What’s Wrong is Wright

Courtesy of the Drudge Report, I was drawn to read a New York Times article (login required) on Barack Obama,, his faith and conversion, and his pastor, Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.

The article presented some interesting background on Mr. Obama and his church — a topic with which I had been previously unfamiliar. But what I found of greater interest was the broader perspective highlighted by the Times article regarding the role of religious beliefs in public figures, particularly politicians, and how secular political movements in the postmodern age use religion.

Not surprisingly, the New York Times — along with virtually all major media outlets — come across as pleasantly confused about the nature of religious conversion, particularly as it applies to Christianity. The focus of this article is on the theology and controversial teachings of his spiritual mentor Reverend Wright, who pastors Trinity United Church of Christ, and addresses its potential impact on Mr. Obama’s presidential candidacy.

My eye was drawn to the description of Reverend Wright, who is identified as:

… a dynamic pastor who preached Afrocentric theology, dabbled the radical politics and delivered music and profanity-spiked sermons.

Antennas pop up when someone alludes to Christian pastors with “Afrocentric” (or any other “-centric”) theology. Additional research quickly disclosed that Reverend Wright is indeed, shall we say, “controversial.” It appears that the good Reverend espouses a form of Christianity, so-called, which depicts America as deeply — and intractably — racist; which believes America to be a far greater threat to the world than murderous tyrants who slaughter millions; who believes there are two types of white Christians — those “who lynch people in the name of Jesus”
and those “who ain’t got time to lynch people”; who, rather famously, after a fiery sermon about all the injustices which white America has promulgated on blacks, the poor, third world countries, women and children, and the usual litany of complaints about lack of healthcare, the homeless, etc. is quoted as saying, “God is tired of this shit!”

One wonders if God is also tired of ministers with potty mouths. Or tired of pastors who view their white Christian “brothers” as lynchers-in-waiting.

In short, Reverend Wright and his theology fall squarely on the radical left, racial-hating-and-baiting side of the political and religious spectrum.

As Seinfeld might say, “… not that there’s anything wrong with that!”

Oh, wait — maybe there is something wrong with that.

It is said that man was created in the image of God. Yet it is equally true that we are ever creating God in the image of man.

The Reverend finds the soul of evil in white supremacy and racism, which he sees everywhere he looks. When he sees war, he sees racism; when he sees poverty, he sees racism; when he sees homelessness, he sees racism; when he sees inadequate health care, crime, drugs, or virtually any other social problem, they are always viewed through the prism of race. The problem is not that Reverend Wright is being too harsh on some; the problem is that he is being far too kind to most. For while racism is certainly evil, evil is far more than mere racism. It is not just whites who hate, and kill, and oppress, and are unjust — it’s each and every one of us. Yes, even African-Americans — and African-American ministers. Racism is not the disease, but a symptom of the disease — and you might think the good doctor, a man of the cloth, would know better.

Reverend Wright and his church are proponents of what is called liberation theology, in which Christianity is defined (redefined, actually) primarily as a means of identifying with and liberating the oppressed. It has deep roots in atheistic Marxism, especially in the concept of class struggle and the centrality of violence in overcoming oppression. Liberation theology sprouted from Catholic and Marxist syncretism in Latin America, and has subsequently spread to many liberal Protestant denominations as well. Its core premise — the centrality of class warfare in human relationships — is inherently incompatible with the unity of Christians in Christ, and this distortion of Christian doctrine was gently but devastatingly rebutted by former Cardinal Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI) in his doctrinal instruction on the topic. It’s a long read, but well worth your time, if you’re interested in this subject.

The New York Times article, like many of its kind in a media philosophically and politically in sync with secular liberalism, bolsters the Christian and religious bona fides of one of its favorite-son politicians. Postmodern secularism is very defensive about its religious bankruptcy — which it correctly perceives puts it at odds with a substantial majority of Americans who are religious, in inclination if not always in practice. In order to fulfill the life purpose of postmodernism — acquiring and keeping political power — religion must somehow be subsumed into their political message — a task comparable to hiding an elephant under your mini-skirt: it just doesn’t fit very well.

