Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Would I Be Welcome in Jeremiah Wright's Church?


Now that I have written one posting on the Jeremiah Wright-Barack Obama controversy, I would like to pose a question as a white person: Would I be welcome in Barack Obama's church (Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago)?

Specifically, if I were to just walk into that church off the street to attend a service (as I have done with other churches on previous occasions), would I be welcomed? Would I be asked to leave-or told to leave? Would any other parishioners come up and greet me and welcome me to the service? Would I be ignored? Or perhaps, would I just have to sit there and listen to rants against white people and Jews-that would force me to get up and walk out?

When I was a younger man, I became involved (through a friend) with a Japanese-American church in Los Angeles. From 1971-1975, I was a regular member of that church. (I only left when I no longer lived in the state.) Along with a handful of others, I was one of the only whites in that church.

Actually, there were two separate congregations; one Japanese-speaking for first generation immigrants and English-speaking for native-born Japanese-Americans.

Not only was I welcomed, but I became a part of the church family. Ethnicity was never an issue. I even dated a couple of the girls in the congregation. There was never any politics from the pulpit, and never was any harsh word spoken against any ethnic group. Only the gospel was spoken of.

Now, I certainly realize that the Asian-American experience and the African-American experience are distinct from each other. But Asian-Americans have also suffered discrimination, and some of the older members of our church had experienced the relocation of World War II. I know (if my blog were more popular) that I would get tons of responses educating me on the differences. I get it. Enough said.

But my point is this: Given the unfortunate history of black-white relations in this country, does it even extend to the churches? If we are fellow Christians, cannot we even come together to worship in harmony? I recognize that churches have traditionally been largely segregated (usually by choice), but this is slowly breaking down. I have even been to white churches in North Carolina where there were a handful of black parishioners.

I don't believe that all black churches are like that of Jeremiah Wright. But they are out there. In Harlem, there is a church where the pastor is James David Manning, a Clinton supporter, who rants against Obama in obscene terms, referring to his "white mama". This is a Christian?

If people like Jeremiah Wright are indeed Christians, this layman would suggest that they have lost their way. Wright is old enough that he probably has suffered indignities in his life. Unfortunately, it appears that it has left him bitter and full of hate. I am sure there are millions of Christians in the world who struggle with their own feelings of hatred for whatever reason. However, when it is a pastor, a man of God, then that is really alarming.

There may well be a few whites who attend that church in Chicago. I cannot imagine how they could sit through such a sermon. It strikes me akin to a Jew going to a Nazi speech-or a black going to a KKK speech. Whoever walks into a church should be welcomed no matter what their ethnicity, and they should not be subjected to language that attacks them and their ethnicity. In short, a church should be a place of love-not hate.


Lance Christian Johnson said...

According to this white guy, he has been to Wright's church a few times and was "enthusiastically welcomed" just as other non-whites are (according to him, anyway).

Does that take away from what Wright said? No, but it's probably not as bad as being a Jew showing up to a KKK rally. Can't imagine an "enthusiastic" welcome there at all!

Rory Cohen said...

Jeremiah Wright is a psychopath.

I find it extremely difficult to believe that Mr. Obama was unaware he belonged to such a bigoted church.

The Uppity Negro said...

If you weren't welcomed in the church, then shame on the people who sat next to you in the pews. But I know for a fact, a white youth group from one TUCC's sister churches was attending service the day Jeremiah Wright included the comments about "Bill Clinton riding [black Americans] dirty" and they did not get up from their seats. And they received a pastoral welcome from the pulpit.

The church is also in fellowship with Korean and Swiss congregations given the ecumenical nature of Jeremiah Wright's connections both by himself and through the denomination.

I think the differences between, lets say white churches or The Black Church is really based on how each sees God. Black people have a vastly different interpretation of who God is versus that of their white counterparts. Just think about order of services and different liturgical nuances between the churches.

Gary Fouse said...

That may be true sir, but my point is that if I as a white person were sitting in that church, I would feel darn uncomfortable when Wright starts talking about white people in those terms. Similarly, you would have every reason to feel uncomfortable in a predominately white church if the pastor started talking about black people in such a manner.

