The Hyperbolic Prophet

| 3/19/2008 1:43:38 PM

Yesterday, Barack Obama gave a major speech in Philadelphia on the subject of race. This followed last week’s media tempest over sermon excerpts by the senator’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright. Obama rejected the controversial statements, carefully stood up for the man himself, and moved on to grander themes. 

Few commentators have been willing to get much closer than Obama did to actually defending what Wright said—most notoriously, “God damn America.” Most have started by condemning it and proceeded to focus on why all this is or isn’t relevant to the presidential campaign. 

But a couple of people have provided some helpful context. Writing on the Huffington Post, Frank Schaeffer, son of the late religious right icon Francis Schaeffer, points out that, naughty words aside, the spirit of “God damn America” is commonplace in far-right pulpits. He observes that when his father “denounced America and even called for the violent overthrow of the U.S. government” over issues such as secular humanism and legal abortion, “he was invited to lunch with presidents Ford, Reagan, and Bush Sr.”

What’s more, Jonathan L. Walton argues in the online magazine Religion Dispatches, many right-wing preachers are far more offensive than Wright: Unlike him, though, they don’t have the moral authority of a leader of a systematically oppressed community. “There is a difference between speaking truth to power in defense of the least of these," insists Walton, “and scapegoating the defenseless on behalf of the status-quo.” Both Wright and the elder Schaeffer’s successors are clearly prone to hyperbole—they don't actually want to see God or anyone else destroy America. But the religious right doesn’t share Wright’s inheritance of a long tradition of using extreme rhetoric to illuminate extreme injustice: the tradition of the black church pulpit. 

Black church preaching can be difficult for white people to hear—even for religion scholars, as Diana Butler Bass attests on God’s Politics, a blog of Sojourners magazine. Bass takes a look at black preaching throughout U.S. history, finding that “throughout the entire corpus, black Christian leaders leveled a devastating critique against their white brothers and sisters—accusing white Christians of maintaining ‘ease in Zion’ while allowing black people to suffer injustice and oppression.” Hearing Wright over and over on television, Bass says she doesn’t “hear the words of a ‘dangerous’ preacher... I hear Frederick Douglass.” 

Also on God’s Politics, Adam Taylor places Wright firmly within the “black prophetic tradition,” noting that even the revered Martin Luther King Jr. made some pretty incendiary statements, though they’re not the ones we’ve chosen to immortalize. “America is going to hell if we don’t use her vast resources to end poverty.” That’s not Wright, leading up to “God damn America.” That’s Dr. King.

4/17/2008 3:28:02 PM

For information of the AIDS virus being scientifically developed by OUR own government, see The Strecker Memorandum for the TRUTH!

Steve Thorngate_15
3/31/2008 4:53:49 PM

Suzy: I think you're exactly right. I didn't mention homophobia simply because my point was only to defend Wright's claim of a "genocide against people of color."

3/29/2008 4:21:13 AM

In all of this hype, the only thing I have found truly challenging is that Wright used the word "invented" regarding AIDS instead of simply condemning the way it has been handled. I do believe, that AIDS was most likely brought to the human population accidentally through the development (by use of monkeys) of vaccines for other illnesses. I once read somewhere that the reason the first populations with huge AIDS outbreaks were in Africa and Haiti had to do with where the first Hepatitis vaccines were tried. And Steve, above, missed mentioning homophobia when he said, "The country's handling of AIDS is very much wrapped up in problems of racial and class prejudice." It is quite likely that our government and organizations like WHO covered up how AIDS began and didn't address it fast enough as a result of both the cover up and the biases regarding the effected populations.

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