I was wondering what it would take to get some more mainstream media coverage of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama’s United Church of Christ pastor. Wright has been mentioned in quite a few opinion columns and tabloid publications recently for his race-based preaching and teaching. But mainstream media coverage has been lacking. So it was nice to see an article by the Baltimore Sun‘s Michael Hill about Wright and the attention he’s been receiving:
The connection [with Obama] has thrown a spotlight on some of Wright’s more controversial remarks in a church that advertises itself as “unashamedly Black and unapologetically Christian” – at times espousing a black liberation theology that can sound as exclusionary as Obama’s message is inclusionary. He has also equated Zionism with racism.
On Sunday morning – amid intensified crossfire between Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Obama over the use of race in the Democratic presidential campaign – Wright was preaching from the Gospel of John, using his powerful style to link the story of the loaves and fishes to a contemporary political message.
Man should not put limits on what God can do, but that’s what people always do, he told the crowd. Just as God made five loaves and two fishes feed thousands, God has provided liberators for blacks in the past – from Nat Turner to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., and now Barack Obama.
I think it’s funny that the reporter says Wright’s message “can sound” exclusionary but Obama’s message “is” inclusionary. Anyway, not knowing what black liberation theology is, I can only surmise that the example given of it is representative. The article also quotes Wright saying that Bill Clinton did to blacks what he did to Monica Lewinsky. Yikes!
Just this week Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen complained that Wright’s church magazine gave Louis Farrakhan its person of the year award. They said he “truly epitomized greatness.” In the article, Obama distanced himself from his preacher, while also confirming his affection for the man. Hill’s story did a good job of explaining where that affection comes from:
The candidate’s 1995 book Dreams From My Father depicts Obama’s decision to join Trinity United as a fundamental step in affirming his identity as an African-American. Obama’s mother was white, he was raised in large part by her parents and he spent much of his youth in Indonesia with his mother’s second husband. He only met his father, a Kenyan, once.
Obama took the title of his more recent book, The Audacity of Hope, from the first sermon he heard preached by Wright, whom Obama met while working in Chicago as a community organizer.
In Dreams from My Father, Obama wrote of his reaction on hearing that sermon in 1988: “In that single note – hope! – I heard something else: At the foot of that cross, inside the thousands of churches across the city, I imagined the stories of ordinary black people merging with the stories of David and Goliath, Moses and the Pharaoh, the Christians in the Lion’s Den, Ezekiel’s field of dry bones. Those stories became our story, my story; the blood that had spilled was our blood, the tears our tears; until this black church on this bright day seemed once more a vessel carrying the story of a people into future generations and into a larger world.”
Where the story is weaker, I think, is in the relative lack of thoughtful criticism about Wright’s preaching. Hill does a good job of speaking to people who defend Wright but not those who aren’t so keen on the content of his preaching. In fact, the only critic quoted — and for only a few words — is avowed atheist Christopher Hitchens.
One paragraph that struck me was this one:
Wright, who is about to retire, took over Trinity United in 1972. It was an odd black congregation, since the United Church of Christ is a mainly white denomination, predominantly in New England, that traces its ancestry back to the Puritans. Over the years, it developed a liberal reputation based in part on the independence of its individual churches.
The United Church of Christ was formed in 1957 through the merger of the Evangelical and Reformed Church (itself a merged church, as the name implies) and the General Council of Congregational Christian Churches. It is not untrue that some of its ancestry lies with the Puritans — but its heritage is much richer than that. People always seem to point out the Puritan ties, but not the E & R. Or maybe I just remember this because my mother was baptized at an E & R church and confirmed at a UCC church. The UCC also descended from the Pilgrims who established Plymouth Colony.
Anyway, I think the article was necessary — the mainstream media silence about Wright was odd considering how many newsworthy comments he’s been making lately. What do you think is appropriate coverage for this pastor? And how do journalists cover him when he’s been reticent to work with the media?