Posted by: jadanzzy | March 19, 2008

Regarding Rev. Jeremiah Wright pt. II

From Walter Brueggemann:

The current spasm of “righteous indignation” concerning Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama’s pastor, smacks of embarrassing ignorance. Such a critique of Wright is ignorant of black preaching rhetoric and the practice of liberation interpretation. It is also disturbingly ignorant of the prophetic traditions of the Bible that regularly expose the failures of society in savage rhetoric. I am grateful for the ministry of Wright, a colleague of mine in the United Church of Christ, who for a very long time has been a faithful pastor and a daring prophetic figure. It is odd when right-wingers misconstrue this belated Jeremiah as they do the original Jeremiah, who knew about God’s passion for truth-telling in risky places.



Disclaimer: I am an Obama supporter, and an Asian-American.

When the video of Rev. Dr. Wright saying, “God damn America” is strewn across American media, they always manage to cut it off at the part where he says, “God damn America when she acts like she is God and she is supreme.

Is that not prophetic truth?

Except for the few instances such as Diana Butler Bass’ hopeful interpretation of this course of events, the fact is it’s white America that’s negatively parsing these sermons.

I do see that some of Pastor Wright’s ideas are bizarre, i.e. “U.S. of KKK-A.” But I’ve heard my fair share of ridiculous and unfounded things that have come out of pastors’ mouths in my limited past. I never considered them heinous people. And although I understand why he would say that (because I have the type of personality that would expel those types of hyperboles from my own mouth), I understand that it is an unreasonable statement.

However, I do believe when Pastor Wright, from the pulpit, says “God damn America,” it merely carries on the tradition of harsh prophetic rhetoric. How many times in Scripture do we see the prophets call their own people or their nation whores? How many times in Scripture did these prophets mention God’s doom and destruction on the nation lest they turn from injustice and oppressive behavior? Did not the prophets of old risk their lives (and even lose them) as they spewed the vocal wrath of God in front of their rulers? Were it not the false prophets who were the ones that always spoke well of the actions of the ruling few? Just to quell the idea that I’m likening Pastor Wright to a prophet like Elijah (or Isaiah or Jeremiah, etc.), did James not say Elijah (and others) was just a man like us? Lastly, is not America a nation that carries out oppression? From the heinous crimes of Coca-Cola’s actions in Colombia to kicking out America’s poor from their homes, America is a nation that deserves as much judgment as the next ungodly country. And no, not because of our gays and abortion clinics.

Some of my friends (including our own anakainoisis) agree that I probably would’ve clapped and cheered to Pastor Wright’s words of judgment on America if I were in the pews that day. Nay, most definitely! I challenge America to swallow the deep truth here. I’m not advocating a hate-filled theology or even liberation theology. I’m asking for all privileged and entitled Americans to see that, in their unintentional ignorance, they’ve helped create the injustice.

God bless America.



  1. I have not gone back and listened to the sermons in their entirety, gleaned their contexts, etc. But in my analysis of the three most “offensive” quotes (see the comment to the Part I post), I think I’d probably have gotten behind a pastor that preached them. Inflammatory? Yes, they have a potential to be inflammatory. But naming a deep-rooted sin will always be offensive; Rev. Wright’s lack of subtlety should not discredit the heart of what he says.

    Moreover, I carefully consider Senator Obama’s response. He manages to be sensitive, in helping the outside world interpret Rev. Wright. I’m sure there was some savvy political strategy behind that, but also a sense of communicating cross-culturally. He wasn’t saying, “Well, Rev. Wright is a black church guy, and within context, what he says you ought to just accept”. If he had said that, I’d probably have been totally fine with it, but the majority of Americans would not.

    Obama didn’t only talk about bridging the divide; he was DOING it by choosing to communicate with a very carefully defined scope. He could distance himself from certain comments with good conscience, because his goal is to BRIDGE the divide, not protect the black church.

    At the same time, his entire speech highlighted, in incredibly eloquent arguments, exactly the heart of what Rev. Wright was saying. We have a PROBLEM. This nation is NOT ok. The problems don’t only reach black people, and white racism is not endemic, but there is anger and resentment on both sides! And it needs to be understood, injustice needs to be exposed, and we need to respond with clear and flexible hearts and minds.

    This art of “cultural interpretation” deserves a ton of analysis in itself. Caring about other people’s subjective viewpoints is paramount, as we live in a postmodern era immersed in subjectivity. And that’s the model that Obama’s response to Rev. Wright has set, in my view.

    Rev. Wright may indeed be a prophetic voice, and he will come off as very harsh, but I wonder if we all don’t need to extend that prophetic call to many others, and if that means changing some of the more inflammatory diction to reach (but still challenge) the masses.

  2. I recommend everyone read Kristof’s column responding to this issue:

    It is measured and sound.

  3. nieo: thanks for the link. I concur.

    Here’s one of the best put statements in the article, for me:

    “What’s happening, I think, is that the Obama campaign has led many white Americans to listen in for the first time to some of the black conversation — and they are thunderstruck.”

    So in a sense, as much as there is what seems like a totally irrational response from the community at large, it just goes to show how tightly we’ve had the curtains drawn on the issues. And so in a sense, public outrage may mean, as Kristof implies, the beginning of a REAL conversation. That’s something worth believing in.

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