Wednesday, April 30, 2008

So let the words of my mouth/and the meditations of our hearts/be acceptable in thy sight/over I

I had decided to post the rest of Rev. Wright's comments, the answers he gave to questions put to him at the National Press Club. The Wounded Bird is right, I do write long, and this has grown longer the more I meditate on it; but I promise to stop after I get this out of my head. I had decided, as I say, to post this, and then I read the NYT lead editorial this morning:

Mr. Wright has not let that happen. In the last few days, in a series of shocking appearances, he embraced the Rev. Louis Farrakhan’s anti-Semitism. He said the government manufactured the AIDS virus to kill blacks. He suggested that America was guilty of “terrorism” and so had brought the 9/11 attacks on itself.
Keep that in mind. It's from the "liberal" New York Times, and honestly, I don't know where to start with it. But read the following comments, and those posted earlier, and tell me where Rev. Wright "embraced the Rev. Louis Farrakhan's anti-Semitism." Tell me where he said the US "manufactured" the AIDS virus. Tell me where how he is wrong about the US being guilty of terrorism. Oh, never mind; you might as well take on the world. Let's get back to what Rev. Wright said, and ignore the ignorance of his critics for a moment.

As I started to say, some of the questions Rev. Wright answered are in a prior post. I want to start with the rest of them, here, edited only slightly, and include some commentary on them as we go along:

MODERATOR: What is your relationship with Louis Farrakhan? Do you agree with and respect his views, including his most racially divisive views?

WRIGHT: As I said on the Bill Moyers’ show, one of our news channels keeps playing a news clip from 20 years ago when Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion.

And he was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter is being vilified for, and Bishop Tutu is being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago.

I believe that people of all faiths have to work together in this country if we’re going to build a future for our children, whether those people are — just as Michelle and Barack don’t agree on everything, Raymond (ph) and I don’t agree on everything, Louis and I don’t agree on everything, most of you all don’t agree — you get two people in the same room, you’ve got three opinions.

So what I think about him, as I’ve said on Bill Moyers and it got edited out, how many other African-Americans or European-Americans do you know that can get one million people together on the mall? He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century. That’s what I think about him.

I’ve said, as I said on Bill Moyers, when Louis Farrakhan speaks, it’s like E.F. Hutton speaks, all black America listens. Whether they agree with him or not, they listen.

Now, I am not going to put down Louis Farrakhan anymore than Mandela would put down Fidel Castro. Do you remember that Ted Koppel show, where Ted wanted Mandela to put down Castro because Castro was our enemy? And he said, “You don’t tell me who my enemies are. You don’t tell me who my friends are.”

Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains. He did not put me in slavery. And he didn’t make me this color.
I will confess to you, I don't know which part of that I'm supposed to be offended by. It is, as was stated in comments in the post below, a nuanced answer. It is not an embrace of Louis Farrakhan, and in fact it offers a challenge to the commonly accepted (quick: quote precisely what he said and the context in which he said it) "quote" that Louis Farrakhan called Judaism a "gutter religion." Frankly, that may not be any more accurate than Marx calling religion "the opiate of the masses" (he did, but "opiate" has a very different meaning today than it did for Marx in the 19th century; and he made the difference clear in the full quote, which is hardly ever used). As Rev. Wright says, Farrakhan is not Wright's enemy, and he won't let the media make them enemies. Apparently, however, that puts everyone's nose out of joint. "Never share my hearth, never think my thoughts, whoever does such things."

MODERATOR: What is your motivation for characterizing Senator Obama’s response to you as, quote, “what a politician had to say”? What do you mean by that?

WRIGHT: What I mean is what several of my white friends and several of my white, Jewish friends have written me and said to me. They’ve said, “You’re a Christian. You understand forgiveness. We both know that, if Senator Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected.”

Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever’s doing the polls. Preachers say what they say because they’re pastors. They have a different person to whom they’re accountable.

As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I’m still going to have to be answerable to God November 5th and January 21st. That’s what I mean. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do.

