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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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Thursday, May 01, 2008

Commenting on Jeremiah Wright has for the past few days become the national pastime. I was checking in on a web site I have followed lately, Real Clear Politics, and looking at some of the comments. Almost no one is able to listen to Jeremiah Wright sympathetically. The majority of writers are most concerned about the horse race for the presidency, and Wright's effect on that race is all they want to examine.

There are those who can't understand that a preacher might not be measuring his or her remarks by the winds of politics, might not be holding back or pushing forward positions that would help or hurt a candidate. They simply talk about how Wright intended to further or hinder the campaign of this or that candidate, but especially Obama. Wright has tried hard to disabuse them of this notion that he plans his speeches, especially for a minister's conference or a church meeting, around their effect on this or that candidate.

Other writers care little about what Wright might or might not have intended. To them, Wright represents a version of blackness that "America" (meaning an assumed normative white America) cannot stomach. Robert Novak makes such a remark.

Obama's danger is being perceived by white voters as representing a hostile separate culture.

He then refers to conversations he had with two African American commentators. Armstrong Williams, labeled a conservative by Novak, said,

"It is not unusual to hear in many black churches the same language that Rev. Wright is being criticized for."

I think that anyone who has attended a meeting such as the Proctor Conference, sponsors of the event Wright was attending in Washington, DC, or a Ministers' Conference at Hampton, Shaw, or any number of other events, would find that this kind of preaching and conversation is not an aberration.

On the other hand, Juan Williams of NPR and Fox told Novak,

"Not at all," he replied. "It's ridiculous. I never have heard that in church."

I know that there are black preachers who do not take up issues of poverty, war, violence, oppression, and white supremacy in a prophetic way. But to say that he has never heard Wright's kind of preaching in church stretches credibility.

Juan Williams's remarks on Fox after the National Press Club question and answer session showed this same incredulity at Wright's comments. Juan Williams accused him of handling the whole occasion wrong by talking about liberation and transformation as if they were so much fluff. Williams acts as if they were irrelevant to explaining Wright's context. Theology is irrelevant. He was frustrated that the press had to "wait" for the questions and answers to hear about the sound bites they have been fixated on, even though they are guilty of not doing their own due diligence to get to the bottom of the story by listening to the full sermons. Juan Williams seems to think that Wright owed both Obama and the Press a very different speech which would have tied everything up neatly and calmed everyone's nerves. The Juan Williams comments can be heard as the last few minutes of part six of the video here.

From a Fox News editor, John Moody, a short paragraph in the midst of his personal tirade displays far more than he intended. He is puzzled about the claimed invisibility of the black church. Offended by Wright, he insists he is not a racist. He says that the mostly white church he attends does not talk about the problems of "whites." He thinks that by not identifying whiteness, he has risen above it to universals. He ups the ante by referring to "souls" as the concern of God, and asking whether souls have color. (I'll set aside the pop theology of disembodied souls, part of a mind-body dualism that helped to institutionalized African slavery long ago.) Yet his so-called universals give him no framework in which to understand what Wright has said and the people his word represent. Maybe they are not so universal, but instead a projection of white identity.

What reality is that, reverend? How is reality visible or invisible? Is it a different reality from my church? Who says so? God? Or just you? What the heck, to be polite, are you talking about?
The main point here seems to be that Moody does not understand what Wright, and probably many blacks, are talking about. He does not know their lives. He does not know the history.

Why is it so bad to talk in public about the wrongs of history and their effects today? James Evans talks about the way that so many people believe that "the past could be scuttled." Wright and others have a responsibility to criticize the wrongs they see around them and to analyze their historical roots. If we are so uncomfortable with our common history that we have to deny it, we will never be able to make progress in overcoming its continuing deleterious effects. As it stands, the untreated infection is killing our children's future.

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