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Mike hopes to see the world turned upside down through local communities banding together for social change, especially churches which have recognized the radical calling to be good news to the poor, to set free the prisoners and oppressed, and to become the social embodiment of the reign of God on earth as it is in heaven. He lives with the blessed memory of his wife, in Durham, NC, and has three adult children living in three different states. He also shares his life with the Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church in Durham, the faculty and students of Shaw University Divinity School in Raleigh, NC, and the faithful fans of Duke and Baylor Basketball in his neighborhood.

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

I have been trying to respond to the controversy about Jeremiah Wright as a way to get back to posting on this site. However, I find myself so caught up in the details and complexities that everything I have written so far seems to dissipate into academic minutia. I know that no one wants to read that stuff.

So I looked at From the Wilderness, written by my friend Ryon Price. He tells the story of his reflections on this moment of public attention to race and preaching in an interesting way. He and I find ourselves in an unusual situation for white baptist ministers. We get called on to be mediators of black life for whites who wonder, marvel, and puzzle about race. We know we are not up to the task. My black friends describe the situation of being the lone black in a room full of whites and being put in the role of "Spokesperson for All Black People." As you can imagine, it is both an unfair and impossible spot to be in. So you can go ahead and recognize in advance that a white person serving as a surrogate in this role will be another step removed from being able to fulfill the duties and privileges of the office.

Having known of Rev. Wright for some time, I was very interested in the way he was being portrayed in the news. I was a bit upset that he was being treated so harshly. I went to hear his sermon clips, and I could not really find anything to argue with. His language is extravagant. He pushes his arguments to the next logical step, farther than most will. He does not hold back when he believes a wrong must be named. He uses stark images in framing a situation. But accompanying the diatribes was also a description of a loving, reconciling God. I didn't find him to be departing from a biblical perspective.

On the other hand, I think I would not necessarily use the same extravagant language. I would probably not carry an argument so far in certain contexts. I might feel compelled to hold back. My images might not be so stark. I can't help wondering if that is more a shortcoming on my part than a criticism of him.

Whites can understand his position--it is not inscrutable. It is, however, a serious challenge for people to get out of their limited experience and try to think from someone else's perspective. Ryon hits this on the head by denying the "it's a black thang" claim to incommensurability. Communication across group lines, across cultures, across frameworks is not theoretically excluded. It is excluded only practically--do we give it a serious effort. As our mutual friend Willie Jennings said to a group of white baptists, often a desire is missing among whites for cultural intimacy with their black neighbors. Without a longing to know one another and to be reconciled, most whites will simply see Wright as a crackpot or a demon.
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