Obama’s Church Responds to White Attacks (Updated)

I have now had time to add some comments to the Trinity United Church of Christ’s statement on senior pastor Dr. Jeremiah Wright’s sermons. This is an expanded version of what I put onto dailykos last night.

 

As I have made clear here and here, there seems to be a growing, probably loosely coordinated attack, that is now aggressively racializing Senator Barack Obama, often as the “dangerous black man” central to the old white racial frame, an attack coming from Republicans and fellow travelers in the corporate mass media. Two stages have now taken place. Two weeks ago, Representative Steve King began the semi-official attacks with his provocative comments on Obama’s Muslim background and middle name, as well as his visual look (“optics”), while just a few days ago the conservative surrogates of Republicans in the mainstream media moved the Dr. Jeremiah Wright story from the racist fringe to the center.

 

This attack is on Obama’s senior pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright for prophetic, indeed Jeremiah-like (Old Testament prophet) commentary. The mainstream media have now picked up white-supremacist fringe elements’ attacks on Obama, such as by quoting only a few words entirely out of context from a very few of Dr. Wright’s sermons.

 

Nowhere in the mainstream media as yet have I seen any attempt to understand why millions of Americans (a great many are African Americans) agree with Dr. Wright or why his points about the U.S. role in international and US racial oppression can usually be backed by substantial data.

 

Here is the strong counter framing statement put out by his church, which is the largest single church in the mainstream Protestant, United Church of Christ denomination. This well-integrated Chicago church has some 8,000 members. The statement counters the attacks on Dr. Wright, a leading black liberation thinker and minister in this still-racist country.

“AN ATTACK ON OUR SENIOR PASTOR AND THE HISTORY OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN CHURCH”
Chicago, Ill. (March 15, 2008) —

Nearly three weeks before the 40th commemorative anniversary of the murder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe.

Notice how few (apparently none so far?) in the corporate media have sought to understand the black liberation philosophy and theology of Dr. Wright or those in his very large church. If Obama is to win election in the future, his supporters, including his white progressive supporters, must do this anti-racism work. They must understand where African Americans are at in terms of racial oppression today, and why so many are angry at US racism.

Dr. Wright has preached 207,792 minutes on Sunday for the past 36 years at Trinity United Church of Christ. This does not include weekday worship services, revivals and preaching engagements across America and around the globe, to ecumenical and interfaith communities. It is an indictment on Dr. Wright’s ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30-second sound bite,” said the Reverend Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.

It is also an indictment of the mostly white-controlled media that they have not tried at all to understand Dr. Wright’s well-backed black point of view, or that of his thousands of Protestant church members. Instead, they have taken just a few seconds of millions of seconds of his lifetime comments totally out of context, as is their custom. This is the worst kind of US journalism, and should be protested.

During the 36-year pastorate of Dr. Wright, Trinity United Church of Christ has grown from 87 to 8,000 members. It is the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination.

The media present Wright as a wild “radical.” But 8,000 is a lot of “radicals,” and yet the media have only done the most superficial of such interviews so far. I have not seen an in-depth interview yet with Dr. Wright. That is the least an intelligent media should do.

“It saddens me to see news stories reporting such a caricature of a congregation that has been such a blessing to the UCC’s Wider Church mission,” said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, in a released statement. ” … It’s time for us to say ‘No’ to these attacks and declare that we will not allow anyone to undermine or destroy the ministries of any of our congregations in order to serve their own narrow political or ideological ends.”

And yet another “radical” speaks out, this time the distinguished head of a major Protestant denomination, who is calling for an end to these mindless and sensationalized attacks serving narrow, shall we say, racist ends. Where are the media on this quote? Are they interviewing UCC leaders like Dr. Thomas about continuing racial discrimination and hostility in the society or about Dr. Wright? (To hear Rev. Thomas praise Dr. Wright a few days back, go here)

Trinity United Church of Christ’s ministry is inclusive and global. The following ministries have been developed under Dr. Wright’s ministerial tutelage for social justice: assisted living facilities for senior citizens, day care for children, pastoral care and counseling, health care, ministries for persons living with HIV/AIDS, hospice training, prison ministry, scholarships for thousands of students to attend historically black colleges, youth ministries, tutorial and computer programs, a church library, domestic violence programs and scholarships and fellowships for women and men attending seminary.

Moss added, “The African American Church was born out of the crucible of slavery and the legacy of prophetic African American preachers since slavery has been and continues to heal broken marginalized victims of social and economic injustices. This is an attack on the legacy of the African American Church which led and continues to lead the fight for human rights in America and around the world.”

It is significant that this is a Black majority church with an old prophetic message, much like that of earlier religious prophets. Its efforts all seem to fit within the old liberty-and-justice-for-all counter frame to the white racial frame of the dominant group in this society.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached the Christian tenet, “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Before Dr. King was murdered on April 4, 1968, he preached, “The 11 o’clock hour is the most segregated hour in America.” Forty years later, the African American Church community continues to face bomb threats, death threats, and their ministers’ characters are assassinated because they teach and preach prophetic social concerns for social justice. Sunday is still the most segregated hour in America.

Again, so far as I can tell, the corporate media have shown no concern for the still-segregated US Sunday hour, for the Dr. King anniversary, or for the many attacks, violent and verbal, that continue on the black church in the US. Is it any wonder that black ministers constantly must still call out systemic racism in the United States in some strong and prophetic language?

Comments

  1. Seattle in Texas

    I just have to note that the sermons, or rather small quotes, under critique, rather fire, are so mild compared to the preaching’s of many white Christian churches on the same exact issues–in the same spirit and sentiment that was displayed by the same white Christian ministries with Katrina and Rita. I’m not trying to add fuel to the fire, but the white Christian communities who are offended should also reflect and remember the many, and what seemed to be ongoing, propaganda on 9/11, Anti-Israel, or any religious topic, their own communities spoke and distributed, in which they are criticizing Wright, Obama, and the members for. Wright’s small passages are mild and even make more sense than others I have seen and heard from other Christian traditions…. It’s truly a sad thing—regardless of religious standing, orientation, and/or affiliation, I don’t think being Anti-war makes a person Anti-American or even non-Patriotic—in fact quite the opposite, particularly when it comes to wars that we initiated. The world is not happy with the U.S. and we are hated in many nations (never mind that though), quite literally. I am very embarrassed about how this nation is viewed by others through out the world and would like to see that changed—I would like to be a proud American. And I feel as though, I am able to say what I just said because I was raised in a state that has both taught and allowed me to be critical of both the State and U.S. government—one that has encouraged freedom of expression. So, that is said in my Washington spirit.

    And on another topic, I just have to say that my heart goes out to one of my favorite leaders—the Dalai Lama, as well as the people who stand behind him.

    And lastly, it would be nice to see more theologists get involved with countering the media in the communities, educational insitutions, etc. They are very important, well most (not those like Doug Wilson) and just as important as the physical or social scientists, in my own humble opinion.

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