April 28th 2008
How savvy of the NCCP to invite Rev. Wright to give the keynote address at its 53rd annual “Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner.” No speaker, not even Barack Obama — or as Wright referred to him, “Barack HUSSEIN Obama, Barack HUSSEIN Obama, Barack HUSSEIN Obama” — could have garnered more attention.
And fundraising is always about getting attention.
You can see Rev. Wright’s speech here; I’ve only had a chance to view about a third of it, so I’m going to focus on just one passage, in which he was rebuking an Oakland official who called him divisive:
“I am not one of the most ‘divisive.’ Tell him the word is ‘descriptive.’ I describe the conditions in this country — conditions divide, not my description.”
This is the sort of wordplay most pastors like. Give them an alliteration and they can build an entire sermon series around it. Most, fortunately, do a better job at it than Wright.
Does Wright spend any time accurately describing conditions in America? Forget the sound bites we all know — AIDS, chickens coming home to roost — and think of the stuff of his week in, week out sermons as they’ve been described to us by his church itself:
We are a congregation which is Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian… Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain “true to our native land,” the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
This is a church that describes itself as not being of America. It describes America as having a long night of racism without hinting that dawn came a long time ago. (In fact, he says in the speech he believes “a change is going to come.”) It describes an America of continuous injustice, not one continuous opportunity. It describes a church with no desire to join the rest of America, but to maintain itself apart, divisively.
That’s Wright’s description of America: A country in which every black is oppressed and every white is an oppressor, a country in which blacks who do succeed are derided with derogatory name-plays (with the exception of Obama).
These are not accurate descriptions of America. Opportunity abounds, and even if black racism remains robust, white America is more than willing to accept and promote ambitious, hard working blacks, just as we are with the ambitious and hard working of any race. All you have to do is look around; count the numbers, track the income, check the admissions, name the senior executives and partners.
Nor are Wright’s descriptions of America helpful. They seek to continue the divide, to promote victimization, to make differentness a divide. Black liberation theology can only continue if the need to liberate continues, so the advances in civil rights, not white racism, are the greatest threat the church faces. Wright does not want it put out of business, so his is not a language of description; it is a language of division.
Descriptions are not necessarily divisive, if they are accurate. No one ever went to war over agreements. But Wright doesn’t describe America correctly, and it is those descriptions themselves that are so divisive. America is moving far beyond the America Wright describes, and his continued description of where we were instead of where we are going is, in a word, divisive.
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