Monday, April 28, 2008

Reconciliation or Retaliation: Jeremiah Wright's Next Round


I caught some of Reverend Jeremiah Wright's address this morning to the National Press Club.

Wright spoke of the history of blacks in American Christianity, and how out of a historical sociology of exclusion and racism, a particular theology of liberation sought to lift blacks from the subordination of white supremacy.

But I was struck by Wright's stress on black religion as a theology of "reconcilation":

The black church's role in the fight for equality and justice from the 1700s up until 2008 has always had as its core the non- negotiable doctrine of reconciliation, children of God repenting for past sins against each other. Jim Wallis says America's racist -- sin of racism has never even been confessed, much less repented for. Repenting for past sins against each other and being reconciled to one another -- Jim Wallis is white, by the way -- (laughter) -- being reconciled to one another because of the love of God, who made all of us in God's image.

Reconciliation, the years have taught me, is where the hardest work is found for those of us in the Christian faith, however, because it means some critical thinking and some reexamination of faulty assumptions.

Yet when I listen this speech, I don't hear reconciliation, I see calls for "retaliation."

Retaliation for the sins of slavery and suffering. Retaliation for the centuries of chattel bondage, which, as Wright argues, have not been repudiated.

There's little message up uplift. Perhaps we can see this as catharsis. But there's more. There's anger here. There's greivance here.

It's certainly not a call to reach the Promised Land. This cannot be a call for the country to "Live Out the True Meaning of Its Creed."

America has done this.

America has lived as a country bound by the shame of racial oppression, so much so that educated whites may overcompensate for their complicity in the injustices of subjugation by living a daily life of personal guilt-driven reparations: That is, for example, in thinking about some of the commentary this last week on the demographics of Barack Obama's electoral support, we might suggest that more affluent whites may nowadays think and act specifically on the basis of skin color first, and the content of personal character after that.

I can't believe this is what Dr. King had in mind. Have we overcome?

Indeed, the post-mortems are just beginning, but Wright's comments today will likely add more fuel to the fire surrounding Obama's relationship to his former pastor.

The New York Times notes:

Despite Mr. Wright’s efforts to school the public and the media on theology and the black church, some of his responses this week bring the issue of race and the church’s association with divisive figures like the Rev. Louis Farrakhan into sharp relief. Senator Clinton has already said Mr. Wright would not be her pastor, and she has pounded home the issue of Mr. Obama’s electability — given such vulnerabilities that the Republicans would seize upon in the general election.

Check out Allah as well, where he indicates the dangers for Obama:

I gave him [Wright] the benefit of the doubt last week when he danced around this question with Moyers. No more. Here’s his clarification, making it very clear that he meant just what his critics thought he meant, that one shouldn’t take the Messiah’s not-so-high dudgeon over his sermons too seriously since he’ll say whatever he needs to say to get elected.

Geraghty, among others, thinks he’s sinking Obama’s campaign. My pessimism makes me skeptical, but Ambinder argues that Wright has Team Barry boxed in: The nuttier he sounds, the fewer options they have except to hope that he eventually comes off as so nutty that no one would seriously think Obama agrees with him. Is a Sistah Souljah moment in the offing? If it is, it means The Speech That Saved America didn’t really save America since he’ll have needed a second take to get it (w)right. Exit question: Is it time to suspend Operation Chaos?

I'd have to cull through my archives, but I'm sure I've said at least once that Obama needs to try again on his race and religion (and "reconciliation"?) speech.

He's got to do something, that's for sure, or Wright will indeed sink his campaign

Photo Credit: New York Times