Monday, April 21, 2008

Emails Across the Divide Part III

This is part III 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 from Ireland).

Brian:  I understand your perception.  But, just think about the facts.  You're watching video intentionally put together to show the worst speech they could find over years of tapes.  You didn't hear hate being preached.  You heard judgment being preached.  It's done in pulpits, Black and White every Sunday.

The fact that the judgment was targeted at your group makes you uncomfortable, I'm sure.  But, Annie, rich white powerful people do control this country.  And, rich white powerful people have taken advantage of Blacks, women, gays, Jews, etc., etc. etc. It's the role of the prophet to point these things out.

From Brian- twin brother of different mothers in Ireland:  I have mixed reactions to the whole affair (if it is an affair), Brian. If I'd come across Wright's speeches in a context that had nothing to do with Obama, I doubt that I'd have found it worth commenting on. He preaches in the way I can imagine a Hebrew prophet like Isaiah or Jeremiah or Amos doing. The OT prophets were no patriots who said "my country, right or wrong". They denounced Israel for its injustices and arrogance and predicted that it would meet judgment at the hands of its enemies (the chickens would indeed come home to roost)...I can imagine them saying "God damn Israel!", in fact that's a reasonable paraphrase of what they did say. Given the history of black people in the US, and the racism that still exists in a more covert form, the kind of language he uses needs to be put in context.

Having said that, I'm not comfortable with this kind of rhetoric and it sounds over the top - though that may be because, as you pointed out, these videos are collages carefully selected from a 40 year ministry. I'd like to hear or read some of his sermons all the way through before rushing to judgment on whether he's a black racist.
In any case, I think it's enough that Obama has made his own position clear. It's interesting, though, that nothing like the same fuss has been made about John McCain's endorsement by an out-and-out bigot and nutcase, Pastor John Hagee, who said that hurricane Katrina was God's judgment on New Orleans for having a gay pride parade and wants the US to launch a war on Iran to hasten the Rapture and Armageddon. Yet McCain said he was "very honoured" to have Hagee's support. Rudy Giuliani's presidential bid was endorsed by Pat Robertson, who told us that the 9/11 attack was divine retribution for tolerating gays, feminists, abortion and the ACLU.

Annie:  b2,  i don't deny that rich white powerful people oppress...  but they oppress whites too.  that particular phenomena is more about greed than race.  and blacks hurt other blacks.  i see bill cosby addressing this and he gets slammed.  i still contend that rev wright is encouraging blacks to blame whites for all their ills in the same fashion hitler wanted his countrymen to blame the jews.  and btw, rev wright didn't target "my" group, as i've never been associated with rich people of either race.  but, i'm not certain that some in his congregation wouldn't confuse me with them...  prejudice and racism is prejudice and racism.  it doesn't matter whether it's white against black or black against white.  it's all wrong.  i get called "white bitch" by the panhandlers outside sav-a-lot every time they ask for spare change and i refuse.  globe drugs is just around the corner and i'm not going to finance them so they can get their drink on.  but, they always make it a race thing...  if they're pissed off, why wouldn't just "bitch" be sufficient.  with all due respect b2, you have no idea about race issues in the city.  in kirkwood (used to be a "suburb", but now a part of the city) racial tensions are always ready to boil over.  there's a black neighborhood called meacham park that feels disenfranchised by the rest of the city.  i actually DO believe there's a lot of racism there.  most of the cops are white and i think they assume that every time a crime is committed, it's done by a black.  but last year, a black kid killed a white cop and we were close to riots there.  now, this year, cookie thornton,a black man who was into it with the city over parking tickets lost his mind and went into a city council meeting where he killed 2 councilmen, the public works director and 2 cops, shot the mayor in the head and a reporter in the hand before being gunned down by other police that showed up.  he had from all reports been the nicest man.  a former HS athlete, he used his skills to help kids find direction and stay off drugs.  but, he became obsessed with the fight with the city (he owned a construction company and kept parking his trucks and equipment in residential areas, in violation of city policy and they would ticket him).  the day of the shooting, he had lost a court battle that had been raging for 2 years and he snapped.  how does rev wright know that there aren't more cookie thorntons listening to his messages?  would his words be enough to push someone who was already unstable over the edge?  if you think i'm uncomfortable, you're mistaken.  situations like this make me AFRAID.  –annie

Brian:  Wow, Annie. There's a lot in there. 

You're right. I'm not as familiar with the inner city as I am with suburbs. But, while I didn't grow up in the inner city, I have spent time there.  I have attended Black churches.  I have attended Black schools.  And, I've been Black all my life.  I've experienced prejudice because of the color of my skin.    I have to disagree with you though that a preacher preaching to his congregation about social injustice is necessarily inciting them to violence.  You might fear it. But, that doesn't mean preachers should not address the concerns of the communities they live in.  And, I think it's unfair to expect them to address it in terms that would be suitable to people from outside the community.  Lastly, again, I don't know that you have listened to an entire sermon by Reverend Wright.  I just did.  I listened to the Christmas 2007 sermon from which was taken the remarks about Hillary and her lack of knowledge of what it's like to be a poor oppressed person.  The sermon was actually a good one, IMO.  I'll write more about it on my blog.

