Are Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Words Really Offensive?

Ralph Luker has generated a great deal of heat in response to his post on Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s controversial statements about race and the federal government.  The point of Ralph’s post, as I understood it, was to provide both a religious and political context for Wright’s words and not necessarily to condemn or praise.  I’ve read excerpts from Wright’s statements and for the most part I haven’t given it a second thought.  As far as I am concerned this is just another example of our obsession with religion and politics.  Frankly, apart from the obvious exceptions where radical religious views are detrimental to maintaining a free society I don’t care about any given politician’s religious convictions.  I’ve lived through enough cases of self-righteous Republicans and Democrats touting their religious credentials in my face only to see them fall flat on their face in disgrace.  In the present case we are not even talking about Obama’s personal beliefs. 

I’ve heard from the mainstream media, which means that I haven’t heard much that is constructive or that reflects how this is playing out in various sections of the country.  I admit a certain amount of ignorance when it comes to understanding the history of the jeremiad tradition or the theological assumptions within liberation theology, which partly explains my reluctance to comment on this matter beyond simply not caring.  More importantly, however I am unfamiliar with the spectrum of cultures that define the history of the black church.  I say this in light of Ralph’s piece and an article by Gwen Robinson:

Most African Americans who view these video snippets know that they are
taken out of context and can be taken with a grain of salt. Sermons by
Black pastors are often filled with hyperbole, colorful language and
cultural cadences.
In an average year, Wright probably delivered at
least 50 sermons on a variety of topics.

Meanwhile, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which Wright
pastored for 35 years until he retired in February, continued to be a
beacon of light to people in the surrounding community, providing drug
and alcohol recovery, marriage counseling, prison outreach and other
community services. As in most Black churches, the members of Trinity
engage in the Christian rituals of baptism and communion, as well as
baby dedications and rites of passage ceremonies. The church’s
Afrocentric focus, which teaches the principles of self-reliance and
self-determination that conservatives claim to embrace, is designed to
build its members’ self-esteem and solve some of the intractable
problems within the African-American community.

I
am curious as to how black Americans have responded, if at all, to this
news.  Perhaps Wright’s words are not controversial within the black
community, but reflect an experience and memory of what Dubois dubbed
"the problem of race."  Later Robinson asks just the kind of question
that our overly emotional and sensationalist media has rendered
impossible to ask:

Obama’s supporters, and those who would like to support him but have
questions about how influential Wright has been regarding his spiritual
journey, want to hear directly from the candidate, not campaign
spokespersons. We know that Obama is biracial and the product of a
White mother and African father, but how did this influence his
American identity? What led him to Wright’s church and what has been
his experience there over the past 20 years?

Unfortunately, it has to be all or nothing in this political
climate.  We leave little room for the gray or explanations that force
people to step back and think critically.  In the end, I don’t see much
of a difference between Wright’s pronouncements and the following by
Frederick Douglass: "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of
July?"  Or consider the following from Martin Luther King: "[T]he
greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is] my own
government."

By the way five years ago this week George Bush made a decision to
invade a foreign country that was not a threat to the United States.
There is still no end in sight.  Stop worrying so much about Wright’s
words and focus on a man whose words and actions have resulted in the
deaths of close to 4,000 servicemen and women along with countless
innocent Iraqis.

Now that you've read the post, share your thoughts.