Race and the Pulpit

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

The effect on the Obama campaign of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright sermons is still being debated, and a spotlight remains on issues of race and the pulpit. Today, we'll hear from two African American preachers who lead black congregations, and have different views on race, racism, and their own sermons. If you go to a black church, does this attention concern you? Do you think black liberation theology is part of the mainstream where you worship?

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I know TOTN is not in the business of marketing for other NPR shows, but on March 31, Terry Gross had interviews with Rev. Jame Cone and Theologian Dwight Hopkins that were very helpful in understanding Black Liberation Theology. Any chance of mentioning this to your listeners? Thanks for the consideration.

Sent by Peggy | 3:07 PM | 4-2-2008

Dr. Wright was my pastor as I attended Law School at Loyola. What he preached was relevant, and directly to what many of his members were facing. We have to stop acting as if race doesn't matter and discuss it openly. Even if I didn't agree with everything he said, from what I have seen on the TV clip, I found nothing wrong with his statement about America, we all have a social responisiblity. None of us are perfect, but a good preacher knows how to meet people where they are and inspire them to make change. Dr. Wright does that.

Sent by Lauren | 3:16 PM | 4-2-2008

What about the Traditional Latin Mass of the catholic church. Its stance on the conversion of Jews, and has long been involved in political issues.

Sent by Segun | 3:19 PM | 4-2-2008

Why exclude Orthodoxy and say only Western Christianity?
Black Christian church parallels the statement made to the Tugaloo College students who attempted to attend the principal Baptist church in downtown Jackson MS in the summer of freedom in 1964.
C

Sent by Joe Jensen | 3:22 PM | 4-2-2008

Kevin in Pennsylvania.

There is no 'segegated', 'integrated', or 'spearate' church today in America.

The only true church is this: those who have accepted Christ alone as salvation for their sins...are in whole 'the Church'.

All others who do not support this (as Christ shared Biblically) really are NOT promoting the natural unity of Christ's teaching here. They themselves are supporting separating or dividing the church in all practical forms in America.

Sent by Kevin C. | 3:22 PM | 4-2-2008

What is interesting about white Americans it is as if they want African-Americans to simply forget all that was done to them!

For example, whites cannot understand how blacks would think that the US government would introduce AIDS in to black communities on purpose. Yet how many have ever heard of or considered the Tuskegee experiments???.

Listen, the black church has always been a place where African-Americans have been able to openly discuss and express their anger at what this country has done to them. Even in the face of their contributions and sacrifices.

This begs the questions, does white America really want to reconcile with black America or do they just want us to accept the old ways are dead and move on, even though the impacts of the evil done lives on today and will do so for the foreseeable future.

Sent by Kent | 3:26 PM | 4-2-2008

If we are born again believers in Jesus,we are to be one body , color of skin does not matter,nor does ethnicity.Satan wants such division and distraction in the kingdom of God so as the body of christ is not successful in saving souls(which is why Jesus went to the cross).Faith Outreach International San Antonio Tx.Is a fine example of what the body of christ should look like.

Sent by paul gamboa | 3:27 PM | 4-2-2008

I believe that Christianity is about having a good heart and a good spirit, despite dealing with suffering, opression, and/or racism. Having the minister constantly bash another racial group from the pulpit does not display a good Chrisitian attitude. Everyone could go around upset about some other group or person. Christ was made to suffer at the hands of men. It was how he dealt with them and his suffering which made him holy. We need to follow in his footsteps. We need not speak ill of others, for we are all made in the image of God.

Sent by Erika Perry | 3:27 PM | 4-2-2008

Many of us have become tolerant of poverty, racism, and war. I am thankful that there are still people who express outrage at injustice.

Sent by Ben Emerick | 3:29 PM | 4-2-2008

Your guests views on what Christianity needs to become to become solvent in a social context pretty much describes the Baha'i Religion. The only difference is Baha'i takes it a bit further by being all inclusive as far as messengers of God.

Sent by Mark Kapfer | 3:34 PM | 4-2-2008

God condemn America.

In a previous life I was a member of an evangelical church, and in the context of our nation's drift away from moral values and behavior I heard the minister say "God will condemn America."

Why can't we just say that "damn" is another word for "condemn," and in their respective sermons both are legitimate. The voters can understand two-sylable words, too.

