Monday, April 28, 2008

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright and the words of shock and awe

Since there has been so much national and local discussion about the Rev. Wright's remarks suggesting that God damn America, it is worthwhile to actually see what he said.

Rev. Wright Says Controversy Over Sermons "Unfair"

Friday, 25 Apr 2008, 1:23 AM EDT
AP Religion Writer
Fox 35/

NEW YORK -- The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to Barack Obama, said that publicizing sound bites of sermons in which he condemned U.S. policies was "unfair" and "devious"...

Since the harm of being "taken out of context" is an equal-opportunity problem for every public speaker, it is good to read the transcript or listen to the actual sermon that offends so many. Here is the video, in four parts:

     Full, unedited speech April 13, 2003 (streaming video)

The "God damn America" is in one of the middle segments.

Pastor Wright speaks about confusing God with the government. Politically, this is more of a conservative concept; political liberals do not ask adherents to make this distinction as frequently.

In my opinion, his objective is good, some of his paragraphs are good, but over the length of the entire message, his argument gets tangled up. He contradicts himself a little bit and makes a few small errors such as one about the infamous Tuskegee Experiment -- normal for a speaker going from notes, not from a script. Overall, it is standard liberal/left polemic; it could have been heard in any number of "mainline" Protestant churches in the US, though perhaps not with his style of delivery. I.e., transcript-for-transcript, there are many comparable sermons in mainline Protestant churches.

His passage about "God damn America" is, in my opinion, not worth saying, although he does temper it by admitting that America ought not act as if it is God, a fairly conservative concept. What struck me is that as he was shouting out "God damn America," many of his congregation stood up cheering. That seems alarming. So if Barack Obama and his family were present for that sermon, I would want to know how he reacted at that moment. He was not a U.S. senator then.

My own feeling is that I would like to know how he would invite any American to reconcile with him as a brother, as a member of his flock. I would ask him the same question he asks his congregation: "What makes for peace?"