I am not running for office. I am hoping to be vice president.
And this is an offense against Sen. Obama precisely how? Because we are childish enough to believe politicians don't do anything that is political? Are we really that immature and ignorant? Is it any wonder we are offended, if Rev. Wright points that out to us? Which is back to the role of a pastor, v. the role of a politician; something Rev. Wright, as we will see below, understands better than the politicians. But we would do well to remember we are in the land of either/or: there is politics, and there is that which opposes politics; and the latter must never be permitted entry into the hallowed halls of the true polis: "Never share my hearth, never think my thoughts....."

MODERATOR: In light of your widely quoted comment damning America, do you think you owe the American people an apology? If not, do you think that America is still damned in the eyes of God?

WRIGHT: The governmental leaders, those — as I said to Barack Obama, my member — I am a pastor, he’s a member. I’m not a spiritual mentor, guru. I’m his pastor.

And I said to Barack Obama, last year, “If you get elected, November the 5th, I’m coming after you, because you’ll be representing a government whose policies grind under people.” All right? It’s about policy, not the American people.

And if you saw the Bill Moyers show, I was talking about — although it got edited out — you know, that’s biblical. God doesn’t bless everything. God condemns something — and d-e-m-n, “demn,” is where we get the word “damn.” God damns some practices.

And there is no excuse for the things that the government, not the American people, have done. That doesn’t make me not like America or unpatriotic.

So in Jesus — when Jesus says, “Not only you brood of vipers” — now, he’s playing the dozens, because he’s talking about their mamas. To say “brood” means your mother is an asp, a-s-p. Should we put Jesus out of the congregation?

When Jesus says, “You’ll be brought down to Hell,” that’s not — that’s bombastic, divisive speech. Maybe we ought to take Jesus out of this Christian faith.
Let me interrupt right there. When Falwell and Robertson and Hagee condemn the US and claim natural disasters are the direct evidence of God's wrath; when they speak openly of damnation of this country because of it's culture; that's okay. When a black man does it from a Christian pulpit, however....

No. What I said about and what I think about and what — again, until I can’t — until racism and slavery are confessed and asked for forgiveness — have we asked the Japanese to forgive us? We have never as a country, the policymakers — in fact, Clinton almost got in trouble because he almost apologized at Gorialan (ph). We have never apologized as a country.

Britain has apologized to Africans, but this country’s leaders have refused to apologize. So until that apology comes, I’m not going to keep stepping on your foot and asking you, “Does this hurt? Do you forgive me for stepping on your foot?” if I’m still stepping on your foot.

Understand that? Capiche?
I'm guessing the problem here is that Jesus is black, because white people don't know how to play the dozens. Or because we're all supposed to realize slavery ended in the 19th century, and making Martin Luther King's birthday a holiday proves we're past the scars of the century after that, and civil rights is now the law, so what's the problem here? At least, that's all I can figure. Or maybe Rev. Wright is just not "post-racial" enough. We are "post-racial" now, aren't we? That little mess in New Orleans where we left poor blacks to drown, and called the black victims of that storm "looters," while the whites were "trying to feed their families," that's all behind us now, right? Because we're ready to support a black man for President. Well, most of us, but not white rural voters in Pennsylvania, apparently. But still, we're post-racial, right? And if we aren't, it's Rev. Wright's fault, isn't it?

MODERATOR: Senator Obama has been in your congregation for 20 years, yet you were not invited to his announcement of his presidential candidacy in Illinois. And in the most recent presidential debate in Pennsylvania, he said he had denounced you. Are you disappointed that Senator Obama has chosen to walk away from you?

WRIGHT: Whoever wrote that question doesn’t read or watch the news. He did not denounce me. He distanced himself from some of my remarks, like most of you, never having heard the sermon. All right?

Now, what was the rest of your question? Because I got confused in — the person who wrote it hadn’t –

MODERATOR: Were you disappointed that he distanced himself?

WRIGHT: He didn’t distance himself. He had to distance himself, because he’s a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was anti-American. He said I didn’t offer any words of hope. How would he know? He never heard the rest of the sermon. You never heard it.

I offered words of hope. I offered reconciliation. I offered restoration in that sermon, but nobody heard the sermon. They just heard this little sound bite of a sermon.