Sent by Paul, in Cincinnati | 3:35 PM | 4-2-2008

Thank you for exploring this particular topic. Throughout all the coverage of Rev. Wright's comments, no other media outlet (that I'm aware of) has taken this kind of thoughtful look at the issue. THIS kind of in-depth exploration is precisely why I contributed to my local NPR station just this morning!

Thank you!

Sent by No Name | 3:35 PM | 4-2-2008

As a white atheist, I could disagree with Rev. Wright's tone and delivery in the 30 sec. clips,but could recognize what he was trying to achieve. After 9/11 it would have been stupid NOT to have looked inward to see if we contributed to the animosity demonstrated by Arabs, muslims, and specifically al-Queda. As for Rev. Wright using racist rhetoric, I would disagree with it, recognize its source, but encourage African Americans to use logic, education, and reason to define their ethics rather than rely on constant interpretations of biblical stories. When they show that their thinking governs their actions rather than blind faith, they will merit the respect of a much larger segment of the rest of the population.

Sent by Keith | 3:35 PM | 4-2-2008

Regarding the guest who has biblical objections to same sex relationships--this strikes me as hypocritical. Just as the bible has been used to oppress blacks, how can he justify using the same text to oppress, in turn, another segment of the population?

Sent by Paul | 3:38 PM | 4-2-2008

The white evangelical church not only has turned a blind eye to oppression but has actually joined in with the oppression. The Moral Majority and the Christian Right have not embraced blacks or their issues. Southern white christians have lead the charge for slavery,segregation and Jim Crow. Why should I integrate into that type of Christianity? Perhaps it is Bishop Jackson who has blinders on?

Sent by Richard E. Ashley | 3:38 PM | 4-2-2008

The United Church of Christ -- a group of churches which includes the church Barack Obama attends -- is open to people of all sexual orientations.

They even ran an ad on TV to that effect -- or attempted to. Many stations, including the major networks, refused to run the ads.

The church's slogan is "No matter where you are on life's journey, you are welcome."

There _are_ tolerant churches out there -- including predominantly black congregations.

Please let your callers know.

Sent by steve sullivan | 3:40 PM | 4-2-2008

Sunday is STILL the most segregated time in America!

Sent by Ade | 3:43 PM | 4-2-2008

The problem with homosexuality in the bible is that the old testament (and new) said many things. In those days hair-lip was considered an "abomination" in the same manner as was homosexuality. and you could be killed being either. Jesus knew the old testament created problems and said so. An eye for an eye was the law but he said the Whole Law could be reduced to the following concepts - Love the Lord thy god with all your heart. (2) love your neighbor as your self and (3) do unto the Others (Non Jews, non heterosexuals, etc. ) as you would have them do unto you. That is the whole law. period. Nothing about homos being bad or white people being the devil or black people -- you get the idea.

Sent by Tim Hof | 3:45 PM | 4-2-2008

I am a white American fallen Catholic.
In the few church services I have attended, in predominately black churches of multiple interpretations of Christs' message, I have heard words more benign than what Reverend Wright said. But, the words I heard, did address similar concerns.
I was welcomed to the congregations I attended despite the color of my skin; greeted by many,
We all sat quietly while the preacher spoke. I agree with those who say dialog is important. People of all colors are disenfranchised.
Johns' words ring clear: Imagine all the people...
I do not agree with all my friends all the time. I do not agree with elected leaders all the time. I do not agree with moral compasses all the time.
We are human.
We are trying to find our way in a very confusing life.
Peace to us all.

Sent by Charles Dingle | 3:45 PM | 4-2-2008

I can't believe they used the notorious bigot Harry Jackson as a voice of the black church.

He is, in a sense, representative of the worst in the black community's anti-gay homophobia but giving him a platform is truly disgusting.

"We came together in New York City to send a strong message to elected officials and candidates for public office in New York and across America: vote against gay marriage, abortion and for other moral value issues, or evangelical Christians throughout the U.S. will continue to vote you out of office. NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NYC Council Speaker Gifford Miller, Fernando Ferrer, Manhattan Borough President C. Virginia Fields, Congressman Anthony Weiner, NYS Comptroller Alan Hevesi and NYS Attorney General Elliott Spitzer, that means you too."

