Apologists for Obama pastor Jeremiah Wright have tried to portray him as a traditional voice for the black church in America.
But the Chicago
minister, who belongs to the nearly all white United Church of Christ (UCC)
denomination, is far more recognizably the voice of the traditional white
Religious Left than he is for the historically more conservative black church.
Wright’s calls for America’s damnation and his
suggestion that our country deserved 9-11 are fairly traditional fare within
the Religious Left, especially among the mostly white elites of his 1.1 million
member denomination. His liberal stance on homosexuality, which is
conventional within the UCC, is also anathema to historically black
churches. Wright’s searing critiques of American foreign policy are far
more common to the nearly all white Mainline Protestant denominations, of which
the UCC is the furthest left, than to the historically black
denominations. Not surprisingly, the UCC’s officers have rushed to defend
“Many of us would prefer to avoid the stark and startling
language Pastor Wright used in these clips,” acknowledged UCC President John
Thomas in a
special March 17 statement. “But what was his real crime? He is
condemned for using a mild ‘obscenity’ in reference to the United States.
This week we mark the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, a war
conceived in deception and prosecuted in foolish arrogance. Nearly four
thousand cherished Americans have been killed, countless more wounded, and tens
of thousands of Iraqis slaughtered. Where is the real obscenity here?”
According to Thomas, “Pastor Wright's judgment may be
starker and more sweeping than many of us are prepared to accept. But is
the soul of our nation served any better by the polite prayers and gentle
admonitions that have gone without a real hearing for these five years while
the dying and destruction continues?” In typical fashion for UCC
officials, Thomas rambled on about the supposedly widening “gap between the
obscenely wealthy and the obscenely poor,” neighbors “relegated to minimal
health care,” and “bailouts” for “unscrupulous lenders.” Thomas
wondered: “Is Pastor Wright to be ridiculed and condemned for refusing to
play the court prophet, blessing land and sovereign while pledging allegiance
to our preoccupation with wealth and our fascination with weapons?”
Evidently not content with his one statement, Thomas also
issued another salvo against Wright’s critics through a March 14 UCC news
release. "Trinity United Church of Christ is a great gift to our
wider church family and to its own community in Chicago," Thomas gushed.
"At a time when it is being subjected to caricature and attack in the
media, it is critical that all of us express our gratitude and support to this
remarkable congregation, to Jeremiah A. Wright for his leadership over 36
years, and to Pastor Otis Moss III, as he assumes leadership at Trinity."
Thomas complained through his denominational news service
that he was distressed by media reports that "present such a caricature of
a congregation that been such a great blessing." Naturally, the UCC
president mostly declined to comment directly on Wright’s more inflammatory
declarations. Instead, he vaguely complained about the attackers.
"These attacks, many of them motivated by their own
partisan agenda, cannot go unchallenged," Thomas insisted. "It's time
for all of us to say 'No' to these attacks and to declare that we will not
allow anyone to undermine or destroy the ministries of any of our congregations
in order to serve their own narrow political or ideological ends."
Thomas visited Wright’s 6,000 member congregation as
recently on March 2 and reported having been "profoundly impressed"
by it all. "While the worship is always inspiring, the welcome
extravagant and the preaching biblically based and prophetically challenging, I
have been especially moved by the way Trinity ministers to its young people,
nurturing them to claim their Christian faith, to celebrate their African-American
heritage, and to pursue higher education to prepare themselves for leadership
in church and society," Thomas enthused.
Such enthusiasm by Thomas is understandable, not only given
Wright’s far-left politics, but also his congregation’s generosity towards
their denomination. The UCC news service report boasted that Trinity Church, which is the UCC’s largest
congregation, has given $3.7 million to the denomination from 2003 to
2007. The shrinking and struggling UCC, which has lost nearly half its membership
over the last 50 years, must be grateful towards Wright for his vitality amid
the UCC’s overall grim demographic prognosis.
Also praising Rev. Wright’s ministry was the pastor of the
UCC’s second largest congregation, the Rev. Kenneth L. Samuel of the
predominantly black 5,300-member Victory UCC in Stone Mountain, Georgia.
“There have been two major sins in the Black church that many Black churches
will not address - homophobia is one and sexism is another," Samuel
explained to the UCC news service, "And Jeremiah Wright has been one of
the articulate, courageous voices that has not been afraid to address these
critical issues. If he can do that and still maintain his close connectivity to
the Black community, and stay grounded in the Black ethos, that's what has
Likewise coming to Rev. Wright’s defense was “Red Letter
Christian” activist Diana Butler Bass on Jim Wallis Sojourners website.
“As MSNBC, CNN, and FOX endlessly play the tape of Rev. Wright's ‘radical’
sermons today, I do not hear the words of a ‘dangerous’ preacher (at least any
more dangerous than any preacher who takes the Gospel seriously!),” Bass
opined. “No, I hear the long tradition that Jeremiah Wright has inherited
from his ancestors. I hear prophetic critique. I hear Frederick Douglass. And,
mostly, I hear the Gospel slant—I hear it from an angle that is not natural to
me. It is good to hear that slant.”
From her enlightened perspective, Bass concluded:
“That is not, of course, comfortable for white people. Nor is it easily
understood in sound bites. It does not easily fit in a contemporary political
campaign. But it is a deep spiritual river in American faith and culture, a
river that—as I had to learn—flows from the throne of God.”
Does Wright’s radicalized form of Christianity, dating back
to his 1984 visit to Libyan madman dictator Muammar Qaddafi in the company of
Nation of Islam honcho Louis Farrakhan, truly flow from the “throne of God,” as
Bass discerned? In typical Sojourners fashion, she tried to ascribe
Wright’s provocative views to the black church prophetic tradition. But
that tradition inveighed against actual injustices, amid authentic human
suffering, while remaining rooted in orthodox Christianity.Wright’s problematic causes are primarily the fads of the
mostly white Religious Left, which likes to believe it speaks for oppressed
people. But these elites more commonly speak from cushy endowed
professorates and tall steeple pulpits, not from a genuine experience of
solidarity with the suffering. Typical Religious Left elites actually
only dabble in a faux radicalism that, at best, liberates nobody, when not
actually apologizing for genuine tyrants. Rev. Wright is no Frederick
Douglas, and his UCC defenders resemble even less the sturdy New England
Puritans who first founded their movement.