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AME CHURCH LEADERSHIP RESPONDS TO CRITICISM OF REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT AME CHURCH LEADERSHIP RESPONDS TO CRITICISM OF REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT

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AME CHURCH LEADERSHIP RESPONDS TO CRITICISM OF REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT

Posted on Mon, Mar 24, 2008

 

PRESS RELEASE: March 22, 2008

For Immediate Release
 
SOCIAL ACTION Commission
African Methodist Episcopal Church
1968 W. Adams Blvd. Suite 314
Los Angeles, CA 90018
323/ 293-6555 – voice 323/ 293-6572 – fax
 Email: Girlbishop122@aol.com; AME Church Website: http://www.ame-church.com/ 
Chair – Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry (213) 293-6555
SAC Officer - Jacquelyn Dupont- Walker 213/ 494-9493
 IN DEFENSE OF THE REV. JEREMIAH WRIGHT AND THE BEST OF PROPHETIC TRADITION IN THE BLACK CHURCH :
 Several months ago, early in the Democratic race for the nomination to run for president, conservative radio pundits began attacking Senator Barak Obama by playing a small snippet of a sound bite from one of the sermons delivered by his pastor, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright who was the spiritual leader of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.
 Some of Dr. Wright’s critics loudly declared that his prophetic preaching style of denouncing white racism was in fact, “reverse racism.” 
 By repeatedly broadcasting 20 second sound bites from some of the powerful sermons delivered by Rev. Wright, media pundits from all of the major media, right wing, moderates and left-wing broadcasters have repeatedly shaped a distorted view of Rev. Wright and as a result, the news coverage has reflected negatively upon Senator Barack Obama.
On March 18, 2008, Senator Obama made a brilliant defense of himself and his membership at Trinity Church , as well as, his personal relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright. He disavowed and denounced the “words” of Rev. Wright in the video-sound bite that was played over and over in broadcasts in the United States and perhaps, all over the world. Senator Obama also addressed the destructive nature of racial oppression and the resultant anger and resentment left in its wake. For many, Mr. Obama’s speech was on-target, for others it was not enough. Senator Obama needs no one to defend him; however, beyond the attacks on Senator Obama, there is a greater concern. 
 The attacks of the media; the so-called conservative, and liberal or “moderate” critics have not only attacked Senator Obama, but much more significantly, have attacked the traditions of preaching, the black religious traditions; the cultural and spiritual traditions that have encouraged  and helped black Americans to persevere for over 375 years of racial and economic oppression. 
 White and some black commentators have expressed shock and dismay because of a few brief video sound-bites. Newscasters are critical of Dr. Wright, express dismay that a pastor would condemn the United States , even though the U.S. supported racist policies of apartheid in South Africa that kept Nelson Mandela imprisoned.  Those in the media express shock that a black pastor would question whether we should sing “God Bless America,” while remembering the injustices against people of color, the lynching of black men for decades without serious intervention by the government, and using black Americans as medical guinea pigs as the government did with its syphilis program in Tuskegee.
 Many broadcasters and whites fail to understand that black pastors are expected to question the moral authority of the U.S. government in a world in which the wealthy are allowed to benefit because their wealth and political connections.  Black preachers are expected to vehemently speak out when America allows genocide to be perpetrated by dictators who support U.S. policies. 
 Like the so-called liberal ministers in Alabama who chastised Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as he sat imprisoned in a Birmingham Jail, these news pundits charge Rev. Wright, and by extension the black church, with “mixing politics with religion” and misleading “ignorant black people” into an adversarial relationship with “their government.”  And like those so-called “liberal” white preachers in Alabama who attacked Dr. King, several have even quoted various biblical texts as evidence that Rev. Wright, and Trinity United Church of Christ are not following Christian biblical principles. 
 It is our responsibility to understand that God does not sit outside the walls of human history and it is our responsibility to stand up in defense of, not only Reverend Jeremiah Wright, but also in defense of the best prophetic biblical traditions. 
 The words and actions of some media pundits seem to imply that Senator Obama and black people should renounce our historical and religious heritage, our culture and our faith before we can be accepted into the American “mainstream.”  Those who criticize appear willing to accept black Americans, only if we do not remind America of the struggles we, as black people, have had to overcome. 
 To ask black clergy, and laity, to remain silent in the face of a continuing racist reality is no different than Pharaoh demanding that Moses and Aaron be quiet in the face of Egyptian cruelty.  It is no different than the Old Testament elite demanding that Isaiah remain silent about the treatment of widows and orphans; and no different than Jesus remaining silent at the exploitation of the poor. 
 The black preacher and black Christians, in the prophetic tradition of Black Liberation Theology, from Richard Allen, the founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church; Bishop Morris Brown, Bishop Paul Quinn, Bishop Daniel Payne, and Bishop Henry McNeil Turner to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, walk in a proud tradition. 
In the past, as well as now, we sit surrounded by great men and women who have refused to bend down to a “state religion.” 
 The so-called conservatives who demand that we separate ourselves from our prophetic tradition are doing nothing less than calling on us to deny our God. 
 This is a time of testing, not only for America, but for us, as black and white Americans, and many of us have decided that we will not bow down to the God of an American “state religion.” 
 We have the biblical lessons of Daniel; of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.  We have the lessons of John, the Revelator, on the Isle of Patmos, and we have the example of Jesus. 
 We, the members of the African Methodist Episcopal Church proudly embrace the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Trinity United Church of Christ as walking well within the best biblical traditions and the best traditions of black prophetic preaching and a faith that has brought us, “This Far by Faith,”  because we have come too far to turn around now.
 
