Was Wright Wronged?
Well over a year ago a writer for Jeremiah Wright’s church magazine contacted me saying she wanted to review my book, Germany’s Black Holocaust: 1890-1945. In an email dated February 20, 2007, Colleen Birchett wrote that she’s passing on certain information to me “so that you would know something about the magazine and the church that produces it. It is now an independent internationally circulated magazine, but is still affiliated with Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Illinois, pastored by Dr. Jeremiah Wright.”
She went on to say that “The book review will be published in my monthly column, ‘The Book Corner.’” After receiving and reading a copy of the book herself she asked me to forward him one. But, life happened, and Brother Wright never got his book from me. That was the first time I recalled hearing about Barack Obama’s former pastor, Dr. Jeremiah Wright. And with all of the controversy swirling around Wright’s recent speeches and Barack’s run for the presidency, perhaps the age-old
sentiment, “I don’t discuss politics or religion,” should be revised and extended to, “I don’t discussion politics or religion because politics has become religious, and religion is becoming increasingly political”!
Dr. Wright doesn’t feel that he’s wrong. On the contrary, he feels he’s been wronged. He asserts that instead of being “divisive” in comments he made about systemic racism in America (that were incidentally taken out of context), he was merely being “descriptive.” Obama retorted by saying that Wright essentially misspelled “descriptive.” It should be spelled “d-e-s-t-r-u-c-t-i-v-e.” In an impassioned speech he gave at an NAACP dinner this past weekend, which kicked off a touring lecture series, Wright attributed the misunderstanding, at least in part, to the cultural differences between the emotional dynamism of the traditional Black church, and the tamer, no-frills-no-thrills atmosphere that permeates the White church.
And then there’s the political angle. Ah, religion and politics. To be sure, the line of demarcation separating the two in America is progressively becoming blurred. But, insofar as religion and politics are concerned, I’ve already stated my case in this very column under an article entitled, “Jesus Christ and Worldly Politics” dated January 10, 2008. Please feel free to go online to www.lasentinal.net to view it. I shall not now rehash the points that I made then. I’ll just state this simple axiom: oil and water don’t mix. What about the primitive congregation?
You may be surprised to learn that Scripture captures the rearing of racism’s ugly head early on in the first-century Christian Congregation, and that discrimination devilishly divided the faithful on occasion. For a certainty, the early Church was diversified. We read that the evangelist Philip assisted “An important [Black African] Ethiopian official...[who] was the chief treasurer [or, Secretary of the Treasury] for Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia,” in understanding the Bible. (Acts 8:27, Contemporary English Version)
But we also read that during a time when a famine found its way to Jerusalem, where practicers of the Jewish faith had just converted to Christianity en masse, believers were dealt a disturbing dose of discrimination. Here’s how one Bible translation describes the situation: “But as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent. The Greek-speaking believers complained about the Hebrew-speaking believers, saying that their widows were being discriminated against in the daily distribution of food.” (Acts 6:1, New Living Translation) Though coreligionists, “rumblings of discontent” surfaced when certain ones were “being discriminated against.” And what about the apostle Peter’s racist behavior? Though temporary, he exhibited such. First, some background.
Though not publicized as such, when the disciples or followers of Christ were by divine providence given the name “Christians,” Black elders were present. These same Black elders were used by holy spirit to send Barnabas and the apostle Paul out as missionary traveling overseers. The account reads: “Now in Antioch there were prophets and teachers in the local congregation, Barnabas as well as Symeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who was educated with Herod the district ruler, and Saul. As they were publicly ministering to Jehovah and fasting, the holy spirit said: ‘Of all persons set Barnabas and Saul apart for me for the work to which I have called them.’ Then they fasted and prayed and laid their hands upon them and let them go.” (Acts 13:1-3)
Please note that there was “Symeon who was called Niger.” Well, according to the English Standard Version, “Niger is a Latin word meaning black, or dark.” And the Wycliffe New Testament renders this clause, “Simon, that was called Black.” It is for good reason, then that the New Living Translation reads: “Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called ‘the black man’), Lucius (from Cyrene).” And where is “Cyrene”? In northern Africa. Yes, Lucius was a Black man also.
So, the two Black elders in the Antioch Congregation, Simon and Lucius, were present, too, when the disciples were officially named “Christians.” This can be ascertained from the following text: “And it came to pass that they [Paul and Barnabas] a whole year did assemble together in the assembly, and taught a great multitude, the disciples also were divinely called first in Antioch Christians.” (Acts 11:26, Young’s Literal Translation) Now, what about Peter’s racist behavior at Antioch? Paul tells us what happened:
“Later, when Peter came to Antioch, I had a face-to-face confrontation with him because he was clearly out of line. Here’s the situation. Earlier, before certain persons had come from James, Peter regularly ate with the non-Jews [Blacks among them]. But when that conservative group came from Jerusalem, he cautiously pulled back and put as much distance as he could manage between himself and his non-Jewish friends. That’s how fearful he was of the conservative Jewish clique that’s been pushing the old system of circumcision. Unfortunately, the rest of the Jews in the Antioch church joined in that hypocrisy so that even Barnabas was swept along in the charade. But when I saw that they were not maintaining a steady, straight course according to the Message, I spoke up to Peter in front of them all: ‘If you, a Jew, live like a non-Jew when you’re not being observed by the watchdogs from Jerusalem, what right do you have to require non-Jews to conform to Jewish customs just to make a favorable impression on your old Jerusalem cronies?’” (Galatians 2:11-14) In this and the other situations, justice eventually prevailed.
So, has White America been racist and discriminatory? Jeremiah is “Wright” on here! But, America isn’t the first. And, as some see, Wright is wrong in his timing. Bottom line, whatever the case, ultimately, we’ll all have to answer to God. Amen.
Dr. Firpo Carr n can be reached at 800.501.2713 or