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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.