Saturday, March 22, 2008

Dr. Jeremiah Wright and preaching in the Black Church

I just listened to Wright’s “God damn America” sermon. The actual title is “Confusing God and Government”. The text used is Luke 19:37-44.

You can listen to it yourself right here:

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I have several initial reactions to this message:

First of all, I’ve heard several messages by Wright on television and radio, here in “Chicagoland”. This is a very typical Wright sermon, both in terms of the way he handles the text and the style.

I’m also reminded of some of the “best” preaching that I heard in the African Methodist Episcopal Church—the denomination in which both my wife and I were raised, in which I was ordained and of which we were members, until 10 years ago when we left. It’s not a common message—the average Black pastor doesn’t preach this way—but it is very similar to the preaching of some of the more eloquent and educated pastors and bishops in the A.M.E. Church that I heard. It’s worth noting that the more educated ministers received their education from liberal seminaries, just like Wright (see here). My experience has been that this kind of message has been very well received by Black church audiences.

I thought Wright made some good and helpful points, and that—for his majority Black, Chicago audience—this sermon was probably very encouraging. In context, I didn’t find his “God damn America” comment particularly shocking, other than the choice of words was unnecessarily strong (It’s interesting that even Wright seemed to recognize that his choice of words was excessive). My observation has been that most Black preachers (and I’ll include myself in this) are more direct—more blunt—in what they say than the average white preacher. I’m speaking in very general terms, based on what I’ve observed. Generally, we Black preachers leave you no doubt as to where we stand on an issue. But, clearly Wright’s message wasn’t an anti-America message at all, contrary to how it’s been portrayed in the media.

The message of the sermon had nothing to do with the message of the text. His main points (Governments lie—God does not lie; Governments change—God does not change; Governments fail—God never fails) are true—very true—but that’s not the point of the text. Wright built a message based on the political setting of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. Once he set that up, he was finished with the text. Sadly, this is, again, typical of innumerable sermons I heard when I was in the Black Church.

Probably most important of all, the gospel is never, ever presented in Wright’s message. At the conclusion, the “doors of the church are opened” (that is to say, he extends an invitation to become a member of the church), but it is never made clear what people are supposed to come forward for. There is no gospel invitation. Christ’s death and resurrection are mentioned, but there is no mention of the reason Christ had to die, no mention of sin, judgment or God’s wrath. There is simply no gospel.

My experience has been that there is little mention of the gospel in most traditional Black churches. This fact is what breaks my heart. When white believers choose to criticize Barack Obama for being a member of Trinity United Church of Christ, I don’t think it is helpful at all, and it smacks of racism. In effect, you might as well criticize any Black politician who is a member of a typical Black church. Why don’t the critics go after Sen. Clinton’s United Methodist church (or Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s Episcopal Church in America?)? There is open heresy in white mainline churches; why does the Black Church get singled out for criticism? In my opinion, the need is not criticism but good-faith efforts to stimulate, encourage and support the preaching of the gospel in the Black Church.

Obama, Wright and Race

By now, I suppose most every voting adult in the United States has heard of the controversy surrounding Sen. Barack Obama’s membership at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and the firestorm created by several YouTube video excerpts of Trinity’s retired senior pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, in which Wright condemns the United States in the strongest possible terms and explicitly describes why Sen. Hillary Clinton can’t identify with Black people. If you have somehow managed to miss this controversy, just go to YouTube, type in “Jeremiah Wright” and view and listen to your heart’s content.

Frankly, I’m not disturbed, surprised or upset at what Wright said. Don’t misunderstand me: I do not share Wright’s Black Liberationist theology, I do not think he should have said any of the controversial things he said in those videos, and I certainly don’t agree with everything he said (though, I do agree with some things he said). However, I was not surprised or shocked at what he said. Wright’s views are not unique. Neither am I concerned that Barack Obama would be a member of a church like Trinity United Church of Christ or be associated with Jeremiah Wright. In my opinion, those who are shocked by those things reveal their ignorance of the Black community and the church in the Black community.