That was not the whole question. There was something else in the first part of the question that I wanted to address.

Oh, I was not invited because that was a political event. Let me say again: I’m his pastor. As a political event, who started it off? Senator Dick Durbin. I started it off downstairs with him, his wife, and children in prayer. That’s what pastors do.

So I started it off in prayer. When he went out into the public, that wasn’t about prayer. That wasn’t about pastor-member. Pastor- member took place downstairs. What took place upstairs was political.

So that’s how I feel about that. He did, as I’ve said, what politicians do. This is a political event. He wasn’t announcing, “I’m saved, sanctified, and feel the holy ghost.” He was announcing, “I’m running for president of the United States.”
But this is America, and everything is political; or at least, it should be. Don't make journalists and pundits think there are important parts of life that can't be explained in terms of politics and power; because they will just resent that. In fact, isn't there something Jesus said about feeding pearls to swine, and how they will just turn on you?

MODERATOR: You just mentioned that Senator Obama hadn’t heard many of your sermons. Does that mean he’s not much of a churchgoer? Or does he doze off in the pews?

WRIGHT: I just wanted to see — that’s your question. That’s your question. He goes to church about as much as you do. What did your pastor preach on last week? You don’t know? OK.
The dream response of every pastor who has ever stood in a pulpit, and been criticized later for what he or she said; usually by someone who wasn't in church that Sunday. No, it's not a model of Christian charity; but it is satisfying.

MODERATOR: In your sermon, you said the government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. So I ask you: Do you honestly believe your statement and those words?

WRIGHT: Have you read Horowitz’s book, “Emerging Viruses: AIDS and Ebola,” whoever wrote that question? Have you read “Medical Apartheid”? You’ve read it?

(UNKNOWN): Do you honestly believe that (OFF-MIKE)

WRIGHT: Oh, are you — is that one of the reporters?

MODERATOR: No questions -


WRIGHT: No questions from the floor. I read different things. As I said to my members, if you haven’t read things, then you can’t — based on this Tuskegee experiment and based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything.

In fact, in fact, in fact, one of the — one of the responses to what Saddam Hussein had in terms of biological warfare was a non- question, because all we had to do was check the sales records. We sold him those biological weapons that he was using against his own people.

So any time a government can put together biological warfare to kill people, and then get angry when those people use what we sold them, yes, I believe we are capable.
We might also mention here that while we associate the Chinese with opium use in the 19th century, the poppy does not grow in China, but in Afghanistan. And the British controlled Afghanistan, and used the opium addiction against the Chinese. It's called "The Opium Wars." So countries doing such terrible things against people, is not exactly unknown. Consider the effects of depleted uranium in Iraq today; or 100 years from now, John McCain's favorite time-frame. Because 100 years from now, it may still be having an effect on Iraqis; we've used that much of it there. And it's having an effect on American soldiers right now. Does the government seem to care? And is any of that intentional genocide? Or just collateral damage? And the difference to the dead is?

Does anybody really doubt governments are capable of such inhumanity? Does anybody know how many natives lived in this country before Europeans started arriving? Does anybody realize the slave trade was legal, and the number of corpses that arrived on these shores was actually quite high? Is it really such a leap from that, to thinking AIDS was deliberately used against people? Is that possibility really beyond the pale, really simply impossible?

MODERATOR: You have likened Israeli policies to apartheid and its treatment of Palestinians with Native Americans. Can you explain your views on Israel?

WRIGHT: Where did I liken them to that? Whoever wrote the question, tell me where I likened them.

Jimmy Carter called it apartheid. Jeremiah Wright didn’t liken anything to anything. My position on Israel is that Israel has a right to exist, that Israelis have a right to exist, as I said, reconciled one to another.

Have you read the Link? Do you read the Link, Americans for Middle Eastern Understanding, where Palestinians and Israelis need to sit down and talk to each other and work out a solution where their children can grow in a world together, and not be talking about killing each other, that that is not God’s will?