Editor’s Note: The Press Advisory appended below is released on behalf of the AME Church by the Social Action Commission Chair - Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry reference our denomination’s position in the dialogue about the coverage of one of the prophetic voices in religion and a champion of the Black Church, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, D. Min. 
 
Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry is available for comment by phone: Mobile : 323-574-4332 or Voice: 323-293-6555
 
 /s/
 
Bishop Carolyn Tyler Guidry, Social Action Commission Chair
 Submitted by Mrs. "Jackie" Dupont-Walker, Social Action Commission, AME Church
 Other Articles About AME Leaders Speaking Out:

Below is the link to the Reverend Dr. Ronald Braxton's interview with Joe Johns (CNN reporter and member of MAMEC). Interview was first seen Monday night CNN. Rev. Holness is also featured.
 
Look for the title "Black Liberation Theology"
 
http://www.cnn.com/video/?/video/politics/2008/03/19/johns.black.church.cnn
 _____________________________________________________________
 
SIXTH EPISCOPAL DISTRICT
2900 Chamblee-Tucker Road
Building Three
Atlanta, Georgia 30342-4156
 
WILLIAM PHILLIPS DEVEAUX
PRESIDING BISHOP
 
March 19, 2008
 
 
We, the Sixth Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, representing more than 80,000 members and clergy in the State of Georgia, USA, express support for our clergy colleague, the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ. Rev. Wright is a renowned religious scholar, nurturing pastor and outstanding preacher.  He built Trinity from a small flock of eighty to a grand congregation of 8,000 members. Our friend and fellow minister of the gospel has been vilified in the national media for practicing the Great Commission to go ye preach and baptize in my name. Indeed, Rev. Wright has received untold criticism for bringing souls to Christ, the very thing that he was specifically ordained to do.
 
We repudiate the irresponsible and shameful behavior of the national media for replaying and sensationalizing Rev. Wright’s words out of context simply to accommodate a salacious sound-byte. Quite frankly African Americans articulate and use language differently than whites by juxtaposing words to paint indelible psychological pictures. For example, in the overplayed sound-byte Rev. Wright was not cursing America or its people. Rather he was pointing out historical and modern day incidents of racial intolerance or violence that were both heinous and damnable.
 
