2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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Wright's remarks 'ugly truth'

 

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3/20/08 Com. Appeal (Mem. TN) A1

2008 WLNR 5411930

Memphis Commercial Appeal (TN)

Copyright 2008 The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, TN

March 20, 2008

Section: News

Wright's remarks 'ugly truth' -- Minister's preaching style common in black churches, local pastors say

Lindsay Melvin lindsay.melvin@commercialappeal.com

Nearly three hours into the electrifying Sunday service at Christ Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Gina Stewart was damp with perspiration.

Crammed pews of parishioners were winding down after being taken through a vigorous torrent of jubilation, anger and praise.

But the South Memphis pastor wasn't done yet.

There was a more earthly issue eating at her - the recent coverage of racially charged remarks made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, longtime pastor of presidential candidate Barack Obama.

"I am a CNN junkie," Stewart said to the overwhelmingly black congregation. But she warned them not to put too much stock in the news media's negative portrayal of the now-retired pastor's sermons or hold those statements against Obama.

Stewart's sentiments are being echoed in churches across Memphis as local pastors are saying that Wright's remarks were taken out of context with little understanding for the long tradition of prophetic preaching that goes on in black churches.

"The African-American church has always had a prophetic ministry and prophetic preaching style," said Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church senior pastor Frank Thomas, who was ordained by Wright in 1982 before coming to the large Memphis church.

Prophetic preaching, or speaking of social injustice to mobilize people for change, is Wright's preaching style and it was also Dr. Martin Luther King's, Thomas said.

"The difference is the amount of rage that is being publicly performed."

From snapshots taken from sermons throughout Wright's nearly 40-year ministry, the pastor has received a public thrashing in the last week for saying black people shouldn't sing "God Bless America" but "God damn America."

He is also quoted commenting that America brought the attacks of 9/11 on itself with its own acts of terrorism and "Hillary ain't never been called a (N-word)."

On Tuesday, Obama put the issue into a broader context of racial division and bridging that divide. But while Obama denounced Wright's comments, local religious leaders were sympathetic to where the comments of the well-known pastor were coming from.

"What Rev. Wright said was the truth - ugly truth," said Leonard Dawson, pastor of the predominantly black Cane Creek Baptist in South Memphis. "The truth of America's history as it relates to African-Americans is ugly."

Dawson, who is also president of the Baptist Ministerial Association, was compelled to speak on the subject to his congregation last Sunday.

"I don't want them to be misled by the media," he explained.

Pastor Brandon Porter of Greater Community Temple Church of God in Christ said he's familiar with the spotlight: His sermons are on TV every week and he is aired on radio almost daily.

"In the black church we start off really slow and soft and it builds up to a climax and they caught (Wright) at that point," the pastor said.

You could find incriminating tidbits if you combed through the sermons of a lot of pastors with that preaching style, he said.

Ministering to a membership of 4,200 with locations in East Memphis, North Memphis and Cordova, Porter said, "Everything I say to the congregation isn't exactly a message to the world."

Because black people have a history of being oppressed and his congregation is mostly black, Porter says he occasionally speaks to that.

"If you have a predominantly black church you have to deal with black issues," he said.

Because Memphis has a huge black churchgoing population, there are a lot of prophetic ministries in Memphis, said LaSimba Gray, pastor of New Sardis Baptist Church in Southeast Shelby County.

"The preaching is to inspire people to take action," he said.

An Obama supporter, Gray says he sees that prophetic influence in the senator's straightforward speeches.

"That's powerful," he said, yet added. "I don't think America is ready for it."

Contact Lindsay Melvin at 529-2445. To read more stories by her, go to commercialappeal.com, click on Contact Us at the top of the home page and then click on her name.

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"In the black church we start off really slow and soft and it builds up to a climax and they caught (Wright) at that point."

Brandon Porter, pastor at Greater Community Temple Church of God in Christ

 

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