Jeremiah Wright’s fiery message from December has been played on all the major networks during the last few days. Many have called the sermon racist. Others have said that it violated 501(c)3 codes for political involvement. Presidential frontrunner, Barack Obama, has already distanced himself from the sermon - using the analogy of an embarrassing relative. As an African American minister who has spent over 25 years attempting to promote racial unity, I am disappointed with Pastor Wright’s presentation of the gospel.
His message unhealthily taps into the deep sense of rejection and victimization that many blacks have experienced over the years. He painted Hillary as a person who has lived in the lap of luxury compared to the ordeals that Senator Obama and other Blacks go through daily. In the name of “telling it like it is” old wounds can be re-opened - without the benefit of clear solutions. The kind of “scape goating” and blame shifting that was done by the Chicago pastor is especially unfortunate because our nation has all the tools necessary to solve generational poverty, educational disparities, and business and real estate ownership issues. Similar to the Katrina storm, this election has unearthed many unfortunate biases of race, gender and class in America. I am sure that Pastor Wright would describe himself as a realist, not a racist. This is the ultimate rationalization. Despite my deep reservations about the wisdom of his words, I believe that he should have the freedom to speak to his mind.
During the last 12 months, I have observed that the real minority community in American politics is the faith community. Main stream preachers and people of faith have backed away from the microphone for fear of reprisals. Our issues are not being addressed and our input is often scrutinized too heavily.
Silencing the church could do more damage to the black church and the nation than one thousand ranting sermons. A free pulpit produced the message of the abolition of slavery as early as the 1740’s. A free black pulpit produced the civil rights movement, and still has the potential to steer the direction of the nation.
We all should be mature enough to realize that it appears that Pastor Wright is trapped in identity based politics at its worst. Instead creating hope this pastor’s world view may inadvertently reinforce a sense of hopelessness.
How can we move beyond the racial wounds of the past? The answer lies more in faith than in politics. Only the church can say that prejudice is a sin. Only the church can impact the conscience of an entire nation. A clear headed church can unite Blacks, whites, Asians, and Hispanics based upon the common ground of the scriptures to address both problems and solutions.
“Should Mr. Obama be judged because of the acts of his pastor.” My answer is yes! Pastor Wright’s worldview and his understanding of race, culture, and religion of the bible will in some measure affect how Barak Obama views the world. Only time will tell whether Obama’s life and message have been helped or handicapped by the ministry of Jeremiah Wright. If Obama says nothing elese, many people will simply label him as a hypocrite who says one thing in public but acts differently behind closed doors.
During the next few months it will be important for Obama to set the record straight concerning his faith. He should take a similar approach to Mitt Romney and articulate the aspects of his belief system that will unite the nation. Perhaps Mr. Obama has not only learned some good things from his pastor. I personally hope that he has also learned some things he should never do.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.