Tuesday, April 29, 2008

When we remembered Zion

Well, that was pretty sad:

“I’m outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday,” Mr. Obama said, speaking to reporters here today. He added, “I find these comments appalling. It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am.”
I guess he means the dancing for the NAACP. Or maybe he means the comments before the National Press Club. Comments like these:

Maybe now, as an honest dialogue about race in this country begins, a dialogue called for by Senator Obama and a dialogue to begin in the United Church of Christ among 5,700 congregations in just a few weeks, maybe now, as that dialogue begins, the religious tradition that has kept hope alive for people struggling to survive in countless hopeless situation, maybe that religious tradition will be understood, celebrated, and even embraced by a nation that seems not to have noticed why 11 o’clock on Sunday morning has been called the most segregated hour in America.

We have known since 1787 that it is the most segregated hour. Maybe now we can begin to understand why it is the most segregated hour.

And maybe now we can begin to take steps to move the black religious tradition from the status of invisible to the status of invaluable, not just for some black people in this country, but for all the people in this country.
Yeah, didn't get that context from Eugene Robinson or Bob Herbert this morning on the op-ed pages, did you? No mention of the work of the United Church of Christ, of which Rev. Wright is an unashamed member, and which he has referred to frequently over the past few public appearances. No, no, Rev. Wright is a loose cannon, the leader of an independent mega-church that rises and falls on his shouting and damning, a mad cult of personality off on its own personal crusade against white folk, and "good" black folk like Juan Williams and Eugene Robinson and Bob Herbert, and now Barack Obama, want to be sure we understand him just that way. That N***er is crazy!

Feh. Color me disgusted.

Here's what Obama said, too:

But after watching three days of Mr. Wright’s commentary in televised speeches and interviews, Mr. Obama said, “there are no excuses.”

“They offend me, they rightly offend all Americans and they should be denounced,” he said. “That’s what I am doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.”
Again, still not sure exactly what remarks Sen. Obama is referring to. Perhaps that Sunday morning has been the most segregated hour in America since 1787. Perhaps that the UCC is going to engage a dialogue on this issue, one the Senator tried to open a few weeks ago. Perhaps it was the dancing, or maybe it was this:

Now, in the 1960s, the term “liberation theology” began to gain currency with the writings and the teachings of preachers, pastors, priests, and professors from Latin America. Their theology was done from the underside.

Their viewpoint was not from the top down or from a set of teachings which undergirded imperialism. Their viewpoints, rather, were from the bottom up, the thoughts and understandings of God, the faith, religion and the Bible from those whose lives were ground, under, mangled and destroyed by the ruling classes or the oppressors.

Liberation theology started in and started from a different place. It started from the vantage point of the oppressed.

In the late 1960s, when Dr. James Cone’s powerful books burst onto the scene, the term “black liberation theology” began to be used. I do not in any way disagree with Dr. Cone, nor do I in any way diminish the inimitable and incomparable contributions that he has made and that he continues to make to the field of theology. Jim, incidentally, is a personal friend of mine.

I call our faith tradition, however, the prophetic tradition of the black church, because I take its origins back past Jim Cone, past the sermons and songs of Africans in bondage in the transatlantic slave trade. I take it back past the problem of Western ideology and notions of white supremacy.
Was it denouncing white supremacy that upset the Senator? Was it the claim that liberation theology sees the faith tradition from the side of the oppressed, from the kind of people Jesus of Nazareth lived with all his life? I'm asking a serious question here, because those are hard words by the Senator, and as an American who apparently should be offended, I want to know what I'm offended by. Maybe it was this:

The prophetic tradition of the black church has its roots in Isaiah, the 61st chapter, where God says the prophet is to preach the gospel to the poor and to set at liberty those who are held captive. Liberating the captives also liberates who are holding them captive.

It frees the captives and it frees the captors. It frees the oppressed and it frees the oppressors.

The prophetic theology of the black church, during the days of chattel slavery, was a theology of liberation. It was preached to set free those who were held in bondage spiritually, psychologically, and sometimes physically. And it was practiced to set the slaveholders free from the notion that they could define other human beings or confine a soul set free by the power of the gospel.

The prophetic theology of the black church during the days of segregation, Jim Crow, lynching, and the separate-but-equal fantasy was a theology of liberation.

It was preached to set African-Americans free from the notion of second-class citizenship, which was the law of the land. And it was practiced to set free misguided and miseducated Americans from the notion that they were actually superior to other Americans based on the color of their skin.

The prophetic theology of the black church in our day is preached to set African-Americans and all other Americans free from the misconceived notion that different means deficient.
I'm serious; I'm trying to find it. Here, maybe?

Black learning styles are different from European and European- American learning styles. They are not deficient; they are just different.

