I don’t agree with Jeramiah Wright’s choice of words when expressing the outrage of blacks at life in post-modern America, but I must admit that I was impressed with his defense of the overall incident that has made him a household name.
The minister from Chicago has been making the media rounds the past several days in an effort to explain himself and his views—views that seems to be causing, for reasons that I wish were not very clear to me, but are—a small complication in the campaign of Barack Obama.

Yesterday the Rev. Mr. Wright made an appearance at the National Press Club in Washington and delivered what I thought was a reasoned response to all the upheaval. The most significant thing, the most important thing, he said (in my opinion) about the infamous sermon in question was this:
“I offered words of hope. I offered reconciliation. I offered restoration in that sermon. But nobody heard the sermon. They just heard this little sound bite of a sermon.”
The second most important thing he said was that the U.S. Government was “a government whose policies grind under people.” There are many Americans—both black and white—who would agree with that.
There are also quite a few Americans who said after 9/11 just what Rev. Wright said. “America’s chickens are coming home to roost,” he declared to his congregation then. “The stuff we have done overseas is brought right back into our homes.”
These are not ideas that Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright introduced for the first time into the public discourse. They were ideas being articulated by many U.S. citizens. Unfortunately, Rev. Wright then went into areas in his sermons that I would call ill-advised. Most of us would call them ill-advised. But isn’t it the job of a minister to shake things up a little?
And so we know that Rev. Wright once charged in a sermon that the U.S. government “lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.” Yet is this any more radical than the idea, spoken and promoted by many, many whites as well as blacks, that 9/11 was itself a conspiracy, co-created, if not entirely instigated, by dark forces within this very country and perhaps even its government?
I don’t believe the second statement above any more than I believe the first, but I do believe in the right of free speech that allows all Americans to say what they think and to express how they feel.
Of course, Rev. Wright’s most famous and now most quoted utterance from the pulpit was his tirade against a government that he said discriminates against blacks “and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America’.” He unwisely added: “No, no, no, God damn America. . . . God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.”
Understandably, those words do not play well with most Americans. Whatever we think of our country and its actions, we certainly don’t want God to damn our country, and we would not call upon God to do that. (Or to damn anyone, for that matter.)
But we should, if we want to be even-handed, listen as Rev. Wright yesterday explained how he could say such a thing. He was saying it within a theological framework in which he asserts that God damns everything that is evil, even as God blesses all that is good.
Most of middle America would agree with that. I venture to say that most of the writers on faith whose words grace this very Beliefnet website would agree with that. God does and will condemn (damn) evil, and God does and will reward good, I think they would agree. Indeed, isn’t that the basis of most of the faith traditions represented here? (I don’t happen to embrace this idea of a judging, condemning, damning God, but I do understand that many, many people do—not only Jeremiah Wright.)
So the only disagreement now is whether America, or certain of its actions, could be called evil. Rev. Wright inserted his political opinion that God should condemn America “for treating our citizens as less than human.” He referred, of course, to black citizens. He was speaking to a black church. He was addressing black anger. And—it is once again important to note—he asserts that he offered words of reconciliation and healing in that same sermon.
Rev. Wright suggested at the Press Club yesterday that Senator Obama had no choice but to repudiate the sound bite that he heard. “He had to distance himself, because he’s a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was anti-American. He said I didn’t offer any words of hope. How would he know? He never heard the rest of the sermon. You never heard it.”
And now I repeat, for emphasis, what Rev. Wright told the audience at the Press Club yesterday:
“I offered words of hope. I offered reconciliation. I offered restoration in that sermon. But nobody heard the sermon. They just heard this little sound bite of a sermon.”
Okay. Fair enough. I wouldn’t have spoken Rev. Wright’s ill-advised, anger-sponsored words from a pulpit, but I understand—not condone, but understand—how he could have done so, especially in an emotion driven declaration of intense and immense frustration.
I think what we are seeing here in this episode is the very basis of why we don’t seem to be able to get along in this world. Gosh darn it, we don’t even want to hear each other out. We just, ourselves, want to judge, condemn, and damn.
I think there is considerable merit to Rev.Wright’s argument now that to take a sound bite out of a much longer sermon from years ago and use it as a wedge to make political points in the campaign for the presidency of the United States years later is not merely and obviously disingenuous, it is just as obviously unfair. Yet we don’t seem to care much about fairness in American politics anymore.
Unless we do…
…in which case we will place the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s sermonizing into context, stop trying to spray it all over Barack Obama, and get on with this campaign, focusing on the issues that really matter.
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