by Bill Cook
In the last several weeks, we have all been bombarded by the media with the news of Senator Obama’s association with a man named Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Mr. Wright calls himself Reverend, a title reserved for God alone (see Psalm 111:9 -KJV); so I will just call him, “mister.” Mr. Wright has been recorded using some very inflammatory language and much of that has circulated the Web. And, that language tends to polarize the listener to take a position. This was most likely calculated by those posting the excerpts on the web. While taking a position is a good thing (so many have disappointingly chosen to not make a choice), the positions that one may choose in this matter are often missing the point and tend to cloud the issue.
If any are so inclined, a quick visit to the Trinity United Church of Christ’s web site will reveal much about the vision and worldview of this group. They seem to be quite open and honest about it. For instance, their motto is plainly stated, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian”. And, it is noted that this ‘motto’ was invented by Mr. Wright’s predecessor, Dr. Reuben Sheares. Such a motto may be taken in many ways and may be open to interpretation. Perhaps Dr. Sheares did not espouse the hate-speech of Mr. Wright. But, their site ensures that you do not misunderstand and plainly states that Mr. Wright fully embodies this stated motto and vision. If one is left to consider the tone and content of Mr. Wright’s discourse in light of the stated motto and that Mr. Wright had demonstrated an understanding and deep commitment to the motto, it would be reasonable to conclude that he was not speaking anything that the vision and motto would not allow – indeed, that his speech was in line with it. So, the viewpoint that seems to be taken by the media that Mr. Wright is a wild and uncontrollable fountain of vitriol is simply not true. Further, Sen. Obama’s claim that he is like an uncle who says things that the rest of the family doesn’t hold as true, doesn’t hold water, either. He is who he is. He has been at the helm of that religious body for over 30 years. Does it not stand to reason that someone in his position does not experience that kind of longevity unless the audience (membership) condones his actions; that they agree and want to hear that kind of rhetoric? If they did not, would they not have replaced him with someone who had different values?
Indeed, if you look on their web site in the ‘About’ link, you will find very plainly how they define themselves. And, they are most assuredly open and, I suppose, this is the ‘unapologetic’ part about it. The difficulty in all this is that Mr. Wright is in line with what this religious group affirms-that is, that they are looking at all things through a Black perspective. They have this right and I kind of admire them for being so bold-even if I disagree with their politics.
So, what is wrong with it?
Ah, this is the meat of the matter. No one denies their right to have such an outspoken person in the pulpit as far as the rights of this free society go. But, the problem is with the rights to teach any Bible doctrine that is shaded, influenced by a particular world view. Yes, a great part of their African heritage (their viewpoint, not mine) has roots in slavery. Personally, I believe that the slavery of the African-American people was wrong and we all know of the countless many that experienced cruel and abominable treatment and I am sure there were many more that we don’t know about. It was a scourge on this nation. I know that many would say that I don’t really understand it fully, but I can perhaps grasp a small part-enough to ask for your consideration.
You see, the African nation is not the only nation to ever experience slavery. There were many other ‘groups’ that were enslaved throughout history. In Roman society in New Testament (NT) times, it was either be a slave or die if you were not in the Elite class; there was no middle class. There was no way to advance.
And, we have Bible examples of individuals of those who were slaves and who were also Christians. The apostle Paul wrote to Philemon about a slave of Philemon’s named Onesimus. This letter was written, not from a black perspective; it was written from a Christian perspective-from one Christian to another about another Christian who happened to be a slave. There was no mention of impending doom that would befall Philemon for owning a slave (and I truly hate to use that terminology – but it is the situation), nor any praise for that matter. The letter is a lesson in tact, a communication that expresses the love of one profitable servant (Onesimus served Paul in some way) to another. It is a letter that explains to Philemon that the relationship between Onesimus and Philemon had now changed because of their mutual relationship in Christ – they were now brothers. Paul urges Philemon to treat him as a brother and not as a slave. There is evidence that Onesimus was freed by Philemon because he is mentioned as a valued member of the church in Colosse (Col. 4:9).