From the outset it must be understood that the charges of racism against Rev. Wright are simply false, as it is doubtful that the United Church of Christ, a white denomination, would have appointed him to pastor one of its churches. For us in the A.M.E. Church , and indeed African American clergy, controversy is to be expected as we preach a liberation theology that condemns any effort to persecute human beings.
 
In fact, our faith compels us to honor God by confronting injustice whenever and wherever it occurs. Slavery, segregation, and apartheid were acceptable to society, but to us these disgraceful practices deserved denunciation and protest. We willingly did so and our acts of defiance were defined as controversial by whites. Obviously, the two races viewed these peculiar institutions through different lenses.
 
We were pleased that Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama chose the city of Philadelphia to deliver his masterful Race in America speech because it is the birthplace of the African Methodist Episcopal denomination that was founded by Richard Allen in a blacksmith shop in 1787. The race factor spawned the A.M.E. Church simply because our founders were ejected from worship at the altar of Saint George’s Episcopal. They left and formed the A.M.E. denomination which practiced our Christian faith alongside a strong social justice ministry that included:
 
· Opportunities for worship and Bible study
· Interpreting biblical scripture in current and understandable terms
· Opposition to slavery; and the harsh treatment inflicted upon freed blacks
· Self help to improve members’ quality of life and employability
· Creation of schools and later institutions of higher education
· Venue for fellowship and social interaction
 
To A.M.E.s, as well as other African Americans, the church was and remains a multiplex of activities anchored by worship but inclusive of educational, health, employment, and recreational pursuits. Traditionally for the black community, church is an extension of home where much time is spent in daily activity not specifically related to worship. This practice is unlike the larger community who often reserve their time in church strictly for worship.
 
As people of faith, we recognize that God in His great divinity utilizes what appears to be an adverse situation to accomplish greater purposes as epitomized in the scriptural reference all things work together for the good of them that love the Lord (Romans 8:6). To that end we applaud Senator Obama for his strength of character and integrity in refusing to denigrate Pastor Wright who so impacted the lives of himself, his wife Michelle and daughters Malia and Sasha.
 
More profoundly, we laud the Senator’s unflinching honesty (a rare commodity in presidential politics) as well as his leadership and great courage in illuminating the real and painful truth of race in America . Senator Obama boldly placed the issue of race squarely on the table for further discussion and as an impetus to accomplish the kind of change that he has espoused throughout the Democratic presidential campaign.
 
Sincerely,
 /s/
William P. DeVeaux
Presiding Bishop
Sixth Episcopal District
The African Methodist Episcopal Church
 
Phone: 770.220.1770
FAX: 770.220.9996
Email: sixdistr@bellsouth.net 
______________________________________________________________________
PASTORAL STATEMENT REGARDING THE MINISTRY AND WITNESS OF DR. JEREMIAH WRIGHT, PASTOR OF TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST IN CHICAGO , IL , AND SENATOR BARAK OBAMA:
 
Delivered to St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church, Newark New Jersey on Sunday, March 16, 2008
 
 
By the Reverend Dr. William D. Watley, Senior Pastor
 
 
Since his bid for the presidency of the United States, the membership of Senator Barak Obama of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and his friendship with his former pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright, have been made campaign issues and given full blown coverage in the media during the past week.  I would like make several points regarding this much publicized ancillary issue with its incendiary and biased reporting that has the potential of sidetracking the American public from real survival subject matters that face this country.
 
First, regarding Dr. Jeremiah Wright and Trinity Church ; I have personally known Dr. Wright for a number of years and even though we do not agree on everything; I most certainly take issue and umbrage with the image that is being painted of him by much of the media.  In spite of the snippets that have been played over and over again from his sermons, and the spin given to it, I can assure you that Dr. Wright is solid, sane, scholarly, and spiritual.  Trinity Church , in my opinion, is one of the most respected, progressive, inclusive, and significant houses of worship in this nation.  Senator Obama worships in a stable, sound, nurturing, and prophetic Christian community and his pastor brings a solid and sane word to his congregation.  He has no reason to be ashamed or apologetic of either his pastor or his church.
 
