commitment to the first principles of love for God and fellow man. And in my personal walk, I seek daily to imitate his faith."
Pastor Jeremiah Wright is no weird, anti-American hater and separatist cult leader. He loved his country enough to serve in the U.S. Marines. His denomination, the United Church of Christ, is a 90 percent white denomination. As a pastor, Wright married the Obamas, baptized their children, and a Wright sermon provided the title of Obama's best-selling book "The Audacity of Hope."
The Jeremiah I know is a sought-after preacher in seminaries across the country. I have traveled with him, introduced him at the National Press Club and use his tapes as teaching tools in my prophetic ministry classes at the Howard University School of Divinity, where he often preaches to adoring audiences.
I am inspired by Wright's leadership as the founding father of the Samuel D. Proctor conference, which is directed by Dr. Iva Carruthers, a Trinity member. The Conference is the progressive wing of the Black Church and represents some 50 million people through an ecumenical cross section of clergy and inter-faith leaders across the nation.
When Black and poor people were devastated by the double tragedies of Katrina and governmental indifference, the Conference impaneled a commission of citizen activists to investigate. They authored a report, "The Breach," which documented the governmental abuses, and solutions. The Conference is still working with Katrina victims, while so many others have deserted them. Both Senators Hillary Clinton and Obama worked with this effort.
Pastor Wright is being brutally trashed for his controversial sermons. The mainstream media are the guilty culprit in all of this partly because of ignorance of the historic role of the Black Church, which was born out of the crucible of slavery, lynching and Jim Crow. If those injustices had not been raised with passion, Blacks would still be on the plantation, a point that Trinity's new pastor Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, nicely raised in an interview on CNN.
Secondly, Pastor Wright seems so radical because so many churches aren't saying anything. Instead of preaching and organizing against the unjust war in Iraq that has claimed more than 4,000 U.S. lives and 30,000 Iranian lives, the cradle to grave prison industrial pipeline, inadequate education, and other social ills, so many mega-church leaders are hooping about prosperity and allowing politicians drive through photo ops in their churches without holding their feet to the fire.
Wright stands out because so many others are sitting down. There are not many churches where the social gospel of Dr. King is preached. The media have watered down the volumes of King's sermonic contributions to "I have a Dream," although King spoke out strongly against such issues as the Vietnam War just as Wright is campaigning against the horrors of the ill-fated war in Iraq today.
In his letter from a Birmingham jail, King excoriated the comfortable positions of white moderates. "Like a boil that can never be cured as long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its pus-flowing ugliness, injustice must likewise be exposed, with all of the tension its exposing creates before it can be cured." Wright exposes injustice in much the same way.
Wright is much more than a Sunday morning wonder. He had launched more than 70 active ministries that provide housing complexes for senior citizens, day care for children, ministries for people living with HIV and help for families of the incarcerated.
Whether you disagree or agree with Wright's controversial statements it is a terrible disservice to ignore his contributions as a theologian, pastor, and educator. It is ludicrous that a pastor who has preached more than 207,000 minutes for the past 36 years at Trinity on Sunday, not to mention his weekday worship services, revivals and global preaching, should be judged by a couple of 15 or 30 second sound bytes.
Furthermore, Pastor Rod Parsley of Columbus, Ohio, who is a spiritual adviser to Republican front-runner John McCain, has made ugly comments about destroying "the false religion of Islam" at a time when American- born Muslims are fighting for the United States in Iraq. Somehow this hate speech doesn't provoke outrage.
While Sen. Obama may have to distance himself from his pastor to play the game of politics, it is unwise for any of us to burn the bridges that brought us across.