The point is that Christians are all slaves (1Cor. 7:21-22; Gal. 3:28; Col. 3:11). There is no mention of race, no mention of anything to be viewed from a black or white perspective, just that all Christians should have the mind of Christ (Phil. 1:27), that servanthood is a very strong tenet of Christianity (Phil. 2:7), that Christ is the penultimate Slave as He humbled Himself to the point of the Cross (Phil. 2:8) for those who despised Him and what he stood for.
We recently had a gospel preacher hold a week-long meeting here who happened to be black. When we were discussing asking him to come, there were no discussions about making sure we met some quota somewhere or that we needed to have him or not have him because he was black. We simply considered those brethren who had heard him preach and those brethren who knew of him and so determined that his reputation as a gospel preacher and fellow Christian was sound according to the teachings of the Lord as found in the Word of God. When we ate with him during that week, we were not afraid that others might see us white folks eating with a black man and his wife. We just ate and fellowshipped as brethren in Christ-nothing more, nothing less. When we conversed with him, we did not try to make our speech black or white, just Christian as we all considered ourselves fellow servants (slaves) to Christ.
On a personal note, I have Scottish heritage, and my grandfather was from Barbados. You might even find some Indian heritage in there somewhere (if I pulled my hair back and you looked at me from the side, I would look like the Pontiac Indian on the old car-maker’s logo). In ages past, I am sure some my relatives did some bad things and I am sure some more had bad things done to them. So, I have some ‘immigrant’ rights and most likely some ‘native-born’ rights. So, I suppose I could claim some affront to my heritage and highlight the atrocities of ages past. But, I refuse to do so. It would only satisfy a political agenda, not a Christian one. We moved a lot when I was growing up. But, we did stay in some towns longer than others. In one of those towns I was one of two white children in my class. The Black Panthers organization was very active in that town. There were streets you did not walk down if you were white. But, we children didn’t really know why. Nevertheless, I had many friends who were black but, I did not think of them as my black friends-just as my friends. I was fortunate that I did not learn the fear that is at the root of racism. The only ‘distinction’ I made, and it was my own peculiar observation, was that my friends who were black were better friends (truer to the concept of friendship) than my friends who were white. When I was in college, I saw my brethren in Christ who were black welcome preachers who were white (not because they were white but because they were sound in doctrine). My black and white brethren lived out their lived in front of me in a truly non-racist viewpoint. True Christianity is color-blind as it should be.
Mr. Wright and the Trinity United Church of Christ are making a political statement, not a Christian one. They use terminology like ‘Black Theology’-terminology that you cannot find in the Word of God. In the ‘Talking Points’ section of their web site, Mr. Wright says, “African-centered thought, unlike Eurocentrism, does not assume superiority and look at everyone else as being inferior.” This very statement is contradictory because the very use of the term ‘African-centered thought’ does assume superiority and thereby means that anything else any “other-centered thought” is somehow inferior-and by inference, Christ-centered thought becomes inferior to Mr. Wright. So, how can Christ be served when the whole emphasis of Mr. Wright is this concept of dual doctrines? Is this not what Jesus cautioned against when he taught that Man cannot serve two Masters (Matt. 6:24)? We cannot have dual loyalties and be pleasing to God. The Bible contains no special section called the black section or the white section or as Mr. Wright calls it, the Eurocentric section-nor are there any doctrinal assertions that are peculiarly black or white-this very language is racist at its core-the very thing Mr. Wright is supposedly fighting.
The very premise upon which Mr. Wright rests his world view is flawed. The vitriol is spewed not out of a love for the lost but a hatred…seated in a very controversial and hot-bed of current political rhetoric. It is politically popular to hate this nation. It is politically popular to hate the current President. It is politically popular to play the ‘race’ card. It sells books and brings in the cash to support a racist world view that has nothing to do with Christianity (Gal. 1:10). Perhaps the motto should be, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Political”.