Wright has been the pastor of Trinity for 36 years. He is not an unknown figure. In fact, he is nationally known. His sermons have been broadcast on radio and shown on television. Why was there no firestorm of protest before now? I’ll tell you why: Because the Black community, in general, and the Black Church, in particular, are not considered worthy of attention by the majority of Whites. Only when it became clear that Barack Obama could possibly win the Democrat nomination did his church and pastor become an issue. It sure seems to me that this controversy is more about keeping a Black man out of the White House than it is about Obama’s church affiliation.

What is disheartening is that so many Christian bloggers have seen fit to join in the “White Fright” in response to Obama and Wright.

Let me make clear: I am not endorsing Barack Obama or defending Jeremiah Wright. I have good reasons not to vote for Obama, if he should win the Democrat nomination. What concerns me is the irrational, racist and all-to-common fear of Black men which, I believe, is driving this furor. I would expect Christians to rise above the hysteria, not wallow in it nor add fuel to the fire.

I have found much more helpful, thoughtful and thought-provoking reading at the blogs of these brothers in Christ:

Thabiti Anyabwile (Pure Church)
Lance Lewis (Blaque Tulip)

Anthony Carter (Non Nobis Domine)

If you want a Christian perspective on Barack Obama, Jeremiah Wright, and the current controversy that rises above the fray, I encourage you to read what these brothers have written:

At Pure Church:
“My Mama and Barack Obama”
“This Is Not A Retraction”

“Obama Drama Rama”

At Blaque Tulip:
“Divided By Obama”
“And This We Know”
“Where Do We Go From Here? Repent”
“This, That & The Other”

At Non Nobis Domine:
“Yes We Can!”
“Anyabwile a Prophet?”

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Recently viewed in the blogosphere

Listed below are some helpful, encouraging and/or challenging posts I’ve recently come across while browsing the blogosphere:

A brief (10-minute) video documentary posted by Abraham Piper on “John Piper and his Dad”

Tim Challies quoting John R.W. Stott in “Sin Does Not Provoke Our Own Wrath”

C.J. Mahaney writing on “Finding Joy in Adversity” and quoting Jeff Purswell in “The Preacher Standing in the Stead of God”

Sam Storms writes about “Standing on the Promises”

Monday, March 03, 2008

McCain or Obama? (Part 3)

What is so difficult about deciding between John McCain or Barack Obama? John McCain claims to be pro-life and Barack Obama has consistently demonstrated his pro-choice position. As a Christian who believes and desires to obey the Bible, the choice should be clear. Right?


If I vote in November as I have voted for the past 20 years, then John McCain will get my vote. True, the national Republican Party has upheld its opposition to abortion and special rights for homosexuals but, I have to ask myself, after 20+ years, exactly what have we gained as a result of Reagan, Bush and Bush?

Roe v Wade (which legalized abortion) is still the law of the land.

Homosexual activists have made increasing gains in securing special rights for their sinful lifestyles.

Our country’s budget deficit has soared to unimaginable levels.

The Black family continues to disintegrate as the number of single-parent households continues to rise (and this is happening among other races, too).

College is less affordable than ever. My great-grandfather, a retired janitor, paid my way through college. With both of us working, my wife and I will not be able to afford to send our son to college in four years.

Our country is engaged indefinitely in a war in Iraq that we got into under false pretenses (i.e., in order to find Weapons of Mass Destruction).

Politics in this country has become more polarized than ever before. With the coming of “Morning in America”, we do not behold “A Kinder, Gentler Nation” or “Compassionate Conservatism”, but increased acrimony and divisiveness.

The evangelical church, apparently, now covets political power more than the Holy Spirit’s power, hence the close association between the Republican Party and the evangelical church.

Maybe our time would be better spent, as Christians, getting our own moral house in order while we pray to God to turn hearts toward Himself. Only God can turn the abortion tide. Only God can thwart the homosexual agenda and, more importantly, change the homosexual.