My position is that the Israel and the people of Israel be the people of God who are worrying about reconciliation and who are trying to do what God wants for God’s people, which is reconciliation.
Much too sensible an answer. Easier by far to simply vilify him; better yet, ignore this answer altogether. Everyone else in the media has.

MODERATOR: In your understanding of Christianity, does God love the white racists in the same way he loves the oppressed black American?

WRIGHT: John 3:16, Jesus said it much better than I could ever say it, “for God so loved the world.” World is white, black, Iraqi, Darfurian, Sudanese, Zulu, Coschia (ph). God loves all of God’s children, because all of God’s children are made in God’s image.
Religion question, and one without any conflict. How can the media report on a religion question that doesn't involve conflict? Best to ignore that one, too; especially since it contradicts the "Wright is a hater" meme that some are still trying to stir up (like Gingrich on The Daily Show last night). It also reduces the conflict in the story; and we can't talk about religion without talking about conflict. No conflict, no story; let's find some other answer to report on.

MODERATOR: Can you elaborate on your comparison of the Roman soldiers who killed Jesus to the U.S. Marine Corps? Do you still believe that is an appropriate comparison and why?

WRIGHT: One of the things that will be covered at the symposium over the next two days is biblical history, which many of the working press are unfamiliar with.
The reference is to "some theological conference", as Richard Wolffe put it on Countdown the other night. And never, NEVER, tell reporters there is something they are unfamiliar with! Because obviously, if they are, unless it's a matter of "national security", it's too unimportant for anyone to know anything about. Much easier to call a man a clown (Olbermann, Tuesday night), or a "freak show" (Wolffe, same show) than to pay attention when he's trying to educate you. But I interrupted....

In biblical history, there’s not one word written in the Bible between Genesis and Revelations that was not written under one of six different kinds of oppression, Egyptian oppression, Assyrian oppression, Persian oppression, Greek oppression, Roman oppression, Babylonian oppression.

The Roman oppression is the period in which Jesus is born. And comparing imperialism that was going on in Luke, imperialism was going on when Caesar Augustus sent out a decree that the whole world should be taxed. They weren’t in charge of the world. It sounds like some other governments I know.

That, yes, I can compare that. We have troops stationed all over the world, just like Rome had troops stationed all over the world, because we run the world. That notion of imperialism is not the message of the gospel of the prince of peace, nor of God, who loves the world.
This, by the way, is not exactly a radical view of Biblical history. Indeed, it was the well accepted view until a generation or so ago, when any knowledge of Biblical history became hopelessly passé and unscientific (for what reason I cannot for the life of me imagine, since even educated non-believers should understand the importance of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures in Western culture, and so the history those texts reflect should be equally important. But then, today, how many people have heard of Socrates or Aristotle?). That didn't start with the rise of the "prosperity gospel," either; it has always been a part of Christian teachings, where the church is closely allied with the power structure of the society it is in. Which takes us back to "liberation theology, so let's just call Wright "crazy" and move quickly on.

MODERATOR: Former President Bill Clinton has been widely criticized in this campaign. Many African-Americans think he has said things aimed at defining Senator Obama as the black candidate. What do you think of President Clinton’s comments, particularly those before the South Carolina primary?

WRIGHT: I don’t think anything about them. I came here to talk about prophetic theology of the black church. I’m not talking about candidates or their positions or their feelings or what they have to say to get elected.
Oops! I was told Rev. Wright was injecting himself into this campaign, that like John McCain, the press HAD to talk about Rev. Wright because he declared himself fair game with these press conferences and speeches. Somebody obviously didn't get him the memo!

MODERATOR: Well, OK, we’ll give you a church question. Please explain how the black church and the white church can reconcile.

WRIGHT: Well, there are many white churches and white persons who are members of churches and clergy and denominations who have already taken great steps in terms of reconciliation.

In the underground railroad, it was the white church that played the largest role in getting Africans out of slavery. In setting up almost all 40 of the HBCUs, it was the white church that sent missionaries into the south.

As I mentioned in my presentation, our denomination all by itself set up over 500 of those schools. You know them today as Howard University, Fisk, LeMoyne-Owen, Tougaloo, Dillard University, Howard University.

