The Wordsmith's Forge
A lot has been made recently of the views of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a prominent African-American church leader who happens to have been the pastor of Presidential candidate Barack Obama for the last twenty years. Some folks are appalled, others are proud, but few actually understand what the man said. Now, it so happens that what he said is very important; however, I don't want to be chasing too many rabbits, so, let's just lay down a few boundaries to this discussion.
First, the fact that Sen. Obama is a member of Rev. Wright's church is irrelevant to understanding what was said. I am sure that Sen. Obama wishes that how people view him had nothing to do with how they view Rev. Wright, but that's another issue. I'm concerned here with what Rev. Wright said, not what Sen. Obama thinks about it.
Second, Rev. Wright has been portrayed as a loon, a raver. He is anything but that. He is very intelligent and very articulate, and he means exactly what he says. Within his web of relationships, what he says is merely common opinion.
Third, while Rev. Wright may be completely race-based in his teaching and preaching, his ideas are not unique to himself, nor to the African-American community. His theological views inform his political ideology, and both can be found in many places. I could introduce you to a whole string of (white) Methodist preachers at our Annual Conference who believe much as Rev. Wright does. His analysis of society is also the received wisdom of Academia, including most of the professors our youth are taking courses from in almost every American university. His ideas are everywhere, if not always so colorfully and forcefully expressed.
In essence, what Jeremiah Wright is saying is that the Group (race, especially, but you could also say sex or nationality or language or culture) is the fundamental unit of society, not the Individual. Furthermore, the Group's value trumps all other values. The Group's survival is the prime imperative, and whatever it does to advance itself as a group is righteous and good. "Assimilation" to the larger society means the devaluing of the Group as a group, and that's bad. The larger society that keeps trying to embrace members of minority Groups is always seen as oppressive.
And the kicker to this is, there is no Truth that is owned equally by all Groups; each Group owns its own Truth. And so, Rev. Wright says that the Christianity of black folks is not the same religion as the Christianity of white folks; that we do not worship the same God, nor follow the same Savior, since no Truth, no God, no Religion could ever encompass all the different Groups within the society.
Over against this there stands the Apostles' Creed, which says, "I believe . . . in the holy catholic Church." Believing in the catholicity of the Church and of the Gospel she bears means believing that there is, in fact, a Truth that applies to all equally, a salvation that saves all equally, a super-culture that transcends all the quarreling sub-cultures, and a Savior who is everybody's savior, who "is our peace, who has made us both one, and has broken down the dividing wall of hostility" that has so long separated us (Ephesians 2:14).
I reject Jeremiah Wright's doctrine, not because it is "black," nor because it doesn't match my political opinions, but because it is in fundamental conflict with the New Testament and the Creed. For the same reason, I refuse to kowtow to white preachers – or academics of any color – who want to reduce us all to the labels we wear for convenience: young/old; white/black; male/female; rich/poor; American/foreigner; Christian/whatever. We are all so much more than that. We were made by God to be more than that. Our ministry must offer people more than that.
The danger in Rev. Wright's ideas is not to be found in his parishioners, nor in his anger, nor in his race. It is to be found in all those who deny the unity of Truth. Whether they be preachers or professors, they are all cheerfully repackaging Despair as Hope. Flee from them, as you value your souls.