Vagrant Thoughts on Jeremiah Wright

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I've been laid up with the flu the last few days, but I have tuned into the Barack Obama - Jeremiah Wright controversy, and have caught some of the internet banter commenting on it.  Mainly, three thoughts have occurred to me, dealing with Wright's anti-Americanism, Wright's racism, and Wright's use of the pulpit.

1.  Regarding Wright's anti-Americanism.  It strikes me that Jeremigh Wright is not the only minister who is fairly down on America.  Most evangelicals object stongly to sinful trends in America, myself included.  But there are two big differences.  First, when I and others I know pray about America, we pray for God to have mercy on America, for God to bring America to repentance, and for God to send the Holy Spirit to America.  Jeremiah Wright instead screams out, "God damn America!"  That's not a small difference.  Secondly, it seems to me that white evangelicals generally complain about American policy as it pertains to personal ethics: abortion, homosexuality, and the like.  Jeremiah Wright -- and I think I am correct in thinking that this at least applies more broadly to other black Christians -- focuses on America's social ethics.  Admittedly, Wright's claims that America fabricated 9/11, started the AIDS virus, etc., are pretty bizarre.  But in general it seems to me that black Christians are far more sensitive than white Christians when it comes to social evils and sinful public policy.  In this at least, I think there is room for movement.  On the one hand, I am not about to lessen my concern over personal ethics issues like abortion, sexual sins, etc., since this is so demonstrably biblical.  But, while I doubt that I would agree very much with Jeremiah Wright, there are surely some more responsible African-American Christian voices who could help white evangelicals to think more biblically about social ethics.  Having been preaching the prophet Micah for several months, I have discovered quite a lot of concern in the Bible over social ethics, and I have often reflected on how little attention such concerns receive in evangelical circles.  A thoroughly biblical worldview will speak to both private and social ethics, and for evangelicals to speak persuasively to the culture we need to be strong in both.

2.  Regarding Wright's racism.  Really, it is indefensible, and commentators who try to excuse it merely embarrass themselves.  I have gotten to know some very fine African American Reformed ministers in recent years, and one common refrain I hear from them is this: Hold us to the same standard!  Several of these men whom I have gotten to know well have been extremely scornful of the way African American pastors seem to them to get soft treatment from their white brothers.  They have challenged me to show enough respect as to treat white and black equally by equally challenging both to be faithful to God and His Word.  Surely this is correct, and the attempts of some to "contextualize" Wright's racism seem patronizing at the very least.

3.  Regarding Wright's use of the pulpit.  When I first saw the Youtube excerpts of Wright's preaching, my first thought was not, "He hates America!" or "He's a racist!", but "What a terrible use of God's pulpit!"  I feel exactly the same outrage whenever I see a candidate standing behind a pulpit -- Democrat or Republican.  I feel exactly the same outrage whenever I see a preacher extolling the virtues (or vices) of a particular candidate -- Democrat or Republican.  Surely the church pulpit is intended for higher and better matters than the small concerns of national politics!  The pulpit is not an institution of the republic, but of the Kingdom, and it's only legitimate use is the preaching of King Jesus.  Politics should be kept out of the pulpit not merely for reasons of church-state separation, but because the pulpit is for matters of such greater significance.  And when King Jesus speaks from His Word on matters that pertain to politics -- such as personal or social ethics -- He speaks equally to all parties, all candidates, and all voters.
Posted March 17, 2008 @ 6:02 PM by Rick Phillips
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