Sent by Patrick ONeill | 3:50 PM | 4-2-2008

How does one get from liberation theology to the insisting comments of Rev. Wright in his sermons shortly after 911.

Sent by russ miller - phx az | 3:50 PM | 4-2-2008

Since we are discussing the relationship of race and the pulpit here in America, I find it curious (and perplexing) that no one truly understands the reality that it is in the very words of the Bible- that it sanctioned the support of the very thing that has created a race problem in this country- slavery. It was only by discarding those notions that the Bible teaches that this country was able to finally rid itself of legally sanctioned slavery. (And only after a terrible Civil War). One cannot study and embrace Biblical pronouncements and move AWAY from the concept of slavery. It is virtually sanctioned on every page of the Old Testament. And for those who would say that Jesus did away with all of that, remember that much of what Jesus was purported to have said in the Gospels re-affirms the notions put forth in the Old Testament. And yet, many African-Americans flock to church on Sunday, in support of the very thing that kept them down for so many centuries- the Bible. I find it ironic and sad, that the guests found support from the Bible to condemn the sexual persuasion of one of the callers, justifying "what the Bible says" about sexual leanings and not recognizing the hypocrisy of his stance. What he negatively judges through Biblical eyes (sexual persuasion of the lesbian caller) was the same rationale that racists of 200 years ago used- the words of the Bible.

Sent by Charles | 3:55 PM | 4-2-2008

Terry Gross did a piece on liberation theology, which was interesting, as was this discussion.

However, I like Sam Harris's take: "What Barack Obama Could Not (and Should Not) Say" http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/what-barack-obama-could-n_b_92771.html

Will there ever be an atheist in the White House? Ha! Talk about discrimination.

Sent by Michael Kjar (care) San Antonio TX | 3:57 PM | 4-2-2008

As a biracial woman in a lesbian relationship, I found myself experiencing a combination of pride and disgust as I listened to the conversation about black liberation theology. But I leave that conversation and its periodic moments of homophobia with the same, basic conclusion that Obama expressed in his response to the public outrage at his pastor's words: he chose to love anyway. When you are caught between cultures that hate aspects of each other, you learn early on that choosing love is a survival strategy. Clinton's dismissive retort that family is one thing and a church pastor is another shows an eerie lack of awareness in the inherent paradoxes involved in cross-cultural understanding. Does she think that forgiveness only applies to her relatives? When are we going to stop arguing about the extent to which we can judge people based on blood, anyway? Where are the nuances involved in her own, infamous act of forgiveness, now that we're facing an issue that actually matters to our country, and to the world?

Sent by Aisha | 4:10 PM | 4-2-2008

I am a black immigrant turned citizen and still somewhat unsaddled by the strong yoke of racism in the US. I have found that it is as much on the black side as the white side and is often perpetuated by "black liberation theology". Sadly, it is a very real issue, but many young people (my children included) will not experience it first hand until Middle school or High school where they are taught on both sides and begin to observe their differences as greater than their similarities. In my mixed SDA church, I lead a Black History month celebration and everyone attends to celebrate the fact that we learned some important lessons about equality from the Bible and we incorporate those into our lives by building and repairing trust.

In many countries now, people are experiencing great hatred on other bases. Humankind will always look for those differences in the quest for power and superiority.

Sent by Ardice Perry | 4:14 PM | 4-2-2008

Thanks for the discussion on Race in the Pulpit. Your guest were intelligent and well-spoken. As an Black Male who has attended an all black church and currently attends a very mixed race church, there is definitely a difference.

The black church I attended recognized black history month with speeches, poems, special events. Social and political issues were topics within men's groups, marriage couples ministry's, etc. Many of the members were college graduates so there was an emphasis on education, being knowledgable about the school system, and individual rights. We held special educational meetings for the community about advocating for your children. The list goes on about the services that the black church provided for its members and the community it was within.

The church I currently attend is probably 50% white,40% black, and a small percentage of asian and latin/mexican americans. The church didn't do or say anything about black history month and rarely discusses any social or political issues that I feel should be important to all people. Our outreaches look very different and always include coffee. Sometimes I miss my old church, but I purposely sought out a mixed-race church so my children could be around various cultures and races. I must say, it has its pros and cons.

