2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
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America can't disown the Rev. Jeremiah Wright


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3/20/08 Columbia State (SC) (Pg. Unavail. Online)

2008 WLNR 5400204

State, The (Columbia, SC) (KRT)

Copyright 2008 The State, Columbia, S.C.

March 20, 2008

OPINION: America can't disown the Rev. Jeremiah Wright

Warren Bolton

The State, Columbia, S.C.

Mar. 20--SEN. BARACK Obama can't disown the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, his former pastor.

Neither can America. The Rev. Wright was made in America. Some of the ingredients weren't pretty -- U.S.-grade prejudice, racism, separation, injustice.

Yes, some of the Rev. Wright's words, short clips from the hundreds of sermons he delivered over more than three decades, offended and shocked many. I disagree with some of his comments. But to say he was simply spewing hate is to misunderstand the indelible link between the black church and the black experience.

The black church has long been a prophetic voice in the lives of black people as it's shocked the conscience of America. It's been the balm for those hurt by slavery, discrimination and hate. It's been hope for those who felt freedom and equality would never come.

African-Americans have long trusted in God as a deliverer -- a liberator. When no one else would, black preachers challenged the status quo, rattling the cages of power and demanding justice. They embraced the theme in Scripture that God protects the downtrodden, the abused.

Many black preachers, while not as strident as the Rev. Wright, combine theology with social issues and the black experience. They challenge America to live out the Christianity many in this nation profess. Throughout history, when many whites suggested blacks should be satisfied with the status quo, blacks have challenged that notion and looked to God to bring justice denied by this country's political, social and governmental structure.

Another recurring theme in the Bible is that God often brought judgment upon wicked nations. Christian clergy, and not just African-Americans, have echoed that theme as they've interpreted current events. After Sept. 11, some preachers, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, suggested the terrorist attacks were God's response to America's sins. The Rev. Wright used Sept. 11 to denounce the violence and war America has exacted on other nations.

From its social activism to its liberation theology, the black church has sought not simply to condemn the land of the free and home of the brave, but to help her become true to her creed.

Despite the advances we've made -- and we've made many I'm proud of -- lots of African-Americans and other people of color don't see America as many whites do. And, like Sen. Obama, I understand many whites have their own frustrations and resentment. We can't ignore the scars racism has exacted on our country. We must learn not only to talk about it, but also to take action to heal the divide.

Black pastors are challenged with uplifting and encouraging their members, some of whom have been hurt, even broken, by discrimination. They must empower members, not to be victims or to hate, but to believe tomorrow will be better, that they will overcome -- with God's help.

At times, black preachers deliver powerful, rousing sermons that include hyperbole or strong phrases that challenge America or warn her of the perils of injustice or callousness when it comes to domestic or foreign policy.

The only new thing about the Rev. Wright's comments is they have been filtered largely by white members of the media who see things from their perspective and don't understand why a black pastor doesn't embrace the status quo. They insist on Sen. Obama and other blacks seeing America and the Rev. Wright as they do.

While denouncing the Rev. Wright's controversial statements about America, Sen. Obama said in a landmark speech on Tuesday he couldn't reject the man.

"I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother -- a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe."

"These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love."

Instead of simply repudiating the Rev. Wright, America should seek to understand him. His experience in America -- he grew up during a time of great divide and discrimination -- is unlike that of Sen. Obama's generation.

"The man I met more than 20 years ago is a man who helped introduce me to my Christian faith, a man who spoke to me about our obligations to love one another; to care for the sick and lift up the poor," Sen. Obama said.

We're so fixated on what we heard from the Rev. Wright that many are missing the hope ingrained in Sen. Obama, who gave a direct, unpretentious, groundbreaking speech on the most divisive issue in America.

It's a speech the Rev. Wright couldn't deliver. Yet it's one likely influenced by the Christian guidance he gave Sen. Obama. Sen. Obama's relationship with the Rev. Wright isn't unique. Many black men and women have been raised or mentored by older parents or adults who carry anger and wounds of hate born in America. Many of those adults use their experiences to make their children better, not bitter.

Sen. Obama has decided to be better and is challenging America to be better. "I have asserted a firm conviction -- a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people -- that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds, and that in fact we have no choice if we are to continue on the path of a more perfect union," he said.

That's being better, not bitter


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