Since this is a blog on preaching and because I am keenly politically interested, I suspected that at sometime I would address the Jeremiah Wright controversy going on currently in the American presidential campaign. (I have not seen one preaching blog address it at all, which is interesting). On Friday, Rev. Wright gave a televised interview with Bill Moyers on Public Broadcasting. On Sunday he gave a nationally televised speech before the NAACP in Detroit. Then on Monday, Rev. Wright spoke at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. Don Gonyea of NRP reports on the NPC speech:
Wright spoke for a half hour, focusing on a religious tradition that he said has been misunderstood for too long. "It is not deficient," he said. "It is just different. Black worship is different from European and European-American worship."
I was stuck again today by how amazing it is to hear discussions on secular radio stations of the place and power of preaching. On an All Things Considered analysis of Rev. Wright’s speech at the NPC, two members of the House of Representatives gave analyses. Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver of Missouri who is an ordained Methodist minister and a Hillary Clinton supporter and Rep. David Price of North Carolina who is an Obama supporter commented on his speech.
Rev. Cleaver commented,
"One of the things that really saddens me is that the country doesn’t know how to handle what’s going on right now. And that’s to our embarrassment. But we can correct it. By that I mean, most of the people in this country have never, ever, ever been inside a black church and so they have no idea what takes place there and they don’t understand it. It shows that a dialogue is needed. But I am not sure that the nation is ready for a dialogue."
Rep. Price responded:
There are many thing sin this county that we need to dialogue about. And one of them is the relationship between faith & politics. A minister who I had a great deal of admiration for, once said. there are three kinds of patriots/three kinds of patriotism: There are…
- Uncritical lovers of their country
- Loveless critics of their county
- People who love their country, but who want to mend it’s flaws.
"It is a legitimate and important role of religious faith to be a loving critic of America That is a dialogue, I think, that we need to have both within and beyond the church." (He describes Jeremiah Wright as the third kind of patriot).
I find it humorous that from some quarters within the church we hear how ineffective and out of date and ignored preaching is and that it really has no effect on people’s behavior, while on the other hand, secular people are terrified of the power of Rev. Wrights words and presume that Barak Obama would follow the words of Jeremiah Wright, his pastor in Chicago.
Now I have nothing no say in this forum about whether the Democratic Party should choose Barak Obama or Hillary Clinton (or someone else, given a stalemate). But it has been fascinating to me to hear the agitation and horror of many conservatives who are terrified that this preacher would have an influence on a possible future president. (Although many of them seem not bothered by the influence of the conservative white preachers that preach at white politician’s churches). I have no insight into Obama’s level of faith in Christ…I just take him at his word that he is a disciple of Jesus. But I keenly respect that he refuses to back down from his pastor, even when he has had to distance himself from some of his words.
The conversation has been instructive to me about how African-American preachers view the role of politics & preaching. A year and a half ago when I was on a leave of absence from my church I attended worship services at an African-American Church pastored by a friend of mine in north Portland. In the sermon, I was struck by how strong his words were about the place of the "dominant culture" (to use Rev. Wright’s words) particularly in Portland and how oppressive it still was to blacks. I know that Don has been labeled "an angry young black man" (although I think Don is the same age I am!) and wondered if I was just seeing that side of him. But his preaching was very much in line with Rev. Wrights.
I think that I have much to learn about African-American preaching. I will never be able to preach like that. But I hope I CAN learn from them the importance of addressing the wrongs of our culture from a biblical perspective and doing so in strong terms.
I have no idea whether Rev. Wright’s words will ultimately hurt or help Sen. Obama’s presidential aspirations. But I do think that the experience of looking at preaching in the secular media will ultimately be a good thing for preaching.