Friday, April 25, 2008

Jeremiah Wright is Right!

Hopefully, my title is as catchy and as controversial as what I am now "compelled by the spirit" to share. I commute to grad school approximately 40 minutes both ways everyday. As filler I frequently listen to podcast lectures from universities available through various institutional websites or through itunes. Also, in the moments when I simply can't bear another lecture, I listen to talk radio. The prominent stations I know of are very conservative and holistically republican (neither of which I personally identify with, but I have to admit it is fun to listen). I enjoy staying up on current events, the day's news, and politics. Well, I have heard the banter for some time concerning the infamous Rev. Wright (not to be confused with N.T. Wright who I'm moderately sympathetic with). Nevertheless, I was fairly critical of the media portrayals of Wright and his sermons. I've thought several times about blogging on it, but it has either slipped my mind, or I felt it had become old news.

Today, however, I was confronted yet again with clips of his sermons. In recent weeks, as the blackballing of Wright in the media has taken place, I have pondered my own thoughts concerning him and his ministry. My first intuitions were that the notion being kicked around in the media that somehow what goes on in a Sunday morning worship service is disconnected from politics is absolutely fascinating. How is it that people can be so naive about Jesus, the Bible, and what it means to follow Jesus? Moreover, to what should we attribute the conception that politics is unrelated to faith, or vice versa? Is that not insanity? Do the convictions I hold about the nature of the world, humanity, and the future not relate to the way in which I live and indeed the way in which I view the socio-political sphere in which I dwell?

What necessitates my present rant is that not only does Jeremiah Wright have a duty to critique the social structures of the day in light of the gospel, he would be failing Jesus not to do so! At the outset I will say, the ONLY thing(s) I think that Wright is wrong about are his statements concerning the notion of a government conspiracy to manufacture aids in order to kill African-Americans. That is patently absurd, but that is peripheral to the main issue. The main issue is that following Jesus is a POLITIC.

As an aside, I was at an academic event at a very conservative theological institution the other night, and a fellow I didn't know inquired about a book I was reading (which happened to be Tat-Siong Benny Liew's Politics of Parousia [his Ph.D. diss. from Vanderbilt]). He was unfamiliar with "postcolonialism" and asked me to explain in brief what it was. A few sentences into my description he said, "Oh, that type of criticism is Marxist and Marxism is inherently unbiblical." I responded, kindly, that some within the postcolonial conversation employ Marxism as an analytic tool, etc. At that point, he became noticeably disgruntled and issued several argumentative comments (and ironically all I was doing was trying to explain the theory!). Yet, the moment of glory came when he made another comment about Marxism and that ideology being so anti-biblical to which I responded "So you think capitalism is biblical?" And then I had a revelation, or an epiphany---this individual's understanding of the Christian message has been so filtered through Western Imperialism that the very nature of the biblical text is only permitted to be read through an Imperial lens---other lenses and other readings are dangerous to the necessary presuppositions of sustaining the Imperial Weltanschauung that to even entertain other notions is inherently dangerous (and in religious rhetoric heterodox).

Back to Wright, when I heard Wright's sermons on the airwaves again tonight as some sort of evidence of him being anti-American, the only way I know how to describe it is to say the existentially I had a "god moment." I realized that not only do I affirm Wright's freedom of speech and critique of Empire, after hearing his statements tonight, I'm positive there is no difference ideologically between Wright and the ways in which I understand Jesus, his message, and the call for those who choose to follow him. What is more, the clip which was played evidenced Wright doing and excellent job of Second Temple historiography evidencing a thorough and honest assessment of the socio-political location in which the crucifixion was carried out, and contextualizing that history into modern terms and events. He made statements to the effect that (quoting from memory) "There is no such thing as 'A war for peace.'" And, "War can no more bring about peace than raping someone can bring about virginity." When I heard these words, my worst fears were confirmed in that instant---this Wright who has been vilified in the media has said nothing that I would not say myself, including his rant taken out of context about God damning America! If ministers cannot offer a political critique predicated on the politic of Jesus, then they are not ministers, and the truth is not in them. How absurd is it to fuel the outrageous idea that humans live in differentiated, neatly separated, compartments of interest (e.g. on Sunday I worship [spiritual], on Monday I vote [political], on Tuesday I work [vocational]). Is that any different than the husband who loves his wife when he is "home" and has his "home life" and then lives an alternative life on "business trips" with his mistress? Can Christians be americans?

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