Monday, April 14, 2008

Obama’s Pastor

Unfortunately racial tensions are still with us, often lurking just below the surface, and occasionally exploding into our reality. A few weeks ago, we had another controversy in this presidential campaign, and this one has both racial and patriotic overtones. Of course I’m referring to Barack Obama’s pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Wright has said some provocative things, as we’ve heard in excerpts from a few of his sermons. A couple of points on Rev. Wright and sermons.

1. First of all, you can take an excerpt of almost any article, speech or sermon out of context and find them offensive. You can even take passages from of the Bible out of context and justify almost anything, including slavery, polygamy, incest, murder, and a host of other sins.

2. Second, a person can criticize government policies, social injustices, and other bad behaviors without being unpatriotic. Of course I believe a public figure engaging in such criticism should do it in such a way that he or she doesn’t appear to be unpatriotic. Any criticism should be constructive, not destructive.

3. Third, often the African-American preaching style is different from what white people are used to. For example, sometimes black preachers will use exaggeration to get the congregation’s attention or to make a point. A black preacher might say something like this during a sermon: “I am a sinner. I am a whore-monger. I am an adulterer.” Now he’s got their attention! The preacher then continues (quoting Matthew 5:28, KJV): “Because Jesus said, ‘But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart.’”

I don’t know what’s in Rev. Wright’s heart when it comes to his love of the United States and his views on race. I haven’t listened to his sermons and I don’t know the man. But he isn’t the one running for president, and the excerpts are from a tiny fraction of his over a thousand sermons.

Interestingly, Martin Luther King’s criticism of the Vietnam War was mentioned as part of the remembrance last week. Some felt at the time that his criticism of the Vietnam War was unpatriotic – not the criticism itself, but how he phrased his criticism. However, I never felt King was anti-American, but loved this country and was trying to change society so that all could enjoy its freedoms and benefits.

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