Sent by Virgil Moore | 4:21 PM | 4-2-2008

Unfortunately I had to turn off the radio before the topic discussion ended, but I started thinking about the idea of inclusiveness in congregations and how would be the best way to promote inclusiveness. Now there might already be a system like this, but how about "sister churches"- congregations get together with other congregations, maybe churches from different neighborhoods or backgrounds. The two churches could work together socially but could also come together spiritually.
I'm was born and raised in Dallas Texas and lived in an area that was full of Black churches as well as Asian churches (Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese etc). I understand the needs of many to worship alongside those who you identify with spiritually as well as physically, but wouldn't it be wonderful for these Black and Asian churches to open their doors a bit more and interact with other congregations?
I also wanted to add that my mother works alongside many black women in her office, most of those women are her superiors. My mother is white and unfortunately this comes to her disadvantage because her superiors are outwardly racist to their white employees, but there's not much my mother can do but quit (which she can afford to do) or go to her church, the Unity Church of Dallas. I used to attend as a child, and never were there any hateful sermons. It really is an all-inclusive church (to any race AND sexual orientation) that preaches hope for the coming week and reflection on the week prior. More than anger, I feel disappointment for these pastors/ministers/priests who prey on others angers and fears. Like our politicians, these are the people who are supposed to be guiding us, not distracting us nor inciting unnecessary anger.

Sent by Abby | 4:33 PM | 4-2-2008

Kent invokes the Tuskegee experiment as if it is evidentially relevant to the claims that Wright made regarding the AIDS virus being invented by the government. It is not relevant for two reasons.

First, one would have to provide documentation that particular scientists in a particular lab working under the auspices of the U.S. Government intentionally "invented" this virus with the purpose of infecting a certain race. No such evidence has ever been brought forward because there is none.

Second, the Tuskegee experiment claims are largely an urban myth. No one was "given syphilis" as is often claimed. The study emerged out of a liberal progressive public health movement concerned about the health and well being of the African-American population. The study was done with the full knowledge, endorsement and participation of African-American medical professionals, hospitals and research institutes.

The Tuskegee study was meant to be a study of men with later stage latent syphilis, who had been infected for at least five years and were not contagious. One Tuskegee research report states: 'The patients [in the study] who had syphilis were all in the latent stage: any acute cases requiring treatment were carefully screened out for standard therapy.' It would appear that those who were in the early stages of infection were treated. It is only in the early stages of infection that sores appear; those sores disappear with the passage of time. It is also only during the early stages that the disease is contagious, which is also when the therapies of the 1930s were ideally administered and thought to have their greatest effect.

The study would not meet contemporary standards of informed consent and no study from that period would.

The result of Wright's comments and others like him has been a unnecessary and justified undermining of trust in public health authorities by African Americans. It is difficult to obtain research subjects in studies today because of this attitude and people with AIDS have not been tested or treated because of this supposed "government conspiracy."

For an accurate account of the Tuskegee study see Richard Shweder's "Tuskegee Reexamined. Shweder is a cultural anthropologist, Carnegie Scholar and the William Claude Reavis Distinguished Service Professor in the Committee on Human Development at the University of Chicago.

So who do we listen to? The crackpot egomaniac preacher or a real social scientist?

Sent by David | 7:12 PM | 4-2-2008

Aargh, another great show and me in the car without a cell phone!

I first learned about Rev. Wright from reading Mr. Obama's book. I found him to be an appealing minister who got it. I am sorely disappointed by the quality of black preachers here in the south. Many will draw from liberation theology to give comfort to the congregation - God is on the side of the oppressed. But then they fail to teach that we are God's instruments of redemption - that we need to act and that in so doing will be on God's side. To ignore that part of the message is to teach a certain kind of victim theology and passivity - not what I learn from liberation theology and the great work of the civil rights movement. Rev Wright preaches both aspects and has plenty of program in place at his church to help its members fulfill God's mission. He is the kind of preacher we need in Darlington S.C.

Sent by David White | 7:14 PM | 4-2-2008

I was saddened by this program--as well as some of the comments here. The conservative white church is all about sit-down-and-shut-up. It's about be-nice-and-don't-bother-anybody.

The white minister on your show (so proud of having a few blacks in his pews) was all about this. His attitude was that the ONLY thing you should do is be nice--and quiet.

And someone said that Liberation Theology is an obsolete anomaly that occurred in Brazil one time (as if Jesus had said, "the poor will sometimes be with you, but only in one place, at one time").