Some would point to the Supreme Court and the conservative justices that have been nominated by Republican Presidents as a reason why Christians should vote for John McCain. I would tend to agree that the Supreme Court nominees may have been the most important legacy of Republican Presidents (at least since Reagan) but, I also remind myself that the comparatively liberal John Paul Stevens, David Souter and the late Harry Blackmun (who wrote the majority opinion for Roe v Wade which legalized abortion) were also nominated by Republican Presidents. You can never predict how a Supreme Court justice will vote. It just makes more sense to trust in God.

Others would suggest that the only reason I’m still struggling with this issue is because Barack Obama is Black. If he were not Black, I would not have any trouble making up my mind. And, you know what? You’re right. If I were White, for instance, whether or not a Black man ever ascended to the Presidency of the United States would probably never concern me. I’d probably have no concern about Black children having role models other than sports, music and film celebrities. If I were White, abortion would probably be at the very top of my list of social priorities.

But, I’m not White. I am Black, and those issues that affect Black Americans concern me. Because of my racial identification with Obama, I am having trouble making up my mind who to vote for. If that doesn’t make any sense to you, I would kindly suggest that is because you have no idea what it’s like to be a Black man in America. I can’t adequately explain how I feel through a blog. If you want to know what I mean, get to know a Black man. Sit down and talk to him. Listen to what he has to say about his life experiences. Maybe you’ll then understand why I feel such inner conflict over Barack Obama. But, if you would rather criticize me for feeling the way I feel, thinking your race doesn’t influence any of your decisions, let me suggest to you that you are incredibly naive.

I don’t know for whom I will vote in November, if the choice comes down to John McCain or Barack Obama. I do wonder, though, if abortion and homosexual rights should continue to exert the same level of influence over my voting decisions. Perhaps, I should vote for a candidate based on whether or not I feel he or she can 1) help bring our country together, ending all this poisonous political divisiveness that currently exists, 2) disentangle us in the quickest and safest way possible from Iraq, and 3) help bridge the ever-widening gap between the haves and have-nots.

Anthony Carter and Thabiti Anyabwile have recently written their thoughts on this election and Barack Obama. These brothers are certainly more informed than I am, and they make some insightful points. Also, there is an article by John Piper from 1995 which is very relevant to the current situation. I encourage you to read what all three of these godly men have to say. Between now and November, may we all continue to pray and think deeply about these matters.

(Part 1, Part 2)

P.S.: Please read this excellent article that Thabiti Anyabwile wrote as a follow-up to his post on Barack Obama. I highly recommend it. Lance Lewis has also contributed a very helpful article to the discussion.

McCain or Obama? (Part 2)

I like Barack Obama. Here is an intelligent, well-educated Black man who is married to an equally-intelligent and educated Black woman (his only wife), who with his wife is raising two beautiful daughters (Two-parent families are becoming so rare in the Black community that I almost want to vote for him on that count alone!). Obama represents an increasingly rare find in the Black community: a male role model. Many young Black men define success as lots of money and sex, as evidenced by the inordinate amount of money spent in the Black community on fashion and transportation, and the multitude of babies fathered by these young men born to girls they never intend to marry. This abysmal state of affairs in the Black community is partially the result of the glaring lack of positive male role models within the Black community. Barack Obama is a positive Black male role model.

The success of Barack Obama’s candidacy to date seems to represent a major shift in the ongoing saga of race in America. For the first time in the history of the United States, we have a truly viable candidate for President who is Black. The possibility that a Black man could become the President of the United States is a just cause for excitement in the Black community. We’re talking about a country that enslaved Black people a mere 143 years ago—and, let me remind you, that’s not a long time ago. I knew my great-great grandfather, who was the son of former slaves. Slavery is past, but it’s not ancient history. The success of Barack Obama’s candidacy is an event of historic significance.

Yet, my excitement about Barack Obama is tempered by the fact that Obama is pro-choice in his position on abortion. He feels the decision to have an abortion should be between a woman, her doctor and her own conscience. That position sounds admirable but, of course, it leaves out the fact that abortion is the destruction of human life. Abortion is not merely a medical procedure that should be open to choice; it is a moral and ethical travesty that should be outlawed.

