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Contentions

Leave King out of It

In a statement on Sunday, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago defended the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, saying

nearly three weeks before the 40th commemorative anniversary of the murder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe . . . It is an indictment of Dr. Wright’s ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30-second sound bite.

I’m all in favor of seeing Dr. Wright’s “ministerial legacy” presented in more than a 30-second sound bite. More rather than less scrutiny on what Wright has said and done over the years is certainly welcome. I for one am eager to see Dr. Wright’s oeuvre. Whether that puts Reverend Wright in a better or worse light remains to be seen.

Beyond that, the comparison to Dr. King is not a good one for Reverend Wright. Dr. King, after all, spoke about the “magnificent words” of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, describing them as a “a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.” King spoke about the Emancipation Proclamation as a “momentous decree [that] came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice.” And King said, “Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.”

The thrust of Dr. King’s teaching was that America was falling short of its promise, which it most surely was. But King understood that America, perhaps alone among nations, was the place where the promissory note could be fulfilled.

Reverend Wright is preaching a different message and a different social gospel than did King. Both speak about the liberation of the poor and the dispossessed. But King did not hate America and did not pray for its damnation. He did not celebrate in its wounds. He did not wish it harm. He did not propagate nutty conspiracy theories. And he did not drink from the cup of bitterness and hatred. It appears Reverend Wright does. That is why Barack Obama has a problem with his pastor-and why the comparison to Dr. King can only hurt both men.



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