The true essence of Liberation Theology is that justice is the job of the Christian. It is not enough to be "nice." It is required to work for the rights and dignity of your brothers and sisters. The interests of others are YOUR interests, too. I am reminded about the Niemoller poem with the line, "When they came for the Jews, I remained silent. I was not a Jew."

No wonder so many people have turned away from the conservative church and its surrender to the rich and powerful, and its total bankrupt disregard for the needs of the greater community.

Sent by Gerry Hoffmann, Kalamazoo, MI | 8:35 PM | 4-2-2008

Free at last. Free at last Those words of Dr. Martin Luther King have been fulfilled. Black Liberation Theology seeks to prolong a struggle that is pretty much over. And, in doing so perpetuates the victimization philosophy on to a new generation of decendants of slaves, who have known no racism or discrimination. And, promotes anger and frustration towards whites, who had no part in the subjugation and discrimination against african americans. That is a bad thing, because hate and blame always diminish the idea of personal responsibility and achievement through beliefs in ones self.

Sent by Tom | 11:20 PM | 4-2-2008

It seems that for all the talk about "unifying" the masses, Obama associations, comments, actions seem to be challenging his unifying platform. As for this Rev. Wright issue, it seems incomprehensible how anyone can accept his hateful and unforgiving rhetoric...perhaps he should reference scripture Matthew 5:44...Rev. Wright perhaps should stand up and retract his statements and plead for a collective effort of those like him to stop "feeding" the deep seeded negative emotional issues that are not able to "heal" because people today in positions of influence refuse to get to a higher place...this world is not perfect, but we all should strive to do our very best to restore one another...Rev. Wright had a platform to aid in this effort and chose another path...Obama could have helped Rev. Wright see the wrongness of the message...even if he wasn't in attendance...I'm sure he was made aware of the "exciting message" of the sermon...most of us that attend Church regularly, will inevitably be told by other Church members of the content that we missed on previous Sundays...too bad politicians repeatedly fail the character test, but then, I've already stated that we don't live in a perfect world...I guess we can take today and challenge ourselves to do better in this day than we did yesterday...I pray...

Sent by ard | 10:35 AM | 4-3-2008

I would like to congratulate you on picking up this topic as I, like many others, was very distressed with some of Rev. Wright's statements. I think that there is a double standard in our national attitude regarding race issues which I don't think was not brought up appropriately at the show. For example, no church in this country would adopt the motto of 'unapologetically white', unless it wanted to be labeled as racist. However the same does not happen with Trinity Church, which as you know labels itself as precisely 'unapologetically black'. I do not think we can have a real conversation about racism in America (to say nothing of reaching solutions) with this blatant double standard. But the biggest problem with this whole topic of tolerance and inclusiveness is that you have failed to recognize that intolerance and non-inclusiveness is intrinsic to religion itself. Relaying on religious institutions to bring about changes in peoples attitudes towards others is like giving the wolf the keys to the chicken coop. Churches will ultimately prove incapable of brining about true tolerance and inclusiveness because this is not really part of their mandate, quite the contrary. This was brought up briefly when a lesbian caller asked if she would be welcomed at one of your guest's church. The official position all Christian denominations is that unless you adopt their specific belief system you are going to Hell - full stop. So yes, anyone can enter their building, but not their Heaven. So at best what is offered is 'tolerance light' - so light in fact as being better characterized as polite lip service or just being disingenuous. Race is just one minor aspect in the historic intolerance of all churches. Real solutions to this age-old human defect will only come through secular efforts. Thanks,

Sent by Carlos Mojica | 12:10 PM | 4-3-2008

I was solidly in Obama's camp until his most recent public reaction to Wright. Now he has revealed 2 things to me: 1 - he is believing the hype about his campaign being negatively affected by a friend's political opinions; 2 - he is more of a flag-waver and "America-right-or-wrong" voice than I thought he was. I still see him as the best of the three main (therefore viable) candidates, but I wish that he had stuck to his original response in which he said "Wright speaks for Wright, not for me necessarily, & he has a right to do so; he's an old friend and will remain an old friend." (paraphrased, of course, not a direct quote). Now the Left is open for destructive polarization as we decide whether or not to go with a 3rd party candidate.

Sent by Wendy Rose | 9:01 PM | 4-29-2008