Friday, March 14, 2008

Not what the clergy is for

My intention in this blog is to stay with a Constitutional theme. In other words, I wish for this to be "Brett's Constitution," not "Brett Comments on Whatever is in the News." But since we will elect a president this year, since that's an office created by Article I, and since there are FOUR amendments to the Constitution dealing with how we elect that person and what we do if he dies, I hope I'm not straying too far afield by commenting on the controversy involving Barack Obama's pastor, Jeremiah Wright.

To be honest, I'd leave this alone, except there are two points that I haven't heard made by the pundits that I feel are significant.

1. One adjective too many, Reverend Wright. Watching the video of Wright shrieking over the power wielded in this country by "rich white people," I wondered why in the world it didn't occur to the preacher that he could have left out "white" and gotten his message across just as effectively and received just as many cheers from his congregation.

For some people, blasting the rich in America is kind of a default option. One hears statements all the time lamenting that too much wealth is in too few hands, or that the justice system is rigged to favor the well-heeled, or why can't those hotel magnates who raised that yo-yo Paris Hilton be taxed as high as the Swedes would tax them if they lived over there. But you know, most folks who take that approach leave race out of it, because it's not really germaine to the point they are trying to make. If it's bad for white people to be super rich, it's bad for black people to be super rich. Leave race out of it.

Moreover, being an ordained Christian minister, if Wright had truly wanted to sneer at the wealthy he surely must know he could have just read aloud what Christ said in Matthew 19:24: "And again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." He didn't say "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter into the kingdom of God, but that doesn't apply to Oprah, Denzel, LeBron, or P. Diddy." It doesn't seem to have mattered to Jesus whether the rich guy was white or black or whether the camel had one or two humps.

2. It isn't just left-wing clergymen who blamed America for 9/11. Wright is also under fire for a sermon he delivered almost seven years ago, shortly after the terrorist attacks, in which he implied that because the U.S. used the atom bomb in Japan and "supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans" that we brought the carnage on ourselves.

Not to excuse this kind of thinking, but it deserves mention that a couple of white, right-wing ministers also felt the U.S. was to blame for 9/11. Of course, when the late Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson expressed their view on the 700 Club two days after the attacks, they didn't say if had anything to do with Hiroshima or the Palestinians. As reported by Jon Meacham in American Gospel (2006, p. 235) the dialog went like this:

FALWELL: The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way--all of them who have tried to secularize America--I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

ROBERTSON: Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we're responsible as a free society for what the top people do...

Again, I don't bring this up to excuse Reverend Wright's comments in any way. In fact, my attitude is to heck with all three of them--Wright, Falwell, and Robertson. As I see it, they were all being unprofessional. I say unprofessional because as I view it, the function of clergy after a national calamity like 9-11 is to comfort their flock, to pray for peace, and to remind everybody how much goodness there is in the world and in most people. In other words, amidst horror and sadness, we don't need clergy sounding like irate callers to radio talk shows.

Personally, my favorite clergyman was the Nobel Peace Prize winner who grew up a couple miles from where I write this in my Atlanta home. In a speech he delivered in 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. declared:

"True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force--tension, confusion, or war; it is the presence of some positive force--justice, good will and brotherhood." (I Have a Dream: Writings and Speeches That Changed the World, 1992, p. 17). Those are the kind of soothing, inspiring words I would have preferred to hear from Wright, Falwell, and Robertson in the days following 9/11.

Maybe if more ministers saw the world as King did we'd have a little more of that justice, good will, and brotherhood.

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