My excitement about Barack Obama is also tempered by the fact that Obama is in favor of homosexual civil unions and, apparently, for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). No good can come from the approval and normalization of homosexuality. The word of God is clear: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). I do not hate homosexuals, nor do I endorse discrimination against them. But neither do I endorse the recognition, approval and normalization of sin which is the goal of the homosexual right movement to which Obama seems to be giving his support. On these two issues—abortion and homosexual rights—I believe Obama is absolutely wrong.

So, my choice should be simple: just vote for McCain. I wish it were that simple.

(To be continued…)

McCain or Obama? (Part 1)

I’m in a bit of a quandary.

I am unsure of who I will vote for in November, if given a choice between John McCain and Barack Obama. Now, if the choice is between John McCain and Hillary Clinton, I do know who I would vote for: John McCain. Mrs. Clinton has never ranked high with me in terms of likeability. I don’t trust her at all, and I think her election would have the effect of further polarizing our national politics (as if they could be any more polarized than they already are). But if the choice is between John McCain and Barack Obama, I’m unsure of what I would do.

Some background: I have had the privilege of voting in every Presidential election since 1984 and, if the Lord lets me live, I intend to vote in November. In 1984, I voted for the Mondale-Ferraro ticket (What can I say? I was a 21-year-old college student who didn’t know any better.). However, since 1988, I have evaluated Presidential candidates first and foremost based on their positions on abortion and so-called gay rights: if the candidate was for either one, I was against him. Of course, this has meant that, when it came to the Presidential election, I’ve always voted for the Republican candidate.

Despite this fact, I don’t consider myself a dyed-in-the-wool Republican. It’s hard to feel at home with a party that pretty much ignores the plight of Black America. The Republican Party knows it will lose the Black vote, so their attitude seems to be, why bother? On the other hand, I’ve long been disenchanted with the Democrat Party. I have felt for many years that the Democrat Party simply takes Black America for granted. They know that if they throw some money at the Black community and say the right things they’ll get the “Black vote”, even if they never do anything to bring about substantive change and improvement in the Black community.

It’s frustrating. Republicans have no trouble finding billions of dollars to pump into the Iraq war but can’t afford to invest billions of dollars in the inner cities of America to help relieve the plight of the urban poor. Democrats promise much but deliver little that actually helps in the long run to reverse the moral and economic downside in the inner-city Black community, while giving their unequivocal support to abortion and pandering to the demands of the activist homosexual community for full recognition of their immoral lifestyle choices.

It’s enough to make one want to totally withdraw from the political process. Yet, I find that choice unacceptable. At one time, Blacks could not vote at all. I don’t want to ever forget that. That’s why, as a Black American, I feel I have a civic and moral duty to vote whenever I’m given the opportunity.

Which brings me back to this coming November and the possibility of having to choose between John McCain or Barack Obama. For the first time in the history of this country, a Black man has a real chance of becoming the President of the United States. There is a part of me that wants to vote for Barack Obama simply because he is Black, as a matter of racial pride and solidarity, out of a feeling of “it’s about time”, after over 200 years of racial injustice in the “land of the free”.

On the other hand, Obama is pro-choice on the question of abortion. I find that position morally unacceptable. Obama also has the endorsement of many in the homosexual rights movement. Just the thought that, perhaps, a “President Obama” could advance the acceptance of “gay marriage” in this country I find totally repugnant.

So, I should just vote for John McCain, right? Many of my fellow conservative Christians would say, yes. Honestly, however, a vote for John McCain would simply be a vote against Barack Obama, not a vote for McCain, because I’m really not interested in John McCain at all. Personally, I think he is too old. I don’t think anyone needs to run for President who is older than Ronald Reagan was when he won the first time. I’m also not too thrilled about the fact that he has been divorced (as was Reagan).

For at least the past three Presidential elections, I haven’t been particularly excited about the Republican choice; I just didn’t want the Democrat to win. Personally, I’m tired of just voting against someone. I want a candidate I can be for.

(To be continued…)