In recent weeks, there has been a national debate about the appropriateness of sermons preached by Dr. Jeremiah Wright from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Two weeks ago the controversy led Senator Barak Obama to deliver an important speech on race in America.
Opinion leaders in the national media praised the speech as courageous, but the notion that simply more talk is needed will no longer suffice. While politicians like Barack Obama and the national media wring their hands over a problem that has persisted in this country for nearly 400 years, they offer no solutions to the problem.
The tragedy of this most recent revelation of America’s racial divide is that incendiary remarks by Rev. Wright were delivered in a church, at the pulpit, by a pastor of a Christian church. If there is something that can heal the racial wounds of America, it is the Church. However, this latest incident underscores the lack of progress and the urgent need for a deliberate and coordinated effort among Christian pastors and prominent Christians to lead the nation in racial reconciliation.
The failure of good Christian people to provide a clear and convincing example of racial unity within the Church has contributed to the divide between the races in the nation and it only appears to be widening.
We must recognize that racism is not just a social problem in America; it is also a spiritual problem. It is a matter of the heart. Healing racism in the nation is, therefore a challenge facing our country that must first be addressed in and by the Church. We believe that contrary to what Americans have seen in the last few weeks, the Church can and must help lead the nation toward reconciliation among the races.
This diagnosis of the nature of racism in the US is in keeping with the clear teaching of scripture. Jesus prayed that His followers would be united. He also said in John 17:21 that the world would believe His mission and message because of the unity of His followers.
A racially reconciled church can eventually unite the nation. Evangelical churches are especially prepared to seize this strategic moment in American history because of their shared theology and value system.
The basis of our action is an empowerment theology that is based upon the scriptures. In contrast, liberation theology as preached by people like Rev. Wright, if taken to extreme, can fan the flames of class struggles and racial prejudice.
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.