Last Monday morning, Rev. Jeremiah Wright confirmed to the world that concern about his theology and worldview was justified. In response to his critics he said that criticism of his opinions was part of a media attack on the black church. As an African-American preacher, I was surprised at Reverend Wright’s presumption and hubris. Throughout his press conference, he equated his defense of the black church to defending his mother in a grade school squabble. He made it clear that he felt that part of the trouble people had with him was an ingredient of a mainstream media disdain for and lack of appreciation for the black church. His defense of his spiritual mother was evidently very well organized: a 6-day media blitz, beginning with one of PBS’s most watched journalists, speaking at a major NAACP fund raiser in Detroit, addressing the national press and culminating with a two day symposium on the black church held at Howard University.
Like a well-oiled political campaign, Rev. Wright built upon each previous appearance. Yet, something went terribly wrong with Wright at the National Press Club. The nation saw a sharp contrast to the way he presented himself on Friday on Bill Moyer’s program – humble, soft spoken, and entreating. Like Dr. Jekyll of English literature, he turned into Mr. Hyde right before our eyes. Instead of appearing to be the faithful defender of the poor, he seemed more like a wolf in sheep’s clothing - manifesting his true character. He selfishly defended his career and reputation above the needs of his long time church member, Barack Obama.
The question that kept running through my mind was: why now? Some conspiracy theorists blame Hillary Clinton’s campaign; others point the finger at Wright’s upcoming book; and a final group actually believes that Rev. Wright was justified in his own defense.
Most people I talked to after the event, felt that Jeremiah Wright’s true colors came out in his press conference. Most evangelical bible scholars were concerned about Wright’s answer to the question of whether Muslims will go to heaven. Given his flippant answer, theologically conservative Christians concluded that Rev. Wright is preaching “another gospel” as the apostle Paul termed the divisive heresies of his day.
Just when I thought that only a handful of black pastors would choose to defend Wright’s racial comments, to my surprise many white religious leaders have condoned his incendiary views. Tony Campolo, famous professor and author, made the following remarks on beliefnet.com:
“Rev. Wright’s words may seem harsh and his style may be strident, but that just may be the way that those of us in the white establishment react. For his African-American brothers and sisters, there may be a different reaction. Many of them will hear him as an angry prophet in the tradition of ancient Israel.”
Another white opinion leader, E.J. Dionne (religion writer for the Washington Post) feels that black preachers are not “allowed” to speak out against the government, while whites like Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and John Hagee are. Although he acknowledges the grand standing and extremism of Jeremiah Wright, he still calls him a “prophet.”
This kind of confusion is why Tony Perkins and I wrote the recently released book Personal Faith, Public Policy. We believe that 7 pressing problems the nation is facing can be solved on our watch. Among these problems are immigration, poverty and justice, the environment, the value of human life, and yes – racial reconciliation. In addition to answering hundreds of questions, the work also presents easy to understand policy prescriptions, which are bi-partisan. No matter who wins the oval office, conservatives and bible believing Christians will need to develop a clear agenda for public involvement in both culture and politics. Our focus must be on solving problems as opposed to simply striking, long-entrenched ideological poses.
Our book has received some very negative reviews by liberal Christians who doubt the authority of the scriptures or simply don’t like the personalities of those who have been traditional leaders of the evangelical activist movement in the past. Now is the time for the bible believing church to overcome its sense of betrayal by politicians of both parties and come to a new commitment to transform America.
If Jeremiah Wright has shown us nothing else, he has shown us that there is power in preaching. From one pulpit in Chicago he has influenced countless thousands locally as well as cultural icons like Oprah Winfrey, and the front running Democratic candidate for president. Although Wright is as wrong as two left feet, bible believing Christians should follow his commitment to his work, not his theology.
We must recognize there is a theological war being waged alongside of the culture war, which is attempting to undo the great impact that faith has had on our culture. Let’s keep “true” hope alive!