Rev. Jeremiah Wright, An American Preacher

Posted on May 3, 2008

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Call me perplexed. I cannot quite understand why the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is being subjected to public pillorying. Have we become so intolerant of ideas, of religion, of speech?

I just finished watching one of Rev. Wright’s most controversial sermons on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RvMbeVQj6Lw

In this sermon, Rev. Jeremiah Wright reviews a history of slavery and racism, placing most of the blame on past U.S. government laws and actions. Along the way, he raises notes of hope, naming President Abraham Lincoln, President Harry Truman, and President Bill Clinton.

Then Rev. Jeremiah Wright makes his point, “Governments change.” He makes that point about “change” repeatedly. It’s a point of hope. (Come to think of it, Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential campaign used to be about change.)

Now Rev. Wright gets to the religious part. The man is, after all, a pastor. He says, “Governments changed, sometimes for the good, sometimes for the bad.” And he cites the Bible: “God does not change.” Rev. Jeremiah Wright praises God, who always stands for love and justice, never changing.

Building toward a conclusion, Rev. Jeremiah Wright warns that governments also can fail. He cited the Roman Empire, the British Empire, Russia, Japan and Germany. He said the U.S. government had in the past failed Indians, putting them on reservations; failed Japanese-Americans, putting them in internment camps; and failed Africans, keeping them in chains and putting them on the auction block.

He touches contemporary issues — drugs, prisons, “three strikes and you’re out” — so quickly you’d almost think he wanted to avoid them.

Finally, Rev. Jeremiah Wright strongly condemns — in words that many people find offensive — actions of the U.S. government that he, as a pastor, considers to be wrong. He condemns America for killing innocent people and for treating citizens as less than human. The most dramatic sentence:

“God damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is supreme.”

Probably most preachers wouldn’t put it quite that way. Many wouldn’t be as flamboyant or as passionate. But how many preachers in America would disagree with the basic meaning of the sentence? It alludes to two of the core teachings of the Judeo-Christian tradition: Don’t worship false Gods, and avoid the sin of pride.

Any preacher worth his salt speaks truths that are countercultural.

Call me perplexed. To me, Rev. Jeremiah Wright has preached a classic sermon, identifying wrongs and calling a nation to repentance and change. People have a right to take offense to a strongly stated moral pronouncement, if they wish. But don’t we have freedom of speech and freedom of religion in America? Have we become so intolerant of justice and truth? — Bernie Hayden

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