“Just maybe now as that dialogue begins the religious tradition that has kept hope alive for a people struggling to survive in countless hopeless situations will be understood.”
The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, April 28, 2008
The right response to the controversy that has been generated with regard to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. is not to run away from the United Church of Christ pastor, to condemn him, or to try to apologize for him.
Rather, it is to listen to him and to recognize that Wright’s not the disease that afflicts our body politic.
Indeed, this former Marine who became an remarkably-successful and widely-respected religious leader is in possession of the balm that has frequently proven to be the cure for what ails America — an eyes-wide-open faith in the prospect that this country can and will put aside the sins of the past and forge a future that is as just as it is righteous.
As Wright has illustrated over the past several days, in a remarkable appearance Friday on PBS’ Bill Moyers Journal and in speeches to the Detroit NAACP and the National Press Club in Washington, he is the opposite of the caricature of an angry, America-hating false prophet that has been so crudely attached to him. Deeply grounded in biblical tradition, nuanced in his understanding of race relations and historically experienced in his assessments of America’s strengths and weaknesses, he has much to say to this country at this time.
Not all of what Wright says is comforting.
His views are not universally appealing, nor are they or should they be seen as unassailable.
But, for the most part, they are well much within the mainstream of American religious and political discourse.
The problem is not Jeremiah Wright.
The problem is a contemporary political culture that has come to rely on character assassination as an easy tool for reversing electoral misfortune — and a media that willingly invites manipulation.
Let’s not forget how Wright became an issue in the 2008 presidential race. Republican operatives, fretful about their party’s political fortunes, decided that the only way to weaken the candidacy of Wright’s longtime parishioner, Illinois Sen. Barack Obama, was by suggesting the Democratic presidential front-runner was in the sway of an anti-American radical.
That end was achieved by separating out from long and thoughtful sermons regarding matters biblical and political seemingly offensive phrases and then inviting the Grand Old Party’s media echo chamber to repeat the sound bites until they became conventional “wisdom.”