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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, April 29, 2008

I have had a generally good impression of Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright since I first looked at some of his writing about six years ago. We have been on the same program at the Shaw University Divinity School Minister's Conference, and he was complimentary concerning my remarks. I have known more than one person who told me of Wright's influence on her or his ministry.

I was impressed to learn of Barack Obama's membership in Wright's church and his conversion to Christian faith in part under Wright's influence. This connection caused me to look more seriously at Obama's candidacy in those early days when a dozen or more people were running for president. Although I understand Obama's continuing statements to distance himself from his former pastor, I regret that he is doing it.

When Wright became the object of infotainment programming and talking heads a while back, I listened to some brief selections from his sermons on YouTube. I have to say that I found nothing troubling in what I heard. I quickly concluded that the sermon in which God's damnation was stated sounded very much like the prophetic writings of the Bible which Wright clearly indicated that he was imitating. In Jesus' teachings, he pronounced "woes" upon various cities for seemingly lesser offenses than Wright was detailing concerning the United States.

Any Bible reader knows that the Hebrew prophets' words are often much more X-rated than anything Wright had to say. If people are taking offense at Jeremiah Wright's sermons, then they would take offense at the Bible and prophetic preaching from any source. If perhaps there is a more obvious use of biblical precedent in shaping black prophetic preaching than white church-going people are currently accustomed to hearing, then what we are observing is more a rejection of their own past by white churches than a shockingly intensive level of conviction on the part of black churches.

As for the observation about "chickens coming home to roost," it is a common saying. Wright's sermon refers to a former ambassador who uses this phrase, once used by Malcolm X (which led to his censure by and eventual departure from the Nation of Islam), to describe the conditions under which attacks were made upon the United States. Nothing about the saying excuses the vicious acts of terror. Yet as an observation about how "what goes around, comes around," it could not be more accurate about the results of U. S. aggression and economic exploitation across the world. According to Voice of America, more than $24 billion of military products were supplied to Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and other Middle Eastern countries by the U. S. this past year. As Ched Myers has said, the United States is addicted to violence. The litany of U. S. military adventurism and terroristic policies is long and tragic, costing the lives of Native Americans, kidnapped Africans, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Nicaraguans, Panamanians, Guatemalans, Granadans, Haitians, Filipinos, protesting college students, and on and on. Relying on violence leads to violence. Martin Luther King, Jr., said it in 1958 this way

force begets force, hate begets hate, toughness begets toughness. And it is all a descending spiral, ultimately ending in destruction for all and everybody. Somebody must have sense enough and morality enough to cut off the chain of hate and the chain of evil in the universe.

Although his word was "begets," it still means the same as "chickens coming home to roost." And King was a harsh critic of the U. S. and its foreign policy. He said

Perhaps a more tragic recognition of reality took place when it became clear to me that the war was doing far more than devastating the hopes of the poor at home. It was sending their sons and their brothers and their husbands to fight and to die in extraordinarily high proportions relative to the rest of the population. We were taking the black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem. So we have been repeatedly faced with the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens as they kill and die together for a nation that has been unable to seat them together in the same schools. So we watch them in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor.

And also,

I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.

These words brought great criticism and abuse on Dr. King. Nowadays we like to treat him as a teddy bear, cute and cuddly. But he was a prophetic preacher who castigated the U. S. for its violence, oppression, and war. Having forgotten the way he was hated in his time, a new generation has found another preacher to castigate.

A final matter from his speeches has to do with the comments about the HIV virus. I do not believe that it is a manufactured virus designed to kill blacks or any other group. However, as Wright said, he does not put this sort of strategy of intentional infection beyond the realm of possibility for the United States. Many people now know of the intentional infliction of suffering on blacks during the Tuskeegee syphilis study. Fewer are aware of the persistent tactic of the U. S. government's giving smallpox-infected blankets to Native American villages in order to kill the inhabitants. Wright cites the contradictory and hypocritical policy of the U. S. toward Iraqi use of biological weapons when the U. S. is the supplier of those very weapons to Iraq.

To top this all off, the document "Rebuilding America's Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century," raises the spectre of a new type of biological weapon that selectively kills people according to their genes. In other words, weapons that can select people according to their ethnicity. Israel and Apartheid South Africa are reputed to have done research on this kind of weapon to use against their enemies in ethnic warfare. Now they find an exploratory endorsement in a document which lists Lewis Libby and Paul Wolfowitz as contributors, for an organization that names Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, George Weigel, Elliott Abrams, William Bennett, Jeb Bush, Norman Podhoretz, and others as endorsers. On page 60 it says the following.

And advanced forms of biological warfarethat can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

Is the U. S. government capable of such an act? Yes. Do I think the HIV virus is a creation of the government? No, but I can see why someone might be suspicious.

Jeremiah Wright is speaking up in a prophetic voice. I am thankful for his courage to say what he is saying.

1 comment:

haitianministries said...

Thanks for sharing your reflections, Mike! This helps to understand the broader intellectual and and social context from which Wright was speaking.

You might consider submitting this post to Ethicsdaily.com as I think it would be of interest to a broader readership.

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