So they’ve done — Morehouse, Morehouse. Don’t forget Moorhouse, Spelman — that white Christians have been trying for a long time to reconcile, that for other white Christians to understand that we must be reconciled is to understand the injustice that was done to a people, as we raped the continent, brought those people here, built our country, and then defined them as less than human.

And more Christians, more of us working together, not just white Christians, but whites and blacks of every faith, ecumenically working together.

Father Flagger (ph), by the way, he might be one of the one –


– models out what it means to be reconciled as brothers and sisters in Christ and brothers and sisters made in the image of God.
I should mention he left out Huston-Tillotson College, in Austin, Texas. And there are several hospitals, nursing homes, mental institutions, and orphanages in the St. Louis area and other parts of the midwest, as well as a ministry to the poor in Biloxi, Mississippi, begun by the German Evangelical church, the "other branch" of the United Church of Christ.

MODERATOR: You said there is a lack of understanding by people of other backgrounds of the African-American church. What are some of those misunderstandings? And how would you purport to fix them, particularly when some of your comments are found to be offensive by white churches?

WRIGHT: Carter Godwin Woodson, about 80 years ago, wrote a book entitled “The Miseducation.” I would try to fix it starting at the educational level in the grammar schools, as Dr. Asa Hilliard did in his infusion curriculum, starting at the grammar schools, to tell our children this story and to tell our children the true story.

That’s how I go about fixing it, because until you know the true story, then you’re reacting to my words and not to the truth.
Once again, calling reporters ignorant. If they don't know it, it ain't worth knowin', bub!

MODERATOR: Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the father but through me.” Do you believe this? And do you think Islam is a way to salvation?

WRIGHT: Jesus also said, “Other sheep have I who are not of this fold.”


MODERATOR: Do you think people of other races would feel welcome at your church?

WRIGHT: Yes. We have members of other races in our church. We have Hispanics. We have Caribbean. We have South Americans. We have whites.

The conference minister — please understand the United Church of Christ is a predominantly white demonstration. Again, some of you do not know United Church of Christ, just found out about liberation theology, just found out about United Church of Christ, the conference minister, Dr. Jane Fisler Hoffman, a white woman, and her husband, not only are members of the congregation, but on her last Sunday before taking the assignment as the interim conference minister of California, Southern California Conference of the United Church of Christ, a white woman stood in our pulpit and said, “I am unashamedly African.”

Obviously another "wackadoodle." Obviously all those "other races" in the Rev.'s church hate themselves and their "race," because we all agree the Rev. preaches race hatred. How sad for those deluded white folks....

MODERATOR: You first gained media attention, significant media attention for your sermons several weeks ago. Why did you wait so long before giving the public your side of the sound bite story?

WRIGHT: As I said to Bill Moyers — and he also edited this one out — because of my mother’s advice to me. My mother’s advice was being seen all over the corporate media channels, and it’s a paraphrase of the Book of Proverbs, where it is better to be quiet and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.

The media was making a fool out of itself, because it knew nothing about our tradition. And so I decided to let them make a fool as long as they wanted to and then take the advice of Paul Laurence Dunbar, “Lies, lies, bless the lord. Don’t you know the days are broad?”

Don’t make me come across this room. I had to come across the room, because they start — understand, when you’re talking about my mama, once again, and talking about my faith tradition, once again, how long do you let somebody talk about your faith tradition before you speak up and say something in defense of — this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright.

Once again, let me say it again. This is an attack on the black church. And I cannot as a minister of the gospel allow the significant part of our history — most African-Americans and most European-Americans, most Hispanic-Americans, half the names I called in my presentation they’ve never heard of, because they don’t know anything at all about our tradition.

And to lift up those — they would have died in vain had I just kept quiet longer and longer and longer and longer. As I said, this is an attack on the black church. It is not about Obama, McCain, Hillary, Bill, Chelsea. This is about the black church.