In general, secular politicians and their supporters try to achieve this wizardry through seeking out churches and ministers from “progressive” Christian dominations, whose social views and teachings are indistinguishable from their own. In these churches (of which Pastor Wright’s is a good example) the gospel message and the political message are one and the same. In such churches, one would be hard-pressed to discern — were one ignorant of Christianity’s history and teachings — that Jesus came to earth for any reason other than ensuring universal health care, redistributing income to designated victim groups, impeaching Bush, and stopping The Man from oppressing the Brothers by spreading the Good News of affirmative action, reparations, welfare, and food stamps. And of course Jesus would never bomb Iraq — although His Father (ever the neocon) seemed fond of ordering the Israelites to eradicate Philistines, Canaanites, Hittites, Jebusites, and the like — yes, frequently including their women and children –when they threatened His divine purpose in maintaining the survival and integrity of Israel. In the mind of many such progressive Christian churches, God would have spared Sodom and Gomorrah (after all, God is love, and hate is not a family value), and instead used all that brimstone to build homeless shelters. And these are the very churches that secular liberalism seeks out when it wants to put on its religious vestments.

One can argue (unconvincingly, in my view) that Christian morality and teaching mandate government and political efforts to aid the poor and oppressed — as opposed to our individual responsibilities along such lines, or those facilitated collectively through the church. What one can not do is square such a constricted, monotone theology with Christianity’s vast octaves of orthodox teaching and history. If Christianity is nothing more than do-good government social programs which require no personal moral transformation, which frequently cause more harm than good to their intended beneficiaries, and require no personal sanctification or sacrifice — then who needs Christianity at all? Wrapping social programs in Scripture verses and Jesus-talk does not make them “Christian” any more than putting mascara on a pig makes her Miss Universe.

The problem with ministers like Reverend Wright and others, who wrap their political and social agendas in Christian facades and Bible-talk, is that they are partly right. That social justice, concern for the poor and the underprivileged, and the mitigation of hatred and racism are — and have always been — emphatic teachings and priorities for Christianity is indisputable. But Christian opposition to injustice and oppression is not its sole and central doctrine, but rather a manifestation of the personal deliverance of the individual from the slavery and oppression of sin which Christianity offers. The half-righters have interchanged cause and effect — and thereby have guaranteed that the results of such efforts will be harmful rather than healing. For to be partly right is to be totally wrong — when the part in error is core truth about the nature of man and his relationship to God. Good deeds arising out of the darkness of the unredeemed heart invariably foster repression and dependency rather than deliverance and liberty. As Ratzinger points out, speaking of the natural evolution and outcome of liberation theology as a solution to oppression:

… the overthrow by means of revolutionary violence of structures which generate violence is not ipso facto the beginning of a just regime. A major fact of our time ought to evoke the reflection of all those who would sincerely work for the true liberation of their brothers: millions of our own contemporaries legitimately yearn to recover those basic freedoms of which they were deprived by totalitarian and atheistic regimes which came to power by violent and revolutionary means, precisely in the name of the liberation of the people.

Churches which abandon historical Christian orthodoxy in favor of Christianized political and socialistic substitutes may indeed accomplish some good (even Hamas feeds the poor) and often seem to operate from the very best of motives. But they exsanguinate the faith of its life-blood — its historical orthodoxy, hammered out through centuries in creeds and scripture, through persecution endured and heresy rebutted — leaving but a mummified corpse of ritual and religious talk and self-righteousness. Like some ancient Aztec sacrifice, they carve out the heart of a historic faith, and thrust it triumphantly upward to heaven. But the gods they propitiate are those of politics and power, division and deviancy — not the God of the cross and the empty tomb, nor the Lord of the martyrs and the life-blood of saints.

The inevitable response to such a critique is the demand: “Who are you to say who is a Christian?” — thus betraying the postmodern postulate that no absolute truth exists (or more accurately, no absolute truth which contradicts our beliefs exists). If there is no objective standard against which to measure, then anyone and anything can be “Christian.” Just put on your vestments, put “Christ” in your church name, quote a few scriptures, and magically, you are as “Christian” as the next fellow.

But if there is a fixed truth, if history and fact have any meaning, then the answer must be: it is not I, but the church which says so — visible and invisible, consistent throughout history in its teachings and doctrines, if imperfectly followed by its adherents. Apostolic in origin, its teachings and doctrines sharpened and clarified by opposition and heretical movements, the church looks back 2000 years and finds its center in a Man and His followers, unchanged and unchangeable truth which the assault of the ages has neither altered nor eroded.

