Wright stuff: Does he typify the black church?

wright 02 For their story about the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s comments yesterday, Shailagh Murray and Peter Slevin of The Washington Post focused on the politics of his appearance and speech. Their emphasis is understandable for obvious reasons. Yet the reporters underplayed the religion angle in their story — and thus also weakened their political angle.

Murray and Slevin gave readers the gist of Wright’s remarks — attacks on Wright are an attack on the black church:

Speaking before a sold-out gathering that was broadcast live on cable news networks yesterday, Wright told a mostly African American audience that his preaching has been misconstrued by journalists and political pundits who do not understand black religious tradition, which he said was founded amid slavery and racial intolerance and “still is invisible to the dominant culture.”

“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.”

In his prepared remarks, Wright traced the origins of the African American church in a measured tone and academic language.

To their credit, Murray and Slevin also quoted a fellow black pastor, albeit one with close ties to the Rev. Wright:

The Rev. Deborah F. Grant, a close friend of Wright’s and the pastor of St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church in Columbus, Ga., said the scrutiny of Wright is unfair, because he is being examined through a political lens. “He has not been called to be a politician. He’s been called to speak the gospel.”

Yet Grant was the lone voice on behalf of black churches. This is a failure of reporting. Murray and Slevin should have given readers a much better idea of whether Rev. Wright is typical of black pastors. They needed to include the voices of more black pastors and an expert on black American Christianity. Do they view Rev. Wright as left-wing anomaly or a mainstream figure?

This is an important question not just religiously but also politically. Suppose Barack Obama disavows his former pastor, as the Post implies that he should. Would Obama face massive defections from ordinary black Christians? Or would he meet resistance from a few stray black-liberation adherents?

Like any good politician, Obama knows how to count. So you can bet that he knows where his former pastor fits in the black Christian universe. Reporters should also know — and tell their readers accordingly.

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  • Jerry

    Suppose Barack Obama disavows his former pastor, as the Post implies that he should.

    The media is setting up a double-bind he can’t win for Obama. If he does nothing, they will rant on about why he doesn’t. If he does, they will rant on about him being a flip-flopper who has no integrity. And if shows that he’s annoyed with their feeding-frenzy shark like behavior, they’ll attack him for not having saint-like patience. In the meantime, McCain is getting a free ride from the media. From my perspective, this shows that the MSM has an obvious right-wing bias.

  • J Cline

    Unfortunately, yes, Wright’s lunatic theology does fairly well exemplify modern American black religious practice:

    - It’s loud, even obnoxious.
    - It’s unapologetic. (We’ve noted that by now.)
    - It’s not good at self-criticism.
    - It’s led by bombasts and outsized personalities.
    - It’s often centered around “prosperity” and earthly riches.
    - It’s rarely charitable towards whites.
    - It’s indignant and self-righteous.
    - It’s never challenged by atheists who relish insulting mainline (white) churches.

    There is no one “black church” in America, and never was. That is an artificial defense mechanism that Wright and his ilk hide behind. But on the whole, far too many black churches do exhibit the egotism, hysterical worship style, materialism, and pure unadulterated white-hatred of Wright.

    That is sad, and it deserves a closer and more cynical look by an objective media. However, it’s also a fact that blacks in America (particularly the loud and aggressive ones) get a free pass from whites who don’t wish to provoke a scene.

    I’d say the country could do with a few such scenes. Let’s confront with clarity what exactly it is that the black liberation theology franchise is teaching those who follow it. I think racism is perpetuated there, a racism of perceptions, grudges and old wounds that can never be healed — and that indeed, the franchise doesn’t WANT healed, because then the pews grow empty and the coffers are no longer full of indignant tithes.

    Black churches have been historically built on racial struggle and a sense of outraged justice. These same churches today are perpetuated because their franchised clergy cannot let go of the struggle — there can be no victory for the eternal victim, only more injustice to find and fight.

