Sunday, April 27, 2008

Jeremiah context, please!!!

I have learned over the last several years that there are well-intentioned people who end up doing some abhorrent things unintentionally (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt here).

On the other hand, there are people who are intentionally spiteful.

The sad part is, whether unintentional or intentional, both have the same result.

Without being educated on whatever message it is we are sending, even the "unintentional," well-intentioned people can end up perpetuating a stereotype that is hurtful at best. (My last post addressed this on a different issue).

For the last several weeks we've heard Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sound bytes played over and over again.

I can't say that I agree with everything he says...but I think before we condemn Rev. Wright for his "hate speech" and incendiary language, we need to look in our own back yard. I know I grew up with preacher's who spoke of being in the "wrong church" because it was a black Church of Christ. I grew up with sermons about Miriam and Aaron's sin being that they were an interracial couple. I don't think we can condemn Rev. Wright for all of his comments until we scrutinize our own church and our own pastors. And I don't think we can condemn Rev. Wright until we listen to his entire message.

Bill Moyers interview with Rev. Wright confirmed what I suspected. A lot of the inflamatory nature of his words were taken out of context and thus made to sound more "angry." As a White woman who knew nothing about the Black church or Black Liberation Theology until the last decade, I believe much of the media attention to Wright's soundbytes are to incite fear. (I have added the clips below so you can see the interview and the broader context for the soundbytes that have been played and scrutinized out of context incessantly).

Quite honestly, it is still somewhat uncomfortable for me to enter a Black mega-church. However, although there are people there who may resent my presence, what I find over and over again is that people are kind and accepting and my discomfort is more about me than it is about them. Though I don't always agree with everything the pastor says, I seek to understand it from his perspective (and all of the other people who are shouting "amen" to his words). Their experience has been much different than mine. Before judging, I need to listen, hear, and seek understanding first.

This morning I had the opportunity to hear Rev. Wright speak at Friendship West Baptist Church. He made some comments that I'm sure could be taken out of context and exploited just like the ones he made in Chicago. But the overall message was not about the oppressiveness of White America; it was about not making excuses for not being able to do something. The message was about accountability. And, since Friendship West is a black mega-church (though I saw several White people there...perhaps to hear Rev. Wright), Rev. Wright's sermon was primarily targeted toward Black people. Unlike what we have been coached by the media, he did not encourage Black people to bemoan the oppression by White people and wallow in their pity. Quite the contrary. ...But we don't hear that soundbyte.

We live in a free country. Everyone is free to have their own opinion. I know some of my friends may listen to Rev. Wright's whole sermon and still find him offensive. My only request is that you *do* listen to all of his words first. Listen to his message. Talk to other black people (not just *one* other black person who might agree with you!). Disagree with what you must. But base your disagreements off of informed and educated opinions.

How about challenging ourselves to begin open and honest dialogue with people who don't look like and think like we do with the goal of thinking more critically about the messages we are receiving?

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