2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
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3/28/08 Columbia State (SC) (Pg. Unavail. Online)

2008 WLNR 5874567

Columbia State (SC)

Copyright 2008 The State

March 28, 2008

Section: a

 

JOSEPH A. DARBY, Guest columnist

There's been great media hue and cry about selected words of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the recently retired pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, where presidential candidate Barack Obama and his family are members. Sen. Obama has condemned some of what his former pastor has said and has offered perhaps the best perspective on the urgency and necessity of America facing up to its legacy of racial inequity since Martin Luther King Jr,'s "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" in a recent landmark speech, but America is still focused on a few ten-second sound bites from Rev. Wright's 30- or 40-minute sermons.

I believe that the current controversy actually presents a teachable moment. Dr. Wright's critics should visit the Web site of his former pastorate, www.tucc.org/home.htm. Those who do so will find that the 8,000- member church has more than 50 ministries. Some of them, such as the Africa Ministry and the Isuthu Ministry, reflect the cultural roots of the historically black church and its emphasis on awareness, responsibility and self-sufficiency. Others, such as the Married Couples Ministry and Girl Scouts, can be found in churches across lines of race and class.

Those with the courage to actually think and learn with open minds will find a familiarly Christian church that reflects the heritage of the majority of its members and that flourished under Dr. Wright's leadership.

Dr. Wright's critics also need to learn more about the historically black church and its clergy. Since the days of slavery, the historically black church has been a haven for those who have been dehumanized and demeaned and a vehicle to rise both physically and spiritually in an America that relegates black Americans to second-class citizenship and that often cloaks bigotry in religion. Black clergy have always been heralds of freedom and fairness, walking not in the passive footsteps of a "neutered" Jesus, but in the bold and authentic footsteps of the Jesus who spoke truth to the religious and political powers of his day and who was falsely accused and executed for doing so.

Many institutions that were the foundation of black America have crumbled, but the historically black church still has the capacity to be an independent voice of conscience and progress. All good black pastors sometimes say things that their members might hesitate to openly say in an America where race still matters and where those who tell the truth might not be physically lynched, but can still be economically or politically lynched if they question the powers that be or upset the status quo.

In view of the heritage and ongoing role of the historically black church, I don't find Dr. Wright's words to be outrageous. In context, he simply speaks the truth in a way that makes those who practice comfortable cultural Christianity uncomfortable and that challenges America to be what it claims to be: "One nation, under God with liberty and justice for all."

I'm also not surprised that he's been bitterly criticized, because those who can't set the agenda for the black church from beyond the church and are ignorant of the full work of the church often fear the black church and black clergy.

I hope that even though Dr. Wright has retired from a distinguished and exemplary career as a pastor and theologian, he'll continue to give needed cultural indigestion to an America that's too often long on promises but short on equitable results.

I also hope he'll remember that criticism from those who interweave their faith and their view of patriotism and those with a narrow and sterile vision of properly expressed faith is the price of speaking the truth. Dr. King, a Southerner whose words and work changed the Southern way of life, was branded a communist and an "outside agitator" in his day and was vilified when he stood up not just for civil rights for black America, but for the well-being of Americans of all colors and cultures. German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for pointing up the brutal inconsistencies in what passed for religion in Nazi Germany.

I'd also urge political pundits and those who create spin for candidates to play fair. If Sen. Hillary Clinton can only offer up kind and careful criticism of the ranting of Geraldine Ferraro and if John McCain did not reject the endorsement of the Rev. John Hagee, who is consciously homophobic, possibly anti-Catholic and who called Hurricane Katrina "the judgment of God against New Orleans," then Sen. Obama should not be taken to task because his pastor, like many black pastors, says things that challenge America to rise above its sins of prejudice and greed.

The Rev. Darby is the senior pastor of Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston.

 
 

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