While some would interpret Trinity’s slogan of “Unapologetically Black and Unashamedly Christian” as racist, no one labels the Roman Catholic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Dutch Reformed Church or the American Baptist Church as such. And they should not be given such a label.  No one raises any eyebrows when they hear the expression German Lutheran.  Trinity United Church of Christ should not be classified in this way. They are ethnically affirming the community they serve just as the African Methodist Episcopal Church (a denomination which split from the Methodist Church over the issues of slavery and racism) is affirming of its members. Celebrating ethnic heritage or national affiliation is not racism, but a way of affirming historic identity.
 
Could it be possible that even in this post modern era of exploding myths and falling idols, many are still paranoid at the mention of the word “black”? The hysteria that certain persons and portions of the media are attempting to create stems from the fact that there are significant elements in our society and culture are still just as mortified at the mention of the word “black” today as they were in 1968 when popular singer James Brown shouted, “Say it Loud! I’m Black and I’m Proud!”  Only those who have been victims of centuries of caricaturing and stereotyping can understand and appreciate the declaration of positive black identity, not as a divisive strategy or as an expression of hate, but as pastoral self love and a much needed corrective to a tragic history of ingrained self-rejection.
 
Secondly, I would like to say a word about freedom of speech.  While we as a country celebrate freedom of speech, we are still uncomfortable with those who take the freedom of speech seriously enough to critique the policies of our nation that contradict our founding principles.  These persons are labeled as unpatriotic.  Rather than being offended by critique, I look beyond rhetorical flourishes and excesses that are inherent to oratory of whatever ilk, whether religious, political, business, and academic, and ask if the essence of what is being said is true.  The reality is this, what Dr. Martin Luther King said years ago, still rings true. Our country that started out as a defender of select poor, since the rights of Africans were never part of the equation, has been on the wrong side of a world revolution for years. I am personally uncomfortable with members of clergy who never offer any word of critique regarding social justice issues and who swallow hook, line, and sinker anything that the conservative right sells no matter what the nefarious implications of that agenda might be.  Freedom of speech means the right to be critical and criticism is not to be associated with being unpatriotic.
 
Third, I would point out that while many are offended by some  of Dr. Wright’s comments and analyses of this country, I wonder if they have read closely the preaching of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos, Obadiah, Zephaniah, Haggai, John the Baptist, and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Many of the Old Testament prophets called for the judgment of God on their people. Our Lord Jesus Christ had prophetic bite and righteous indignation regarding injustice.  Unless news commentators have truly studied the scriptures, they are not qualified to understand or judge prophetic critique.
 
Fourth, African Americans who look at history from the underside, have a different perspective of reality than others who have been in a position of majority advantage. White America has yet to understand or appreciate that perspective or to really grasp the sense of alienation that a number of blacks feel based upon this country’s historic and institutional treatment of us.  Yet in spite of this country’s track record with us we have fought in all of its wars, paid our taxes, and never failed our country when we have been called upon to rally to its defense. 
 
Fifth, this latest foray of the media into the religious affiliation of Barak Obama is just another attempt to discredit him and separate him from the interracial and intergenerational constituency that has given him victory after victory in this presidential contest.  In the opinion of this preacher and citizen, he is still a major unifying force and voice of hope, among others, for a new, brighter, and better America . While we will all make our decisions regarding a presidential choice, I would just caution all people not to believe the hype of a sensationalistic media whose agenda is not an accurate reporting of the news but the spinning of news in ways that attract the most attention, sells the most products, and brings in the greatest profit.  While some in the media may be uncomfortable with the tone of preaching that takes place in a number of churches, there are many others who are offended with the way much of the media spins stories out of context and intentionally omits information because for them, as long as it sells, it is simply business as usual. 
 
 
Now is the time for all of us who are concerned and passionate about the future of this nation to declare, “Business as usual is no longer acceptable!”  Now is the time for change.  The words of Deutero-Isaiah spoken so long ago in another context to another people, can serve as our rallying cry for America .  He said, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch” (Isaiah 62: 1, NRSV).  So let each of us say, “For [ America ’s] sake I will not keep silent, and for [this nations’] sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.” 
_______________________________________________________________
 
This article, written by the Rev. Dr. Joseph Darby, pastor of Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston , appears in the March 28, 2008 issue of The State ( South Carolina ). 
 
