Update re: Jeremiah Wright

Thanks to historian and blogger Ed Blum for his thought-provoking post, “God Damn America” in Black and White which can be read over at HNN.  This was just the kind of historical context that I was looking for and I may even follow up on some of the suggestions for further reading:

“What is striking, historically, is that there is nothing new in Wright’s sermon and how often African American perspectives on so-called American Christian nationalism are ignored. It seems that each year, at least a handful of books come out trying to discern whether the United States was founded as a “Christian nation.” Most recently, this can be seen in Steven Waldman’s Liberating the Founders.But so often historians have approached the topic from the perspective of elite whites, and not the people who were building the nation from its foundation, hoeing the fields and raising the cotton, washing the clothes and preparing the meals. (One exception to this is David Howard-Pitney’s wonderful The African-American Jeremiad.) If we look closely at African American perspectives of Christian nationalism, we find Reverend Wright firmly in a long oppositional and rhetorical tradition.”

Thanks Ed.

Update: I picked up this comment from the comments section over at Religion in American History:

“What drives me crazy is how this could have been avoided so easily if Wright was the slightest bit media-savvy. Had he merely controlled his tongue and limited himself to advocating an attack on Iran to encourage massive worldwide Muslim attacks leading to a fulfillment of the biblical prophecy of end-times and bringing about Armageddon and the summary slaughter of every Jew, Muslim, Catholic, and non-believer on the planet while rapturing him and his flock up to heaven, then followed it up by denouncing Catholics as cult members and blaming Hurricane Katrina on gay people, this story wouldn’t be metastasizing like this. One five minute milquetoast repudiation by Obama and it would all be behind him.  But what does Wright do instead? He spews this vile ‘God damn America’ bile. What a psycho.”


1 comment… add one
  • Bruce Miller Mar 20, 2008 @ 20:12

    Kevin, from your comments on this, you seem to have had a reaction similar to mine. When I saw the controversial YouTube video of Rev. Wright, my first reaction was, “This is what people are getting so worked up about?”

    I do have some familiarity with Christian liberation theology and identify with much of it, although I have reservations about the position of some of the theologians about the separation of church and state. But I don’t know that liberation theology as such has much to do with people’s reactions. I can’t picture Rush Limbaugh fuming and sneering over the fine points of Incarnation doctrine or which medieval Church Council put the Church on the wrong road when it comes to the social dimensions of the Gospel.

    My predominantly-white Catholic Church has an African-American pastor. He likes to shake up some of the more conservative older parishioners who got their early church education in the pre-Vatican II days by talking about some theological point they didn’t realize the Church held. I can’t think of any particular points where I’ve found to disagree with him, much less denounce him. But criticizing the Catholic Church is one of the basic requirements of being a Catholic, at least in my experience. It must be in the Vatican bylaws or something because I’ve never met a living, breathing Catholic who agrees with all Church positions, much less his own priest’s. So it didn’t disturb me that much to hear that Obama’s pastor uses over-wrought rhetoric sometimes.

    But another reason that I have to remind myself that some of these things may not strike me as being as exotic and sinister as the FOX News crowd claimed to think it was, is that I have read more than a little about pre-Civil War religion and how it affected people’s views about slavery, both pro and con. The good Christian white folks whose Christian God defended slavery were willing not only to curse at America but did more than anyone else ever has to attempt to destroy it. And wasn’t it William Lloyd Garrison whose Christian God considered the Constitution a “pact with Hell”? Or was it a contract with Hell and a pact with the Devil?

    For my annual April Confederate “Heritage” Month posts a couple of years ago, I did quite a bit of research into John Brown and really made an effort to understand his perspective and how others viewed him. He’s certainly an enduring enigma. But it’s clear that he and others understood their mission – whether it was brave or mad or patriotic or Christian or all of those – they understood it very much in Christian religious terms.

    The commenter you quote also has a valid point. Christian Right figures often make sweeping moral condemnations of America. Saying that legalized abortion is worse than the Holocaust and that it will bring down horrible divine judgments on America as a collective entity is a sadly familiar line from them.

    But when it comes from a black man, “culture war” alarms apparently go off in a lot of people’s heads and they envision hordes of Black Panthers carrying shotguns and shouting “Down with the racist pig power structure”. Or something. I grew up in Mississippi. I’m kind of fatalistic about how open people who react that way would be to changing their perceptions.

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