Saturday, April 12, 2008

Emails Across the Divide Part II

3 19 08 Ferraro WrightImage by Bearman2007 via FlickrThis is part II of a series.   Part I is here.  Annie and I are very good friends...  Recently we had a great
conversation about race and our perspective on the whole Reverend Wright thing.  Barack Obama encouraged a national conversation on race.  I've been blessed with the opportunity to have a few of these across the divide recently.

Annie has given me permission to share our conversation with  you. I'll do it in a series of posts.  I'll probably break it up into five or six.  Annie is a young white woman in her early 50s.  She's not your
"typical" white woman in that she lives in a pretty diverse family and has spent a lot of time in the inner city.  Annie and I have known each other for a few years now.  She's the best friend I have that I've never met (with the exception of my brother Brian.

Annie:  thanks for this b2.  we went to an all black (well except for us LOL) church in hollywood, FL.  i never felt anything except loved and accepted.  to this day, george and alice benneby (the pastors) are two of the most godly folks i know.  in fact, i never asked him back then whether or not he was a universalist, but i think he was.  he taught us how to begin our homeless ministry in jupiter.  and he would always say of the folks - the homeless, the winos, the crackheads, the prostitutes - that came to his services in the park...  "they're all saved.  they just don't know it yet".  he was a traditional black pentecostal preacher.  used to holler and sweat something fierce and danced back and forth across the front of the church (there was no platform).  always had white towel fuzz stuck in his beard from wiping off the sweat.  LOL.  once when he prayed for me, i thought he was gonna break my neck trying to knock me down.  LOL. he looked like george jefferson and wore a white doctor's coat when he preached, 'cause he said, "we're gonna do some serious surgery."  God, i loved that man!  haven't seen him in 15 years.  i think i'll look him up....  but, i have to tell you brian.  pastor benneby made me feel safe.  i could never feel safe where the pastor was saying the kinds of things rev wright was saying on those clips.  even if it was taken out of context, it was still horrible to hear and he still said it.  however you slice it, it sounded like hate to me.  -annie

Brian: yeah, I don't like it either, Annie.  Too much politics in a church for me.  And you know how I am about conspiracy theories (the AIDS thing).  As I said, I'm not going to try to defend his words.  I'd never attend his church. But, let's remember we're deciding on Barack Obama, not Jeremiah Wright. And let's see what Barack says now that he'll have to address this.

Annie: (in response to my post about Jesus being a Black man) i can see this b2.  yet, we have to remember that, using this analogy, Jesus was a black man killed by both black and white people - jews and gentiles alike.  but, i do believe that one reason there's such a strong faith among some black families is the oppression they have experienced, the knowledge that the only justice they were going to find would be in Jesus.  they knew on a deeper level the "fellowship of his sufferings".  not only could they relate to him, but knew he could relate to them in their trials.  Jesus was one who "comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable" to which the afflicted could cry "amen!"  -annie

Brian:  Yeah, no analogy is perfect. And, as I said, I don't subscribe to Liberation theology.  I'm just trying to explain it to people who know even less about it than I do. ;-)

I can see their point though.  Jesus very much knew about the suffering of the oppressed.  In America, in the experience of Black people, Jesus would have been a Black man. He was killed by the establishment, which was an occupying force and the government.  He was also killed, not by the common Jew, but by the religious establishment.  So, in my mind, Jesus was crushed by a corrupt government, a racially motivated group (the Romans) AND the religious elite.  For years I heard people saying Jesus was Black and thought it was nonsense.  But, frankly, when I heard that clip of Reverend Wright's sermon, it made sense to me.

Annie, a lot of White people just want Black people to "get over" the 400 plus years of oppression we have suffered. And, they would like to think it all just suddenly ended about 40 years ago.  Unfortunately, it's not completely over and if it were the damage still takes a long time to repair.  If I had grown up in the inner city, I can't say I wouldn't have attended a church like Trinity.  And, I can see why some people (even not from the inner city do). 

One thing that is painfully obvious to me is that the clips being played on YouTube are just that.  Clips.  They were obviously the most inflammatory parts anyone could find.  And I saw no call to violence.  I saw no call to hatred.  I saw nothing that said to stop being an American or to not vote.  In fact, Jeremiah Wright encouraged Barack Obama to become part of the very institution that he was railing against.

It's not anti-American to criticize our government.  In fact, it's very American to do so and then to go out and do something about it.

Annie:  but my hope is that God will somehow use it for good.  i hate it too.  it's really uncomfortable.  but i think it's a discussion long overdue.  i think whites have wanted to pretend that racism is dead, that we've "moved on beyond all that".  well, the emperor has no clothes and we're not nearly as sociologically advanced as we'd like to think.  i pray that we have the courage to face this thing.  i don't want to sweep it under the rug any more, even if i am embarrassed by my own fears, unsure of what i could possibly do to help fix it.  i'm glad for this place where we can discuss without fear of our admissions being used as weapons against us.  i'm thankful for your perspective which i could never know from my experience.  i'm not sure i can really understand thoroughly just from your explanations, but i will do my best.  there's just no possible way to walk a mile in each other's moccasins.  but if there's to be any hope, it will have to come from folks like us who really WANT to walk arm in arm, each one of us judged by the content of our character and not the color of our skin.

like you, i fear this is going to be a real problem for obama.  if even i feel fear at rev wright's words, what of the stereotypical white blue collar worker from the pennsylvania steel mills?  will they all run to hillary?  and was that they way it was designed?  many have said that the clintons will do ANYTHING to win.  is this their doing even though it's not apparent?  the furor is mostly among radical right-wingers it seems, but is hillary's camp fueling it behind the scenes?  i just wonder...  –annie

Brian:  Again, I'm no conspiracy theory type of guy.  But, Barack's been a member of this church for over 20 years.  He's never ducked it. I looked up the church on the Internet almost a year ago when I found out he was a brother in the UCC.  When the rumors about him being a Muslim were swirling, you saw very little about his church.  Now that it appears people might have figured out he's really Christian, the videos of Jeremiah Wright start popping up.  Those are just the facts.