 
Wright’s truths painful for some
By JOSEPH A. DARBY
Guest columnist
There’s been great media hue and cry about selected words of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the recently retired pastor of Chicago ’s Trinity United Church of Christ, where presidential candidate Barack Obama and his family are members. Sen. Obama has condemned some of what his former pastor has said and has offered perhaps the best perspective on the urgency and necessity of America facing up to its legacy of racial inequity since Martin Luther King Jr,’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” in a recent landmark speech, but America is still focused on a few ten-second sound bites from Rev. Wright’s 30- or 40-minute sermons.
I believe that the current controversy actually presents a teachable moment. Dr. Wright’s critics should visit the Web site of his former pastorate, www.tucc.org/home.htm. Those who do so will find that the 8,000- member church has more than 50 ministries. Some of them, such as the Africa Ministry and the Isuthu Ministry, reflect the cultural roots of the historically black church and its emphasis on awareness, responsibility and self-sufficiency. Others, such as the Married Couples Ministry and Girl Scouts, can be found in churches across lines of race and class.
Those with the courage to actually think and learn with open minds will find a familiarly Christian church that reflects the heritage of the majority of its members and that flourished under Dr. Wright’s leadership.
Dr. Wright’s critics also need to learn more about the historically black church and its clergy. Since the days of slavery, the historically black church has been a haven for those who have been dehumanized and demeaned and a vehicle to rise both physically and spiritually in an America that relegates black Americans to second-class citizenship and that often cloaks bigotry in religion. Black clergy have always been heralds of freedom and fairness, walking not in the passive footsteps of a “neutered” Jesus, but in the bold and authentic footsteps of the Jesus who spoke truth to the religious and political powers of his day and who was falsely accused and executed for doing so.
Many institutions that were the foundation of black America have crumbled, but the historically black church still has the capacity to be an independent voice of conscience and progress. All good black pastors sometimes say things that their members might hesitate to openly say in an America where race still matters and where those who tell the truth might not be physically lynched, but can still be economically or politically lynched if they question the powers that be or upset the status quo.
In view of the heritage and ongoing role of the historically black church, I don’t find Dr. Wright’s words to be outrageous. In context, he simply speaks the truth in a way that makes those who practice comfortable cultural Christianity uncomfortable and that challenges America to be what it claims to be: “One nation, under God with liberty and justice for all.”
I’m also not surprised that he’s been bitterly criticized, because those who can’t set the agenda for the black church from beyond the church and are ignorant of the full work of the church often fear the black church and black clergy.
I hope that even though Dr. Wright has retired from a distinguished and exemplary career as a pastor and theologian, he’ll continue to give needed cultural indigestion to an America that’s too often long on promises but short on equitable results.
I also hope he’ll remember that criticism from those who interweave their faith and their view of patriotism and those with a narrow and sterile vision of properly expressed faith is the price of speaking the truth. Dr. King, a Southerner whose words and work changed the Southern way of life, was branded a communist and an “outside agitator” in his day and was vilified when he stood up not just for civil rights for black America , but for the well-being of Americans of all colors and cultures. German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer was executed for pointing up the brutal inconsistencies in what passed for religion in Nazi Germany.
I’d also urge political pundits and those who create spin for candidates to play fair. If Sen. Hillary Clinton can only offer up kind and careful criticism of the ranting of Geraldine Ferraro and if John McCain did not reject the endorsement of the Rev. John Hagee, who is consciously homophobic, possibly anti-Catholic and who called Hurricane Katrina “the judgment of God against New Orleans,” then Sen. Obama should not be taken to task because his pastor, like many black pastors, says things that challenge America to rise above its sins of prejudice and greed.

The Rev. Darby is the senior pastor of Morris Brown AME Church in Charleston .