I also can assure you that if I heard a white pastor talking about blacks or any other group in such negative terms-or about my country in such terms, I would get up and walk out. The Obamas never did-not once.

Do we really have different interpretations of God? I cannot speak to differences in liturgy or services, but I would hope that God has the same interpretation of all of us.

Let's do away with all this double standard stuff, ok? A white preacher could never (and should never) get away with this kind of rhetoric. Wright shouldn't either, and the Obamas should be held accountable by the voters for having spent 20 years listening to this stuff and now talking about "bringing us together".

Wright has his right to say what he wants. No one is dragging him off to jail. But we sure have a right to criticize him and consider this when we cast our votes for president.

By the way, have you heard the sermons of James David Manning in Harlem, a Clinton supporter? He is worse in the foul way he talks about Obama. He calls Obama a black pimp with a white mama. Real nice.

This kind of talk has no place in a church.

The Uppity Negro said...

Well, I would encourage everyone, including myself as to why the uncomfortability exists. Is it a mere kneejerk reaction on the basis that its not PC to say what Wright said, or is that we really fundamentally disagree with the veracity of the comments said. Aside from the "AIDS created by the gov't" quote, was it the fact that they were incorrect statements or the fact that it merely offended our sensibilities.

I think if I sat in a predominantly white congregation and the pastor or preacher for that day made some comments that perhaps played into stereotypical rolls for African Americans, I prolly would just take it as par for the course and chalk it up to ignorance. I probably wouldn't step foot in a church like that of Rod Parsely, John Hagee and you'd NEVER see me step foot into Thomas Road Baptist, alive at least. But I have been in situations similar to that, I had to visit a synagogue for a class and the speaker for the service gave, shall we say some "colorful" allusions in regards to the African American experience. Although I took issue with it, I didn't get up and leave.

Additionally, how is Wright's comment toward Hillary Clinton never being called a nigger considered disparaging remarks against all white people--I just viewed it as a statement of fact, and it was used as a rhetorical device of parallel structure to enforce the overarching theme of the sermon that he was preaching.

Personally I'm convinced that there are different interpretations of God that are delineated on the basis of race. I mean there are different interpretations of God just along denominational lines. Some believe that Jesus was a socio-political pariah and focus heavily on the social justice aspects of Jesus' ministry, whereas others tend to focus on the more metaphysical characteristics. However, I think you bring up an interesting point--does God have the same interpretation of us?

Gary Fouse said...

Actually, it is perfectly PC to say what Wright said. He could easily make it as a college professor.

Aside from the AIDS quote, he was also dead wrong on the part about the government putting drugs into the black community. I am a retired DEA agent, and I have a strong opinion on that distortion that has been bandied about for some years.

You refer to some statements that Wright made that "are true" ie pertaining to Hillary Clinton, but may offend sensibilites. Yes, sensibilities were offended, and I'm sure you have experience in that area. Aside from the fact that Wright is using his pulpit to push a political campaign- is it correct for him to offend sensibilites just because they are white sensibilites? What if he started ragging on Asians in front of those Korean worshippers? Would that be ok? In fact, let me say this: If you read any of my other postings, you will see that I have nothing but contempt for the Clintons. But why is it proper for a pastor to talk about them in those terms in church?

As for these other preachers you mention, I have only recently heard of them, and I don't accept the words I have heard. I also am not qualified to discuss the differing racial interpretations in religion that you refer to. (Actually, I don't go to church like I should because my wife is a Catholic from Mexico. I am Protestant, but went along with the Catholic things for decades until the priest pedophilia issue drove me out.)

But aside from the race issue, I do object to Wright's words about his country. If he wants to use his pulpit to talk about slavery and Jim Crow, that's his business, and that part of our history is undeniable, but when he says "God Damn America", and goes on with his litany of our historical sins that include the Aids virus and injecting drugs into the black community, he loses me real fast.

