Lately, there has been a lot of talk about the political ramifications of Jeremiah Wright’s hate-filled preaching, rightly so. He deserves all the criticism that people are dishing out. It is unconscionable that a minister would use the sacred Christian pulpit to push his politically driven agenda and use rhetorical techniques to whip up negative and destructive emotions in his congregation. Secularists, people of other faiths and most especially Christians should recoil from such blatant use of the pulpit to spew harsh and mean-spirited demagogery that promotes racial divisiveness and spreads poisonous lies and bitter distortions. Indeed, Americans have described Mr. Wright’s inflammatory comments as “outrageous” and “appalling.”
It is especially stunning that the pastor of a presidential candidate would continue to make himself the center of political controversy. In Dallas, he spoke for 45 minutes about his “public crucifixion.” During the Bill Moyers interview on the Public Broadcasting Service and in other recent appearances, he has repeated the comments that got him in trouble originally. He praised Louis Farrakhan, leader of the radical group, Nation of Islam, as one of the great leaders of the 21st century; he repeated his accusation that the U.S. spread AIDS to blacks and that U.S. “militarism” is “terrorism.” He declared that the U.S. was “capable of doing anything.” In fact, he called the U.S.A., the U.S. of K.K.K.A. He wrote an entire sermon on the thesis, “God [D--n] America.”
When Barack Obama tried to distance himself from such ranting, Mr. Wright implied that his former parishioner denounced him for political reasons. This week, Mr. Wright spoke out again –– this time creating a media circus in a major national arena –– just as the original furor over his sermons was somewhat receding from public discourse.
In his remarks at the National Press Club this week, Mr. Wright accused those who criticize him of not understanding the black church or the African American spiritual traditions. He defended his tirades –– that are solidly rooted in the Marxist Liberation Theology that focuses on class struggle and economic determinism and calls for the “destruction” of the “white enemy” –– as an essential aspect of the black religious experience.
Plainly, Mr. Wright distorts Christianity. In Christ, there is no black or white. There is only one way of salvation in the gospel and that is through Christ and Him crucified. The Scriptures are clear that “doing good” is not enough; the heart must be in “right accord” and we do the right thing because our faith requires it of us, not to earn our way into someone’s good graces.
The Scriptures are clear about the responsibilities of Christian ministers: Saint Paul in I Corinthians 9:16 in reference to the high calling of the preacher states, “Woe is me, if I preach not the gospel.” A preacher’s first and most compelling responsibility is to preach the gospel –– which does not mean merely teaching a doctrine and certainly does not mean stirring up negative emotions and producing destructive behavior and attitudes –– it means proclaiming Jesus Christ in words and actions. Jesus Christ described himself as “the same yesterday, today and forever.” So, the black church is not different from any other church. All Christians are called to be instruments of Christ’s presence and to be “salt and light” in the world; in other words, to spread truth and to call for repentance so that Christ can forgive and transform those who believe.
Further, Mr. Wright distorts the issue of American slavery. Christianity was a major force –– if not THE major force –– ending slavery in the United States. The revivalism of that era produced conviction, repentance and conversion for whites and well as blacks. And, it was the power of the gospel that led white Americans to fight slavery and become outspoken abolitionists. That same gospel transformed the lives of the slaves who became believers so that they were able to rise above their circumstances to accept the equality of the Bible and the freedom that only Christ can give.
After the Civil War, Christian black families and communities were strong and supportive of each other; it was not until the 1960s and its entitlement programs that the black family disintegrated. Sadly, Mr. Wright is not the first black preacher to manipulate black church congregations into victimization rather than salvation; Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton and others present the same worldview. We can only hope that after the media spectacle this week, the light of truth will shine through the darkness of distortion to focus on the gospel message that Christ came to redeem and transform the lives of all who are lost.