Rev. Jeremiah Wright and Freedom of the Pulpit

There has been quite the uproar over comments Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, made in regard to racism in America and whether or not presidential hopeful Sen. Barack Obama agrees with these sentiments.

My paths have crossed Jeremiah Wright’s several times over the last 20  years. I first met him when the majority of African Americans were refusing to acknowledge the impact of the AIDS pandemic in their  communities.  His words were challenging to his community.  He confronted  Homophobia and he advocated for Black churches to respond to the pandemic when  White America was not addressing the unique issues African Americans  were facing with AIDS.  I remember the congregation hearing him in New  Haven, CT being ruffled by his message and this was a congregation  active in AIDS ministry to African Americans.  His challenge helped change  the way supports were given to African American families living with  HIV/AIDS many of them orphaned HIV+ children living with grandmothers.  I  was grateful for his words, wisdom, and insights then and I continue to  be  grateful for his words, wisdom, and insights today.   He is, in my  not so humble opinion, one of the great religious leaders of our day.   He lives up to the qualities of the prophet of the same name.

I think it  is unfortunate that his message will be lost on White America because his style of preaching is contextual to his community and not to White  American culture. I think if we read his sermon rather than heard out of context quotes from it, we would read and understand the logic and reasoning he sets forth.  

Unitarian Universalists and the United Church of Christ come from the same roots in the development of religious freedom in this country.  We are distant cousins with the Puritans as our direct ancestors.  The Puritans valued the right of the minister to be able to preach a message unhindered by the congregation or community.  This enabled the minister to speak out on moral issues of their day that may go against the current thinking or acceptable customs.  It empowered the minister to be able to challenge the congregation in its moral and spiritual development. 

Rev. Jeremiah Wright has done exactly that.  In an age where it is considered to be unpatriotic to speak hard truths about America, he has spoken from a critical eye on what he sees in America.  In an age where people are flocking to the soothing words of Rev. Joel Osteen, he speaks a word of prophetic justice.  

His words have been taken out of context.  He is being maligned in the press. Such is the fate of prophets from age eternal. 

The minister’s role in the pulpit is not to be agreed with what he or she says.  That response simply becomes a self-congratulatory clap on the back.  No, the role of the minister in the pulpit, in the free pulpit,  is to offer words that may challenge our perspectives, cause us to think and ponder, and reconsider our positions.   The role of the minister in the free pulpit is to enable the congregation to stretch its wings to being more of who we are called to be as a people of faith.  A people that seeks to have justice flow to water the fields, where compassion blossoms across the land, and equality is the fruit of our harvest. 

Rev. Jeremiah Wright is fulfilling his call as minister.  We should all be so blessed to be able to hear what his message really is to America.  It is a prophetic message.  A message that challenges our world view in the larger context of faith. 

Blessings,

Rev. Fred L Hammond 

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Published in: on March 20, 2008 at 7:10 pm  Comments (2)  

2 Comments

  1. Fred, Thank you for getting a discussion going about our UU presence in MS. I look forward to your further comments.

  2. I’ve never met the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, but everything I’ve seen or heard from him suggests to me that he’s a great man who occasionally uses outrageous language, to great effect, as a way to get his parishioners engaged on social justice issues. That’s not bigotry–it’s courage–but I think that kind of courage might scare a lot of people. We live in a culture that loves Martin and Malcolm, but hates Al and Jesse; it respects its prophets only after they’ve gone silent.


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