I am fully aware that Wright served his country as a Marine, and I am sure considering his age that he paid some dues in terms of indignities, but what troubles me here in regards to Obama is that there is a discrepancy between his (Obama's) words about bringing us together and the words uttered by his pastor and mentor. If Obama is what he says he is, then I cannot imagine why he stayed in that church for so long-especially after he got into national politics.

Anyway, I appreciate your imput.

The Uppity Negro said...

I guess because of the checkered past that the state and federal gov'ts have had with African Americans in the past(slavery, Flood of 1927, Tuskegee Experiment, Hurricane Katrina), many of us in our communities wouldn't put anything past our government. Granted that there is no explicit evidence to suggest that AIDS was created by the gov't or that drugs were allowed to come into the inner cities, it wasn't a hard leap for that congregation and many of African Americans to make.

I will say this, the "God damn America" bit I think needs VERY careful scrutiny. Of all the soundbytes that were played. This "God damn America" was used in the "if-then" context: "If America continues to act in certain way, then God Damn America." Very similar to the biblical text in which Jesus says "Woe unto you..."

I'm pretty sure that if Wright had issues with Asian Americans then he would have felt comfortable saying that in front of them and their congregation. He certainly didn't tailor his words when white people were sitting in the pews.

However, in the historical context, it will be interesting to see how history will remember Jeremiah Wright. Frederick Douglass delivered a harsh invective against the United States government on July 4th 1855 (I think that's the right date) and it was quite incendiary, and we see how history has been very kind to him. Not to mention a Martin Luther King who was quite incendiary in his comments. Metaphorically, in his "I Have A Dream" speech, he calls for reparations, but again no one ever talks about that; this speech becomes a tool that many from white America use when instances such as this with Jeremiah Wright arise.

But, for me, it just shows that there are still somethings a black person can't say. Jesse Ventura said some of the very same things on Larry King recently that very anti-government. But I guess, the reason why this is getting picked up is because Obama is running for president, and we don't know who he is, so we have to see who his relationships are to figure out who he is.

Usually I don't do tit-for-tat on blogs, everyone around me agrees with me on this issue and I really haven't been pushed to talk about this issue REASONABLY. The other bloggers I tried with were just rabid and really weren't worth my time.

I look forward to your response. Thanks for the dialogue!

Gary Fouse said...

I understand your reference to past experiences with the government. I would say this: One reason for the Aids rumor having currency is due to the Tuskegee experiments. But that was in a much different era and could never happen today. (If I am correct, the scientists did not actually infect anyone with syphilis, rather they selected infected people for monitoring-without treating them.) Of course, no one today would condone that any more than condoning slavery.

As for Katrina- Let's just say that everyone failed on the federal, state and local level-except for the brave Coast Guard people who flew in an plucked people off rooftops-something has been overlooked or forgotten. FEMA performed miserably, as you would expect from a federal bureaucracy. I remember reading about volunteer firefighters who were sent to Atlanta or someplace to get fema orientation before they could actually go to NO. They were sitting in classrooms getting lectures about the history of fema and sexual harassment training-this while the disaster was in progress!

But my point is that the performance of Louisiana's Governor and NO's mayor was much more abysimal. Of course, Ray Nagin was never held accountable-he was re-elected. Was his performance-or lack thereof- due to a lack of concern for the black residents of the 9th Ward? I don't think so.

As for the "God Damn America" bit, would you accept such a tortuous defense of something said that offended you? Remember, he was talking about what we did in WW2 (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) plus the AIDS, drug issues, 3 strikes etc.

What I am trying to say, perhaps not very well, is that America has changed more dramitically than any other society could since the 1950-60s. We have freely acknowledged the dark past and educated our children to it, much like Germany has tried to atone for the Nazi era. It would be nice if Pastor Wright could at least acknowledge that much. However, I suspect he is much too committed to his "black liberation philosophy" to do so.

The last issue I want to comment on is your statement that there are still some things a black person cannot say. Actually, blacks can say whatever they want-and do. It is whites that have to be careful what they say. Let's be clear, no one is getting arrested for speaking out in America. Yet, both sides have the right to disagree and to criticize. Wright is free to say what he wants. So am I. Many whites-most whites actually- are careful in what they say becuase they don't want to be called racists-that can really harm a person's career and/or life.
There is also an element of white guilt involved in that. Yet, if we are going to really have that "dialogue on race" (which we should), it has to be more than what we are having now, which is just an acknowledgement of the past. It must be open and frank on both sides.

