Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rev. Wright Defends Himself, Mostly Successfully

Rev. Jeremiah Wright was interviewed by Bill Moyers for the first time since the sound bites of his old sermons have been making news.

Wright noted, justly, that you can't understand any preacher's point from just a few seconds out of the middle of a sermon. The larger context of the "chickens coming home to roost" sermon after 9/11, for example, was not quoting Malcolm X, but rather a white ambassador who was quoting Malcolm X (and on Fox News, of all places, to Fox's discomfort). He was explaining that to the hijackers, the United States had engaged in a long string of violent acts against innocents -- a string that Wright enumerated. Some items on his list were more just than others. Wright got the biggest reaction from the congregation when he cited enslaving Africans, and the least when he named bombing Hiroshima. He did not say that the 9/11 attacks were just, but he did think that anyone who understood the dark side of American history could understand why our enemies might think they had a just cause.

As for the "God damn America" sermon, Moyers showed a longer clip leading up to the notorious soundbite. The theme of the sermon was that all governments lie, change, and fail. Wright gave examples from the Bible and the history of other nations, before listing the failings of America. He said these failings, which mostly concerned government violence against the innocent, could not be blessed by God, but condemned. Wright explicitly put himself in the tradition of the Biblical prophets who called God's condemnation down on Israel in order to get the nation to repent. In the interview, after seeing the clip, Moyers and Wright had this exchange:

BILL MOYERS: What did you mean when you said that?

REVEREND WRIGHT: When you start confusing God and government, your allegiances to government -a particular government and not to God, that you're in serious trouble because governments fail people.


So the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a fiery preacher who roots himself and his congregation in the black liberation theology tradition. In a Christian context his incendiary comments make more sense. This context was left out of the clips. The clips were made by the political opponents of Barack Obama, not by people who cared one way or the other about Jeremiah Wright and his large, active, and successful church.

In the end, though, I think Obama was just in his overall assessment. Wright, now several years retired, formed his views and his preaching style at a time when things were much worse in America for African Americans. Wright has missed the way in which many things have changed for the better. Obama does not share Wright's views about America, and neither do I. I don't regard Wright's views as centrist, and I am sure he would not thank me if I did. But I think Rev. Wright, like each of us, should be judged by his full sermons and his own expressions of his views, not the attack clips assembled by enemies.

3 comments:

Juanita Williams said...

I enjoyed the interview too. Bill Moyers is tops in my book. If the interview were a little tougher though and less fluffier it would have been more believable.Also I think people in Obama's audience should start fainting in his prescence like they were in the beginning of the race. It lended much to his Obamasiah appeal. At least Reverand Wright chose Americas number one "Centrist" journalist Bill Moyers for the interview. Only Jimmy Carter would have been a better choice. It is fun being a centrist because now people like us they really like us!

Gruntled said...

I, too, would like to see a tougher interview. I am looking forward to Wright's National Press Club speech. I hope it leads to a more extensive print interview.

Robert Sutton said...

What did you think of the National Press Club speech and question answer? Why was Wright so rude to the moderator, that surprised me. Seems to me he threw Obama under the bus. How could Obama not known the character of this guy? It looks like Clinton vs. McCain now.