Annie:  i applaud rev wright preaching a message of social justice.  the message you cite isn't the one that troubled me, although i know the media jumped on it because he mentioned hillary.  i thought your blog was good.  but, as i said, it wasn't this sermon wasn't the one i was referring to. 

rev wright is not my enemy.  i only hope he will use his bully pulpit with wisdom - to bring reconciliation rather than to further division.  i know he has since retired, but i'm sure he will continue to be a much sought-after speaker.  may God bless him and lead him to preach a message of love.  i'm not trying to be stubborn... i just honestly believe that if he wanted to he could lift up blacks, lift up ALL people, without denigrating whites as the root of all evil. 

one thing i think you fail to understand is that i have also experienced prejudice because of the color of my skin.  i've worked with the poor, both black and white since 1986 - with a gov't funded community action corp, in 3 different church-based homeless ministries and for the last 5 years, even though it was technically a ministry of joshua house, for the most part, it was our family.  i've been told to my face by some blacks that they hate whites - even as i handed them a blanket or a plate of food that i had purchased with my own funds and cooked in my own kitchen.  i know the pain of being rejected only for the color of your skin.  but i never stopped cooking every week until the city shut us down.  there's all sorts of prejudice and i just feel that rev wright expresses his own brand...  and it is against me even though all i want to do is help where i can and bring a spirit of reconciliation where i can.  it is hurtful at least and could be dangerous at worst if the wrong person is listening to him on the wrong day.

but you know something cool?  today there was a unity march in kirkwood, the site of the recent shooting - black and white together reaching out to one another.  i'm watching the news report on it right now.  it's encouraging.  the march was organized by a black pastor.  i would pray that rev wright would show the same type of leadership.  it's not going to solve the long-standing racial divide over night, but it's a start.  –annie

Brian:  You know I love you and I'm not saying this to divide us.  But, being mistreated by Blacks who lack the majority in both numbers, power and money is not quite the same thing as being Black and being systematically discriminated against in a multitude of ways every day.  We are discriminated in ways both subtle and overt. What you have experienced is not the same as having your ancestors treated as non-persons.  It's not the same as not knowing your own heritage- language, culture, etc. because your people were ripped up from their roots.  I know Blacks have treated you badly.  And, I've seen reverse racism. But, believe me, it's not quite the same.

Frankly, being a woman in America makes you more qualified to know the suffering that comes from being Black more than the few incidents of racism you've come across.  Women just recently got the right to vote.  Women are still underpaid. Women are still denied equal access to certain jobs.

I still think you judge Reverend Wright too harshly.  My opinion of him is based on more than a few video clips- as I think yours still is.  When I first visited the Trinity site almost a year ago, I was turned off.  When I first saw the video clips, I was shocked. But, then I did some research. He has an outstanding reputation in the United Church of Christ, an organization I admire very much.  If he were such a divider, I don't think they would continue to hold him up as a model pastor, which they have done for years.  If you'll check my post that mentions his entire sermon, you'll see a speech given by one of the UCC leaders about Reverend Wright's status in the UCC community.

At this point, if I lived in Chicago and Reverend Wright were still preaching, I'd visit that church and check it out myself.

Annie:btw, i have listened to the speech on your blog by the UCC leader.  i thought it was good.  you know what's funny?  i visited the trinity site several months ago when i first became aware of his connection to obama.  i wanted to see what all the fuss was about.  i wasn't turned off at all.  i loved the social outreach, the embracing of cultural heritage, the concern for africa.  one of the beefs my friends who minister on the reservation have (and i share) is that so many missionaries try to erase the indian culture in the name of chrisitianity.  on that point in particular, i thought the UCC guy was spot on.  but, again, he just didn't address MY concerns and frankly, neither have you.  specifically these:  rev wright's assertions that 1) WE are responsible for 9/11,  2)  whites invented aids to kill blacks (so why do so many whites have it?), 3) america is the KKK of A, 4) whites sell drugs to try to addict blacks so they can put them in prison. and hearing anyone damn anyone from a pulpit is troubling to me.

b2, i have a dream...  that God will raise up someone like MLK in our generation.  i had hoped it might be barack obama.  and it still might be.  but, i can tell you one thing for sure...   it ain't jeremiah wright.  MLK was a man of peace.  and i hope you won't grow frustrated with me.  i really want to understand and i want to continue the dialogue until i have at least a measure of that.  i'm trying to understand what you have said about the tradition of fiery rhetoric in black churches.  i've seen that myself.  but the fiery rhetoric was always against sin, not against white folks.  so, that's where i'm having trouble accepting wright's words as merely cultural.  still struggling to understand...  –annie

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