Crafting this Week's Sermon
On Obama's Distancing

On Jeremiah Wright

Last night I took the time to watch the entire presentation that Rev. Wright gave to the National Press Club. Here are my impressions.

First, the presentation itself is the most intelligent and articulate presentation of liberation theology which I have heard. I would encourage everyone to watch it. Wright lives up to his reputation as one of the leading religious voices of our time. Though unknown to many not in the profession, Wright is viewed as one of America's best preachers, invited to conferences and workshops, and used in seminary classes on preaching. His church's ministries are well known and admired. In the last few weeks I've read many statements by other religious figures in support of Wright's reputation (including a good one by Martin Marty yesterday; Marty was one of Wright's professors).

Second, though he is speaking from the particular voice of black liberation theology, the main points he makes are those of mainstream Christian theology. The prophetic critique of empire is prominent in the theology of the twentieth century, including such figures as Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Reinhold Niebuhr, and John Howard Yoder. And it is dominant in the theologies of most contemporary theologians, including such prominent and varied voices as Walter Brueggemann, John Dominic Crossan, Stanley Hauerwas, Marcus Borg, Walter Wink, and N. T. Wright.

Now about the Q & A. What I witnessed was a man deeply hurt and angry, egged on by the crowd, engaging in a form of quick repartee. In appearance it weakens the brilliance of the previous presentation. Some have found it to be arrogant or narcissistic; and maybe it is. All that said, I am unsure what is so offensive here. It was not admirable, but does not seem worthy of the anger it has generated.

The particular point about HIV/AIDS is raised by many. I have three responses. 1) I do not share Rev. Wright's view on this issue, though scientists and journalists have raised serious questions about the origins of the disease, which still remain clouded in mystery. 2) His point here, as he answered the question, is that our government is capable of such things. He cites clearly proven historical incidents, like the Tuskegee experiment, to illustrate this point. Again, part of mainstream Christian theology's critique of empire is that governments are powers and principalities that come under the control of sin (Walter Wink calls it the "Domination System") and stand in need of redemption. 3) Liberation theology has emphasized that we must listen to the voices of the oppressed -- that they have things to tell the rest of us that we do not always see. We may not agree, but it is important to listen.

Finally, to address Matthew's point about healing the country. The three theological themes Wright discusses in his presentation are liberation, transformation, and reconciliation. His ministry and theology are aimed toward reconciliation (one reason I was saddened by the Q & A performance that suggested otherwise to many). The point he makes, and has been made always by Christian teaching, is that reconciliation comes after confession. There cannot be healing without a lot of listening to each other's stories, including things that are difficult to hear, and confession of the ways we have all participated in structures of sin.


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Watching his appearance at the Press Club, it was clear to see what is so engaging about him and I can understand why Obama looked up to him.
Unfortunately, it became clear that Wright is harboring resentment against Obama for not backing him up. Some say his recent appearances are a type of retribution. I'd brushed aside that idea initially, but the Q & A certainly gave me pause. He may be brilliant, but he also might be petty and proud.
It was also annoying that he dismissed many of his controversial statements by saying he was quoting someone else.
I think the most dissapointing part was that this bold, intelligent, charismatic and gifted speaker seemed to be overwhelmed by his damaged pride.

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