    Perhaps in this, there is something of the same radical, warrior appeal that jihadists find in fundamental Islam. Viewed this way, it isn’t so hard to understand why Farrakhan and Wright see eye to eye. Both are jihadists in spirit. Both have a common enemy. And both are equally reprehensible and should be condemned for it.

  • Dave

    Black churches have been historically built on racial struggle and a sense of outraged justice. These same churches today are perpetuated because their franchised clergy cannot let go of the struggle

    Perhaps because the everyday experience of the members of the congregation is that the struggle is not over, even with the achievements of the civil rights movement four decades ago.

    J Cline risks indulging in stereotype, lumping together the political, theological and stylistic aspects of (hir view of) the black church, along with the complete externality that atheists never challenge it. (Perhaps atheists don’t find the black church threatening.)

  • Stephen A.

    the everyday experience of the members of the congregation is the struggle is not over

    Pulleeze. Give us a break. The struggle for equality is over. Ask Condi Rice, Colin Powell, even Obama, who will very likely be the Democrat’s nominee for president, and the many, many others in the power structure of this government, along with the millions of other blacks who are in the same middle class that the racist Wright claims is “too white” for them to dare to aspire to.

    Another example: The only racists running around using the “N-word” are (wealthy) black rappers who are doing it to express their “rage.” Rage at WHAT? The only “struggle” is in the heads of race-hustlers like the Revs. Al Sharpton and Wright.

    Wright and his bombastic colleagues clearly aren’t representative of religious African-Americans that I’ve known.

    J Cline (above) nailed the description of SOME so-called self-appointed ‘black leaders’, but if even half of what Wright is saying were to be believed by pew-filling blacks, they, and all Americans, would be doomed to failure. Of course, I don’t believe that for a minute.

    Obama’s condemnation of Wright’s bizarre rants today will go a long way towards letting voters see him as something other than the closeted, rage-filled Black Panther many whites have been fearing he was in the last few weeks in which he’s been defending this racist lunatic.

  • jw

    Well, let’s see. Who are the best-known Black preachers:

    Reverend Al Sharpton
    Reverend Jesse Jackson

    and now Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

    *sigh*

    Yes, he does typify much of the Black Church (which, fortunately, is not part of the Christian church).

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    jw:

    I think your statement tells us as much about the media’s choices for black spokesmen as is does about the black church.

    When I think of the black church, I think of lots of different preachers on the left and the right. That has been my point, all along.

    Diversity.

  • Dave

    Stephen A wrote:

    The struggle for equality is over.

    The struggle against Jim Crow laws and for the vote is long over. But most inner city black kids still go to de-facto segregated and inferior schools, the death rate among black youth is appalling, about a third of black youth are enmeshed with the justice system in one way or another, there is a black-white achievement gap on standard tests, blacks are disproportionately represented among the poor, et tedious cetera.

    There has indeed been a welcome increase in black upward mobility since the civil rights era, empowering a vigorous black middle class and accounting for the handful of top achievers whose presence on the scene by now seems, happily, almost normal. But there’s still a racial equity problem in this country — not, contra some black preachers, solely due to racism; I’m more of a Bill Cosby fan on that one.

    None of which speaks to the everyday encounters with petty white racism encountered by many blacks since the ’60s and even today. There’s enough of that to stoke the anger that keeps a Rev. Wright in business.

  • Chris Bolinger

    I’m not sure why the media insists on using the term “the black church” as if it were some monolithic entity.

    When I think of the black church, I think of lots of different preachers on the left and the right. That has been my point, all along.

    Then why use the term “the black church”? I am confused.

  • Dave

    Because 11:00 am Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour in the American week.

  • Dave

    Chris:

    On reflection, I owe you a less flip answer than that (though it was factually correct).

    Black churches typically concern themselves deeply with the well-being of the black community, in a way that seldom finds a parallel in white churches, or at least white Protestant churches. Black churches are, in some places, the only institutions where African-Americans of modest backgrounds can become influential leaders. A black church can be the only institution supporting the beleaguered black family. These commonalities override the vast stylistic and theological differences between black pastors that we’ve been exploring on GR.