It is said that man was created in the image of God. Yet it is equally true that we are ever creating God in the image of man.

If you look closely, you will see this act of creation taking place on TV screens and above the fold of your favorite paper or periodical, on nearly a daily basis. And you will find them, invariably, as often wrong as Wright.

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6 thoughts on “What’s Wrong is Wright

  1. You are so correct. There is always a fork in the road even for politicians when interpreting the Gospel: God on God’s terms, or God on our own terms. And when we take the second fork, interpreting the Bible to suit our needs and agenda–I think the term “watered down” applies—we soon lose the need to read and study it, because we already know and agree with all it says. And so it loses its transformative power.

    On the other hand, following it on God’s terms, even the parts we disagree with ultimately changes us and that change can be oh so difficult and laborious.

    Mr. Obama and Mr. Wright clearly have an axe to grind and grind away with a watered down Gospel with impuntiy. Thus the thriving of political correctness, or faux truth, with a little “t.”

    William Wilberforce writes eloquently about this very thing in “Real Christianity,” in the late 1700’s.

    Thanks for a great post.

  2. Outstanding treatment of the topic. I’ve tried to remember–have we had a president (let alone many other politicians of every stripe) who has not campaigned, in part, on his “faith,” specifically “Christian” faith, in the past 50+ years? Okay, there was Mr. Lieberman, whose faith in God I would trust above the Rev. Wright’s.

    Only three or four weeks ago, our local morning paper had an article on page 1 of the front section, about the churches in town who have decided that no longer can we call Jesus “Lord,” as that suggests too much power and authority for the servant-brother who washed his disciples’ feet; God, of course, is “Mother” at least as often as “Father,” which also suggests authority that such a loving Being would not exercise over his (or her?) creation. Other terms are also now verboten, especially those suggesting power or–gasp!–masculinity.

    When Jesus is no longer Lord and the Head of His Church, when God is no longer powerful enough to raise Jesus (and us) from the dead into life eternal, then I will cease to follow Him.

    Anyway, thanks for your post. I’ve heard enough, previously, about Obama’s idea of Christianity to know I could never vote for him, but I had not heard or read of the pastor who has “raised” him in the “faith.” Very useful information.

  3. Vicki–

    I am too young to remember this, but I believe that Jimmy Carter was the first President in recent history to win a significant following due to his religious claims.

    My own Dad admits to voting for Carter because Carter was a believer. (Considering my Dad’s age, that would not have been his first Presidential election.) I don’t know how much personal faith played a role in the Carter campaign.

    It’s been noted elsewhere that Carter was the first person to tap the mainstream evangelical vote. However, Carter’s lackluster performance led to the rapid rise of men like the late Jerry Falwell, who took the voting members of the evangelical Christian community in a vastly different direction politically.

    Since that time, though, no President has campaigned on his faith.

  4. Every president I can remember, even vaguely, from Eisenhower on, has professed faith in Jesus, or more generally (for some) in God. Clinton and Gore made quite a spectacle of themselves in their first campaign, appearing at some evangelical gathering in Tennessee (or other area around there). My memory for the details is vague, but they both made the claims.

    I’m not sure if I think GWBush campaigned on his faith, or was just open about it when asked. He did get a strong following in his campaigns from people, including me, who thought he would lead more than he has in returning some conservative values to our culture.

    Reagan–I know, I’m not taking these in order–spoke often of God, I believe.

    Of course, our founding fathers and their successors used to speak often and publicly about Divine Providence and made many other references to our need, individually and as a nation, to follow God and live according to His commands. While that’s not the same thing as campaigning on faith, it does put the lie to those who claim the Constitution prohibits any connection between government and religion. It just isn’t true.

    None of which relates to the point of this post, but there it is! ;o)

  5. FWIW my most heavily read post of all time regards Barack Obama and religion. Out of curiosity I did some homework in December and since then Google searches that include “Obama” and “religion” keep listing my post, often on the first screen. Traffic has slowed in recent weeks to about twenty-five to thirty percent of all hits, but that still reflects a lot of curiosity. My personal views regarding religion and politics bore most readers and annoy the rest, so I don’t often express them. The post is unremarkable, but it has made a good traffic builder.

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