Let me repeat again, I am no fan of Liberation Theology.  Maybe it's very misunderstood.  My friend Julie (a White woman) has read James Cone and LOVES him.  I can't understand why. But, she's into the stuff.

This will hurt Obama.  It's one blow. Who knows how big it will be?  It'll take people like you to take the time to weed through it and make an informed decision.  There will be a lot of knee-jerk responses of people running to Hillary, I'm sure.

From someone in Georgia listening in:  (I didn’t get permission to use her name): With all due respect, I cannot agree with your assessment of Wright's message - and with your assessment of my response.  I don't think his speech was anti-American.  I feel that it was more in keeping with what Brian mentions below. 

I attended a black Christian fellowship for years, and although they did not do this type of preaching, they exposed me to some black preaching that was not unlike Wrights.  I think that I heard something quite different in Wright's message that you did, although we did listened to the very same words. And it is possible that his congregation hears his message differently, too.

Annie:  b2, i can agree with with all that you've said except...   wright didn't just criticize our government.  he said, "God bless america?  not God bless america... God damn america!"   he spoke of 9/11 as america getting what it deserved.   he called america the KKK.  he not only reviled whites, but black republicans as well, naming them sell-outs.  are conservative blacks less black because HE says so?  he is NOT attempting to bring any reconciliation but rather to incite further division.  he was getting people stirred up emotionally as much as any nazi rally.  maybe he didn't recommend violence, but when you stir folks up emotionally and then send them out the door with no constructive outlet for that anger, it has a real potential for violence.  and from my perspective, the hatred was evident, even if he didn't specifically say, "i call on you all to hate the white man".  it was there.  it was a tangible thing.  and i'm telling you, he freaks me out just as much as fred phelps does.   MLK organized peace marches.  i think wright's words could incite race riots.   –annie

From that same person in Georgia: Brian, It's all in the language or the code.  And no wonder so many read the Bible so differently!

His sermon is very similar to a Jeremiad, a mode of writing (and preaching) that has a long history in the US.  It was a very passionate speech.

But I certainly can understand why Obama's response.  There is much room for misunderstanding.

Brian:  I can understand why you (and other White people) would find this confusing and scary. I had this fear (the fear of White people misunderstanding) when I first saw Trinity's site.  At the time I had never heard Jeremiah Wright speak.

I'm glad Obama addressed this and I hope he'll continue to address it.  It's too big to sweep under the rug.  But, in my mind, it in no way makes me think he's a racist or a separatist. And what is is important is what he thinks, says and does.

First, I want to say I just saw Barack Obama on Countdown and I've read his blog.  He, in no way, supports anything in those clips said by Reverend Wright. He has unequivocally and categorically condemned all the statements in the YouTube clips.  I agree with his taking that stand because I'm sure they are things he would never say.  Just like they are things I'd personally never say.  But, I'd like to give you my response to the Reverend's statements.

Concerning 9/11

You might want to look up what Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson said around the same time (9/11).   Preachers condemn the government.  It's happened for centuries, going back to before the time of Jesus when the Prophets condemned the Kings.  A lot of preachers consider themselves modern day prophets.

Concerning Blacks condemning the US for killing innocents

Jeremiah Wright was giving a fiery speech condemning the killing of innocents.  I don't know the complete context since I also saw a 30 second clip.  But, it's common for churches to "speak truth to power".  Our pastor (a White guy) often tells us the church has a responsibility to remain separate from the Government so it can speak to its conscience.  With all of the Black men in prison and the Black men on death row and with the innocent men who have been killed by the government due to the death penalty, I'm guessing this is what Rev. Wright was talking about. Again, I have to guess because I only saw a clip.

Annie:  b2, you've not offended at all and i will readily admit that he pushed my fear button.  so, perhaps my feelings overwhelm my reason.  i can't just dismiss them.  i know you know i'm not racist.  but i am white and he was attacking whites every bit as much as david duke might blame blacks or jews for the world's ills.  i don't know if he stirred anyone to violence or not, but i think the potential is too great for him to run that risk.  yes, the first amendment guarantees his right to free speech.  i would only hope that he would use it responsibly.  that he didn't use the word "hate" or say whites are going to hell is a technicality.  and i have felt the same fear of other groups that are so angry - wacko environmentalists for example.  the only place race factors in for me is not that he is black but that MY race was the target of his venom and that's what makes me afraid.  imagine yourself listening to a david duke speech against your race.  some people feel anger at words like that.  i'm of a different temperament and i feel fear.  and true, his entire career cannot be judged by a few clips, but neither is phelps judged by anything except the bits of his funeral protests that we see in the media.   whatever good either of these men have done does not negate or excuse the other.  can't have sweet and bitter water out of the same fountain.  so, that he spews hateful rhetoric in one breath and says "love your enemies" in the next doesn't make me feel better.  out of the heart the mouth speaks and these words of wright's do not reflect the Christ in the UCC he claims to represent.  there are a lot of black leaders who try to lift up their own race without blaming or denigrating whites.  i'm sorry if i offend you in any way b2, but he scares me.  not because he's black, but because he hates whites (my perception).  –annie

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