This is about Barbara Jordan. This is about Fanny Lou Hamer. This is about my grandmamma.
You'll notice none of those people were mentioned by Juan Williams or Eugene Robinson or Bob Herbert. It's as if Rev. Wright never said these words; all three of them stopped much earlier, and left his words there. Not coincidentally, precisely at the point they were cut off for the sound bite on the evening news. And now that is the critique endlessly repeated by everyone, including Barack Obama. "Fair and balanced:" it's not just for FauxNews anymore.

MODERATOR: Do you think it is God’s will that Senator Obama be president?

WRIGHT: I said I would offer myself for candidacy for vice president. I have not offered myself for candidacy of God. I can’t presume to know what God would want.

In my tradition, however, what everybody has been saying to me as it pertains to the candidacy is what God has for you is for you. If God intends for Mr. Obama to the president, then no white racists, no political pundit, no speech, nothing can get in the way, because God will do what God wants to do.
Which is just crazy talk! Everybody knows God is supposed to do what we say God is gonna do! who's in charge here? Us? Or God?

MODERATOR: OK, we are almost out of time.

.... And we’ve got one more question for you.


We’re going to end with a joke. Chris Rock joked, “Of course Reverend Wright’s an angry 75-year-old black man. All 75-year-old black men are angry.” Is that funny? Is that true? Is it unfortunate? What do you think?

WRIGHT: I think it’s just like the media. I’m not 75.


Yeah, nobody made a soundbite out of that, either. Why am I not surprised?

There is very little in some of this that Walter Brueggeman hasn't said, or wouldn't say. I don't know Dr. Brueggeman's position on AIDS or Louis Farrakhan, but he agrees with Rev. Wright on the oppressions represented in Biblical history, and the very biblical and thoroughly unremarkable principle that "those to whom evil is done do evil in return."

The current spasm of "righteous indignation" concerning Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama's pastor, smacks of embarrassing ignorance. Such a critique of Wright is ignorant of black preaching rhetoric and the practice of liberation interpretation. It is also disturbingly ignorant of the prophetic traditions of the Bible that regularly expose the failures of society in savage rhetoric. I am grateful for the ministry of Wright, a colleague of mine in the United Church of Christ, who for a very long time has been a faithful pastor and a daring prophetic figure. It is odd when right-wingers misconstrue this belated Jeremiah as they do the original Jeremiah, who knew about God's passion for truth-telling in risky places.
As we have seen, however, condemnation of the Rev. Wright is not limited to "right wingers." Dr. Brueggeman is Professor Emeritus at Columbia Theological Seminary. He's also written more than a few well-regarded scholarly works on the Hebrew Prophets, including several on Jeremiah. But since he's never been publicly associated with a politician, his views have never disturbed the delicate sensibilities of the pundit class. They are, however, wholly unremarkable within modern theological circles. Oh, they might antagonize John Hagee or Pat Robertson, might be unrecognizable to Joel Osteen or Rick Warren; but they are hardly radical because of that. But the media had to report on Rev. Wright's views, and the media can't do that without a conflict, so the narrative was tacitly agreed upon: Jeremiah Wright is jealous of the attention being given to Barack Obama. Richard Wolffe mentioned it on Countdown two nights ago. Eugene Robinson picked it up yesterday, Keith Olbermann relied on it as gospel last night, and Newt Gingrich passed it on to Jon Stewart as if it were received wisdom later that same evening. Much easier to report on that conflict than to consider precisely, and carefully, what Rev. Wright actually said. But then, as Rev. Wright said: "until you know the true story, then you’re reacting to my words and not to the truth." And clearly no journalist or pundit reporting or opining on this story wants to know the true story, since it's so much easier to react to his words, and not to the truth.

We couldn't fit Rev. Wright into the mold of the kindly black preacher who speaks benignly and perhaps slips some arsenic into the vanilla pudding, at his most challenging; or the preacher who calls for fire and brimstone and repentance, clearly "religious" topics which have nothing whatsover to do with politics (and so are "safe" for public consumption); so the media has put him in the mold of "crazy scary bomb-throwing race-baiting black man," the better to dismiss him. And that's just based on the barest references to his "black liberation theology." I can imagine what they'd have done with Dr. Brueggeman's theology of scarcity. It might have started a new Red Scare.

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