Letter to the Editor: Wright’s dialogue raises important societal issues

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright was Barack Obama’s pastor and TCU has more than an academic interest in this story.

TCU is related to the Disciples (for at least a little longer), and the Disciples are related to the United Church of Christ. Wright is a UCC minister. I know Wright, and as a Disciple and twice a graduate from TCU, I’ll fall on my sword for him because we must have the big conversation on race.

Racism became brutal for me when I became intimately involved with immigration, migration, refugees and persons seeking political asylum.

Race is in our public policies and in our congregations. I talk about race in church. A pastor can say anything – anything – to his or her congregation so long as it is said in love. Jeremiah loves his people. Just ask them.

Still, loving pastors and loving congregations can divide along race questions.

Those who reel at Wright damning America are probably unfamiliar with the tradition of prophets damning ancient Israel. It’s clearly in the Hebrew bible. Listen to Wright’s words again, “It’s in the Bible!” Prophets suffered for it, but it’s there. They suffer here too.

I worry about prophets, TCU’s and Brite’s.

The U.S. is damned in one U.S. church or another every week in one way or another, even if the rhetoric is calm. Some Rabbis need to come forward to say that Wright and others stand in the tradition of thousands of years of similar preaching. Those who reel at mixing religion and politics in the pulpits saying they don’t mix probably understand neither. Religion and politics have always mixed well.

When pundits rant about separation of church and state and tax-exempt status, they are off base. Current laws and policies have more to do with Lyndon Baines Johnson’s 1950s campaigns than the U.S. Constitution.

A good challenge or two directed at the tax-exempt status of congregations based on speech and free exercise would probably lead to the lifting of some bans, not their enforcement. Who should judge words of congregations? Who has that authority, moral or otherwise?

Silencing a candidate or a church engaged in the questions of the day is the very worst form of political correctness. Some Christian Zionists who care little for Jews want a nuclear war in the Middle East so Jesus will come again. Some “green” theologians want to turn God into nature and vice versa. More to the point, any nationalist religion decrying the global nature of God’s love that gives prophetic voices a place and tradition in which to stand is dangerous. Who is going to police them?

Rhetoric and behavior should be considered. Martin Luther King Jr. was non-violent. Yet, the struggle while he was alive was very bloody. Malcolm X’s rhetoric was abhorrent to all people in my opinion, yet his followers were actually quite peaceful. Could we learn to judge actions instead of just words?

Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago can and does put all congregations I know of to shame in terms of outreach, community-building programs and deep spiritual formation of future leaders. Thousands of people contribute millions of dollars to all manner of good deeds. To be clear, Obama can’t say he didn’t know about Jeremiah’s preaching.

I voted for Obama in Arizona’s presidential primary, so I can’t be accused of partisan behavior and helping him here. While he’s distancing himself from Wright, he’s also allowing just about everyone to chew up a whole prophetic tradition when the subtext of those with the teeth is race and nationalism and some of the nastiest forms of identity politics.

Horned Frogs familiar with the “C” part of the acronym should recall that presidents Garfield, Johnson and Reagan all came out of the “C” religious tradition related to Disciples and the UCCs. What I’d like to see would be more people who can affirm, and not denounce, the fiery outcry of the America’s pulpits and even the ideological extremes found in congregations, which are some of the only places left for truly free speech and free exercise of religion in these states.

Today I give thanks to Obama for a fine speech. His roots and his pastor helped shape the message. TCU should choose to stand close to some greatness. It’s a better message for students.

The Rev. Robin Hoover is a pastor at First Christian Church in Tucson, Ariz.