The biggest mistake that most of the media have made is to use a political analysis in their analysis of Jeremiah Wright. Overall, they've done sort of a good job. The media have used the political analysis of Obama: What impact have the Wright public appearances had on his campaign? Are the superdelegates wavering? Is Hillary going to make hay out of this? That's the political analysis. Then, they take the same thing and they apply it to Jeremiah Wright. Actually, they should apply a religious analysis to him.
When I was at the press conference he pretty much said he was surfacing for three reasons. One, he felt that people were mischaracterizing him as a religious leader. Two, he felt that people were mischaracterizing his church, Trinity. And three, he felt that people were mischaracterizing what he said, "My momma's faith." So he had to speak up, he says.
People can disagree in terms of political fallout and consequences, but you have to understand his side on his terms. People got into a political frame, "Well, you know, he's politically motivated to hurt Obama," as opposed to looking at the religious implications. I think that mixing of the political and religious frame is not doing full justice to what's going on in this historic moment in America.
At one point, Jeremiah Wright said, This is an attack on the black church. Is that right? It's a United Church of Christ church. How does this all fit together?
UCC is a predominantly white denomination. UCC has become one of the more liberal/progressive predominant white denominations on the gay/lesbian issue, on the ecology issue, racial justice issue, the ordination of women issue, Native American issues, the antiwar issues. So that's why Reverend Wright can feel comfortable in that denomination. The largest church within the UCC nationwide is Trinity. Trinity gives the most money to the national office, and the most monies for foreign--overseas missions. So that's how it situates itself, both in terms of the progressive liberal theology of the larger denomination and its commitment to this predominantly white denomination.
On the issue of attack on the black church, when I heard him say that, I took [him to mean] it was an attack on the progressive prophetic wing of the black church.
For the last 7 1/2 years, President Bush has promoted five black preachers who are prosperity gospel people. They are legitimate members of the black church. From my perspective, they have a different theology and a different biblical interpretation. But, clearly, Wright, who preaches against prosperity gospel, would not be including them in his statement.
Who are the prosperity gospel preachers that you're talking about?
You've got Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, T.D. Jakes, and there are about two others. They've had access to President Bush, and he's actually promoted them for the last 7 1/2 years. I'm not saying it's good or bad. I'm just saying they have similar theologies that have political consequences with the president.
America sees that and thinks “We thought that was the black church. Where does Jeremiah Wright fit in?" Prosperity gospel is a recent development, but the whole personal salvation and social justice has been there since the black church began. It's just that it doesn't have any high visibility.
I think in terms of consistent awareness and critique, yes. Of course, there have been great prophetic white preachers--William Sloane Coffin, who was the pastor of Riverside Church in Manhattan, Harry Emerson Fosdick, you know, to a certain degree Jonathan Edwards and, you know, Reinhold Niebuhr. He had some serious stuff to say about race. But, consistently, it's been the black church that's been aware of and the "critiquer" of the government and public policy.