In that vein, you might want to look at some of my previous postings on this subject:

Race in America- 7-27-07-or 9-27-07
Black conservatives- 7-31-07
Reparations-why I am against-8-3-07

You probabaly won't agree with much of what I said since we come from opposite perspectives-in fact, you may not like some of what I said, but I hope you will consider it in the context of having that "dialogue". And, of course, I would appreciate your feedback.

Anonymous said...

As a resident of New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina, I left a day before the levees broke, and I stayed with my aunt 60 miles outside of Baton Rouge, I will say that Ray Nagin did the best he could do given his city was 80% underwater, communication had ceased to exist, a small police force prior to Katrina had all but deserted, and he was facing a budget crisis prior to Katrina (but isn't every major city in the country) and didn't have the resources prior to the storm hitting to be as effective as what proved to be necessary.

I just had to say that, really had nothing to do with the dialogue, lol.

I will say this, yes this country has by far made far greater strides than other countries, and we've come a MIGHTY long way since the modern Civil Rights era of the 50' and 60's however, I'm not convinced that we've done the best job of collectively educating our children about the dark past. My mother tells a story about me as a 1st grader learning about slavery at home, and I told her that "why didn't the slaves escape to here?" meaning the U.S. and this was in 1991. If the teacher, couldn't drive home the point well enough that all of those atrocities took place in this country, then maybe we need to visit this dark past some more.

I don't think a mere acknowledgement of the dark past of this country is enough. For what its worth, the German government acknowledged and APOLOGIZED for their role in the Holocaust (which did include more than just Jews).

And you are right, whites do have to watch what they say lest they be labeled a racist. But often times, its blacks who are the ones saying that they are offended by certain comments, and then white political pundits (namely those of FoxNews) cry reverse racism, which I STILL haven't figured out a working definition of.

I'm just a bit confused on what you meant by "As for the "God Damn America" bit, would you accept such a tortuous defense of something said that offended you? Remember, he was talking about what we did in WW2 (Hiroshima, Nagasaki) plus the AIDS, drug issues, 3 strikes etc."

alright, I'll check out the other posts, i'm sure i'll leave a comment, lol

Gary Fouse said...

But what about the buses and so on that were left unused in NO? Since you were there, I will defer to your viewpoint, but it seems to me that behind all that glitter in NO, there were a lot of people who did not have to means to get out of town. No one could have known that better than the city govt.
As a retired law enforcement person, I think the performance of many of NOs cops was a disgrace. I hate to have to say that.

What I meant tby the 'tortuous' defense of the God Damn America comment was that your explanation. seemed to put it in a hypothetical-"if" context. It didn't seem to me that there was any ifs, ands or buts in Wright's statement.

The Uppity Negro said...

In a city that had an abysmal school system (I mean it was AWFUL)and a city budget, was well, a city budget, expecting what they were expecting, it would have been VERY hard to coordinate an effort on the city level that would have been able to get all of those people out of the city. Asking city school bus drivers or public bus drivers to stay in the city and put their own lives in danger and their families in danger wouldn't have been something easily coordinated in the three days notice that the city really had to prepare.

As for the policemen, well, it would have been nice if they had stuck through it, but they were already a skeleton operation with the city prior to the hurricane thinking about changing residency rules to allow more people to qualify, and given the absolute break down in communication and the impossibility of mobility because of the water, I think the city operated as best they could.

Now I said from day one when i moved to NOLA as to how could the Superdome be the best place to go, I said if the city's surrounded by water, then how could you expect them to make it--clearly I was right. But, what other options does a cash strapped city have.

In the broader context of the sermon, the "if-then" clause existed, but the news media was quite sure that that wasn't played.

Gary Fouse said...

You know more about NO than I do, but I think it is safe to say, all levels failed the folks.