I have made several points about Jeremiah Wright that have either brought about some not so sympathetic responses or very encouraging dialog and expressions of appreciation.
This is clearly not a win-win debate. I stand by what I have written to this point and believe my central points, about race and racism, are extremely important to the missional mandate of Christ in the American Church. I stand by my point that most of us who are white are not prepared to seriously enter into this much needed dialog.
After returning home from Dallas tonight, and sorting through the news cycle of the last two days, there is much more before us about Wright's words now. This is especially true after Wright's post-speech comments at the National Press Club were digested and watched by millions of us.
First, Senator Obama seems to be correct in "throwing Jeremiah Wright under the bus," as the political commentators put it. Wright is clearly doing great harm to his campaign. Will this issue become for his campaign what the "swift boat" issue was for John Kerry? It could be. Time will tell. He could still be nominated but polls show that it will be harder than ever for him to be elected in November. I expect this will all hurt Senator Obama more than we know. (By the way, conservative black author Shelby Steele saw this coming and I mentioned his reasons some months ago.) Early polling says that this new Jeremiah Wright episode already has hurt Obama severely. Will it allow Clinton to catch him? I doubt it but we shall see. She seems adept at remaking her image on a weekly basis. Remember, I am not promoting Obama in saying any of this but making observations about our election process. I am also not promoting any candidate through my ACT 3 ministry. I have made this a clear policy for seventeen years since this mission began. I think the church, and Christian missions organizations, have done grave harm in this arena for way too long. My goal is to encourage thought about public issues from a Christian perspective that is solely my own.
Second, Jeremiah Wright has said some wonderful things that I have defended and tried to put into a proper context. But in his question and answer time at the National Press Club he crossed the line in several significant ways. His suggestion that AIDS is some kind of American conspiracy by which our government spread the disease borders on total craziness. (I have written about conspiracy theories before and will not belabor that point here but I have virtually no time for any of these conspiracy theories. Both the far left and the far right love them!) Further, the notion that the United States promotes terrorism is very far-fetched, to say the least. I can handle necessary sobering reminders that we have used terror in American history; e.g., against Native Americans, African Americans, etc. But to suggest that this historical fact is the moral equivalent of the modern terrorism of radical Islam is more than ridiculous. There is simply NO moral equivalence here unless you buy into the historical revisionism of radicals like Howard Zinn and his ilk. I do not grant America a "free pass" on our serious mistakes morally, both past and present. I am not a nationalist, but I am a patriot. I respect those who hold varying positions on the war in Iraq, to cite just one very emotional example. (There is clearly room for real patriots to oppose this war on a number of grounds.) But the terrorism of radical Islam is not the same as the sins of America for some obvious reasons. While America has never been consistent or perfect it has openly pursued a great ideal rooted in liberty, equality and freedom. And it has pursued that ideal better than any nation that we have ever known in human history. Sadly, we needed a Civil War to cleanse our worst failure to live up to these ideals. And we have needed more than 150 years to work that out, which we still haven't done. We still have a long, long way to go.
I sincerely love my country, I really do. But I love the kingdom of God much, much more. This distinction seems lost on the Christian right and the Christian left uses it to promote the "I hate America speech" lines. Christians should be more discerning than both of these two extremes.
I had lunch on Tuesday with an African American minister who discussed all of this with me extensively. He once pastored a sister church to Jeremiah Wright and knows him quite well. He confirmed everything that I have said about Wright on my previous blogs. But he also agreed with what I am saying tonight. He said, "Wright was brilliant in his sermons and spoke the truth but when he began to answer questions and opened himself up in an unguarded way he went way over the top!" Those are my sentiments completely.
Sadly, I also think we are likely to now discover more of this in Wright's past than we knew. I hope this is not the case but either way he destroyed a great deal of the good he was seeking to do by his rants at the National Press Club.
The news media will likely turn all of this into a full-time circus. What Pastor Jeremiah Wright began will probably end in a way that will help few of us to better understand what he was really trying to say. We will only hear the anger, the foolishness and the moral blame shifting, and all the offensive words to boot. I find this quite tragic.
So, I suggest that we move on from Jeremiah Wright's rants and attacks and then try to keep a much needed conversation on race going. This conversation is still desperately needed. Race, as a social category, still divides Christian from Christian all over this land. I fear many white churches will simply see Wright as a foolish and angry man and thus never hear the insights that we needed to hear in his powerful words, some of which were obviously inflammatory. That is sad, very sad. The loss is ours in the end. Wright will be gone but our churches are still divided and troubled by race in more ways than we know and we still will not face these as we ought.