Margaret Ramirez of the Chicago Tribune wrote a curious and rather representative story about Barack Obama’s favorite pastor. It showed readers that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., who retired, had expanded his United Church of Christ congregation dramatically. But her article failed to explain why his pastorate succeeded.
As Mollie pointed out, many reporters have written about Wright’s black-nationalist philosophy and relationship with Obama. But only a few have mentioned Wright’s accomplishments. As Ramirez noted, plainly but aptly,
Obama was one of the thousands who joined Trinity under Wright’s leadership. When Wright became Trinity’s pastor in 1972, the church had 85 members. Today, Trinity has a congregation of 8,500, with more than 80 ministries, making it one of the largest and most influential black churches in the nation.
In other words, during his tenure Wright’s congregation increased by more than 1,000 percent. How did he achieve this enormous feat? Ramirez attributes his success, yes, to Wright’s black nationalism; but also to his emphasis on social justice:
In a statement, [Wright's successor, Otis] Moss praised Wright for focusing on social justice instead of preaching prosperity gospel.
“While other ministers and ministries have allowed the winds of the current culture and market to reshape the gospel into formulaic catchphrases and false hopes of financial success, Dr. Wright, you have etched out a unique homiletic of recovery and redemption,” Moss said.
What do Moss and Wright mean by social justice? It’s impossible to say for certain. But Wright’s definition sounds similar to the prosperity gospel. In a sermon that alluded to Obama, Wright told the congregation,
“How many children of biracial parents can make it in a world controlled by racist ideology?” Wright said.
“Children born to parents who are of two different races do not have a snowball’s chance in hell of making it in America, especially if the momma was white and the daddy was black. A child born to that union is an unfortunate statistic in a racially polarized society,” he said.
“But, if you use your mind, instead of a lost statistic in a hate-filled universe, you just may end up a law student at Harvard University. In fact, if you use your mind, you might end up as the editor of the Harvard Law Review. If you use your mind, instead of [being] a statistic destined for the poor house, you just may end up a statesman destined for the … Yes, we can!” Wright said, using the popular Obama slogan.
See what I mean? The story leaves readers confused. Social justice sounds as if it is the prosperity gospel for poor and black people. If Ramirez had added a phrase or sentence defining her terms and giving an example, her story would have been a lot better.