This principle of “different does not mean deficient” is at the heart of the prophetic theology of the black church. It is a theology of liberation.
That one set off George Will this morning, though it seems unremarkable in this age where we recognize "standardized" tests can be culturally biased, and that culture can certainly influence "learning styles" (a vague term, but clear enough for this discussion, eh?). Well, maybe this was it:

These two foci of liberation and transformation have been at the very core of the United Church of Christ since its predecessor denomination, the Congregational Church of New England, came to the moral defense and paid for the legal defense of the Mende people aboard the slave ship Amistad, since the days when the United Church of Christ fought against slavery, played an active role in the underground railroad, and set up over 500 schools for the Africans who were freed from slavery in 1865.

And these two foci remain at the core of the teachings of the United Church of Christ, as it has fought against apartheid in South Africa and racism in the United States of America ever since the union which formed the United Church of Christ in 1957.

These two foci of liberation and transformation have also been at the very core and the congregation of Trinity United Church of Christ since it was founded in 1961. And these foci have been the bedrock of our preaching and practice for the past 36 years.
There is is again, the "United Church of Christ," which is, need I point out, a predominantly white church, a church with roots as deep in European Protestantism as it is possible for those roots to go? But please don't repeat that, because Eugene Robinson and Juan Williams want to assure us Rev. Wright is on the lunatic fringe, a distaff church lead by a distaff pastor, and representative of no one, certainly not part of a mainstream Christian denomination responsible for many important institutions and acts in American history. No, no, no, no; that man is craaaazy!

Well, this must be the offensive language, then:

The prophetic theology of the black church is a theology of liberation; it is a theology of transformation; and it is ultimately a theology of reconciliation.

The Apostle Paul said, “Be ye reconciled one to another, even as God was in Christ reconciling the world to God’s self.”

God does not desire for us, as children of God, to be at war with each other, to see each other as superior or inferior, to hate each other, abuse each other, misuse each other, define each other, or put each other down.

God wants us reconciled, one to another. And that third principle in the prophetic theology of the black church is also and has always been at the heart of the black church experience in North America.
Maybe not? Sounds like Obama's kind of language, doesn't it? Gotta keep looking:

How we are seeing God, our theology, is not the same. And what we both mean when we say “I am a Christian” is not the same thing. The prophetic theology of the black church has always seen and still sees all of God’s children as sisters and brothers, equals who need reconciliation, who need to be reconciled as equals in order for us to walk together into the future which God has prepared for us.

Reconciliation does not mean that blacks become whites or whites become blacks and Hispanics become Asian or that Asians become Europeans.

Reconciliation means we embrace our individual rich histories, all of them. We retain who we are as persons of different cultures, while acknowledging that those of other cultures are not superior or inferior to us. They are just different from us.

We root out any teaching of superiority, inferiority, hatred, or prejudice.

And we recognize for the first time in modern history in the West that the other who stands before us with a different color of skin, a different texture of hair, different music, different preaching styles, and different dance moves, that other is one of God’s children just as we are, no better, no worse, prone to error and in need of forgiveness, just as we are.

Only then will liberation, transformation, and reconciliation become realities and cease being ever elusive ideals.
Maybe this was it; this is certainly what riled Mr. Herbert and Mr. Robinson and Mr. Williams:

MODERATOR: Some critics have said that your sermons are unpatriotic. How do you feel about America and about being an American?

WRIGHT: I feel that those citizens who say that have never heard my sermons, nor do they know me. They are unfair accusations taken from sound bites and that which is looped over and over again on certain channels.

I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?


MODERATOR: Please, I ask you to keep your comments and your applause to a minimum so that we can work in as many questions as possible.

Senator Obama has — shh, please. We’re trying to ask as many questions as possible today, so if you can keep your applause to a minimum.

Senator Obama has tried to explain away some of your most contentious comments and has distanced himself from you. It’s clear that many people in his campaign consider you a detriment. In that context, why are you speaking out now?

WRIGHT: On November the 5th and on January 21st, I’ll still be a pastor. As I said, this is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It has nothing to do with Senator Obama. It is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.

And why am I speaking out now? In our community, we have something called playing the dozens. If you think I’m going to let you talk about my mama and her religious tradition, and my daddy and his religious tradition, and my grandma, you’ve got another think coming.
That must be it. Either it was the dis on Cheney, or it was the desire by Rev. Wright to defend himself against scurrilous, ignorant, and unfounded charges.

Or maybe it's that reference to "playing the dozens." Maybe that's too "street" for Americans like Barack Obama. You think?


Fair is fair: a transcript of Sen. Obama's remarks reveals that Rev. Wright's comments on Louis Farrakhan, AIDS, and 9/11 are the "objectionable" comments. Feh, still, says I. Daniel Schorr points out we are not yet a post-racial society, and that the past isn't over, it isn't even past. If Daniel Schorr can figure that out, why can't Barack Obama? And the letters to NPR? They blame the media, not Wright or Obama. No word on any planned repentance by the media, though.

Yeah, I just love politics....

Finally: and the cap on the day was hearing Richard Wolffe on Countdown say that Wright is in D.C. at "some theological conference," that last two words pronounced with as much polite disdain as Mr. Wolffe could muster, as if the very idea was either so ludicrous or distasteful his RP British accent couldn't bear to utter it.

I'll retire to Bedlam.....

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