Commentary Magazine


BLT on Whites

As more information comes out on the Trinity United Church of Christ, where Barack Obama has been a congregant for decades, we’re getting a fuller picture of what pastor Jeremiah Wright calls “black liberation theology.” There’s a piece in today’s Wall Street Journal highlighting some interesting aspects of the gospel according to Rev. Wright.

The Journal claims Wright described black liberation theology “as a sister of liberation theology, the lay Catholic movement that fueled political activism in Latin America in the 1960′s.” It’s worth noting that the Latin American liberation theology of the 1960′s was heavily rooted in Marxism. Using Marxist categorizations to analyze economic oppression and social injustice, liberation theologians shifted the focus of salvation off the individual and onto larger societal structures. The problem with the emulation of Latin America’s liberation theology in the U.S. is not that preachers like Wright are necessarily Marxists, but that they can give short shrift to the notion of personal responsibility in favor of diffuse societal blame.

Fiery condemnation of the country’s white political and social power structure would be justified if we were back in the 1960′s. America’s long and unpardonable delay in living up to its Bill of Rights demanded nothing less. But in 2008, almost forty-five years after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, black liberation theology, like other left-wing anachronisms, is almost quaintly misguided. I mean, if you discount the damning of America, the accusation that the U.S. government created AIDS, and the charge that we brought 9/11 on ourselves, the Trinity United Church is almost as curiously out-of-date as one of those recreated historical villages where you can ask the blacksmith about his trade.

Except that this isn’t entertainment. It’s what passes for spirituality and activism for a large number of American citizens, and that’s a tragedy. (According to this poll, Wright’s comments made black voters more likely, on balance, to vote for Obama.) Aside from the toxic looniness of the charges themselves, what’s most distressing about Wright’s blather is that it abets a mindset that keeps disaffected people disaffected. John McWhorter coined the term “therapeutic alienation” to describe the strain of default resistance to societal expectations that’s found in some black communities. In peddling justifications for therapeutic alienation, Rev. Wright is damning his congregation most. Trinity officials say Wright’s words were taken “out of context,” but the only thing out of context here is the sentiment behind his words. History has left Wright behind. It’s time to retire this petrified line of preachment and liberate the minds of its adherents.