  • Chris Bolinger

    The bottom line is that there is no one, monolithic black church, and the press should stop using the term “the black church”. The term is as meaningless as “evangelical” and indicates a high degree of laziness among the press.

  • Dave

    [...T]he press should stop using the term “the black church”.

    There’s nothing wrong with the phrase if it’s understood in context, ie, denoting a social phenomenon and not a denomination or a style or a theology.

    Hmm… On second thought, that might be too much for the MSM.

  • Chris Bolinger

    If “the black church” is the MSM’s pet phrase for the broad and diverse array of churches that are attended primarily or exclusively by African Americans, then the MSM should use the term “the white church” to refer to the broad and diverse array of churches that are attended primarily or exclusively by Caucasians.

  • Stephen Abbott

    Dave (#7) while there may be “petty white racism” around, there will always be some who dislike or distrust others simply because of their race. I’ve heard of blacks from Jamaica *hating* blacks from the Dominican Republic in the same town simply because of their background. So this is always going to be with us.

    I agree with you on your praise of Cosby’s approach.

    I guess it no longer shocks people when a preacher takes to the pulpit to BLAME and scapegoat whites for the problems you mention – poor academic performance, etc. (although the testing gap is narrowing.)

    The media has to really examine someone who condemns the school system as racist then urges blacks not to “act white” by entering the middle class. That’s the same kind of nonsense that keeps black students from participating in class so they don’t “act white.” Nor do white people force blacks to take drugs or commit crimes that land them in jail, BTW.

    The blame for all of the problems in the black community surely can’t be laid at the white man’s door, as Wright and other ‘black leaders,’ so-called, try to do.

    If a black man couldn’t get ANY good-paying jobs because of his skin color, I’d think differently, and would be in the streets protesting that injustice. But exaggerating these problems and scapegoating others while in the pulpit is simply wrong, IMO, and stoking anti-white hate over minor slights – real or imagined – is a hate crime itself. And I’m glad Obama is finally calling him on some of this stuff and that the media’s finally reporting it without the old “it’s the right-wing blogs keeping this alive” nonsense appended to the reporting.

  • Dave

    Stephen:

    White racism is still a legitimate target, as long as it takes the form of, eg, the only black vice president of a company being required by the white security guard to show ID while white employees are waved through. That perpetuates the “franchise” (as someone put it) of folks like Wright.

    However, black racism is just as corrosive. In other venues I’ve been at pains to explain that hate crime laws are not double standards because they go both ways across the racial divide: If a white mob beating a black man while yelling the N-word is a hate crime, so is a black mob beating a white man while yelling “Get Whitey!”

  • Stephen Abbott

    Agreed on Part II, not so sure about the first part of post #15. In most companies, a person in a suit is just a “Suit” regardless of color, and they get a “yes sir/ma’am”, especially in these Multinational days, when national ownership of a company is not always clear. But I expect this is a specific incident you’re referring to, so I’ll cede that it *can* certainly still happen. That doesn’t mean it’s systemic, by any stretch.

    And I will say that what Wright has been saying is one, big metaphorical “Get Whitey” all along, and that’s apparently why many whites have hedged their bets in the primaries, and why many Dems are scared of what would happen in Nov. with Obama as nominee.

    Theology – in this case Liberation Theology – very much matters all of a sudden.

  • Dave

    That doesn’t mean it’s systemic, by any stretch.

    If it happens to enough people enough of the time, it’s as good as systemic.

    And I will say that what Wright has been saying is one, big metaphorical “Get Whitey” all along

    I think, based on the incomplete and motive-selected information that we share, that it’s more a bit, metaphorical “God damn America.” The canard about the origin of AIDS doesn’t target whites qua whites, but a government establishment that is mostly made up of whites. In the same sense when we critique the black church we are not targeting blacks qua blacks, but an institution that is made up of blacks.


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