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"Our Answer is God. God's answer is us. Through partnership we make our world better."
- Dorian Scott Cole


Prejudice in the US

What is the message of Jeremiah Wright?

Copyright © 2009 Dorian S. Cole


Jeremiah Wright, former pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ, had his day in the press to explain himself today before the National Press Club. He presented his defence, and then took questions. Did he do anything to help the cause of racism, or was it divisive?

I watched the Jeremiah Wright's address to the National Press Club. In general I appreciated his explaining himself through his presentation, but had a couple of issues with it. As I listened to Wright's speech, I understood the intent of what he was saying, but also realized that many of his statements meant one thing, but could easily be misinterpreted by those who don't wish him well. After watching, I changed to a "conservative," channel to watch their response. I expected his presentation would be attacked, and I realized my expectations. Sad, especially with the response coming from a black person.

I have noted that few black spokesmen have had much praise for Wright's outspoken opinions, especially since they are likely to be spoilers for Barack Obama. I suspect that Wright would try to use Obama to further his agenda, and is less concerned about Obama's chances. 

Jeremiah Wright did a passable job, I thought, of presenting his stand on the message of Christ. Transformation and reconciliation are excellent concepts and go straight to the heart of Christ's ministry. I also enjoyed his earlier statements about the way we speak, and only black people being called to task for it. There is some truth in that. On the lighter side, Wright received some more laughs at Vice President Dick Cheney's expense, by comparing military service records. Characterizing Cheney is always a good strategy, whether there is truth in it or not. We have now seen how Cheney sees the world, as reflected in his sun glasses. The information on the black church was informative. I confess, I know very little about churches like Wright's. I thought that many of his criticisms of the government's actions were possibly fair, but probably mischaracterize the US government's overall efforts in this world. But we can't turn our backs on constructive criticism - it definitely needs to be aired and listened to.

Disclosure: I'm not black, nor can I claim any demonstrative ethnic heritage other than white. I wasn't raised with ethnic bias, and don't feel that I have any horse in this race. I strongly dislike prejudice, but personally I'm prejudiced against everyone, even my wife. It might be a Scots-Irish thing (I would use the American Scotch-Irish, but that sounds more like potatoe whiskey), or maybe it's a Pottawatomie thing. Also, I should say that I think very highly of the United Church of Christ as a denomination which has taken a strong stand on accepting everyone, but I am not associated with UCC.

First, I have to say that near the end of his question and answer session, Wright answered a question about his relationship with Louis Farrakhan, who had apparently made anti-Zionist statements some 20 years ago, which are divisive. In an unguarded moment, he alluded to Farrakhan as not being the person who enslaved black people (not an exact quote), so he at least wasn't "my enemy."

Perhaps it was a poor choice of phrase, and we all need a little slack in that respect, but there is an interesting inference in that. It left the question open of who "my enemy" is and why would he characterize others as the enemy. That is a question that I think he should clarify. I'm concerned about "my enemy" being a possibly common characterization and a pattern of thinking.

The major difficulty that I had with Wright's speech, was the stress on long-standing enmity in the black community because of slavery in the US. We all should consider Christ's methods a bit more carefully. Slavery was common in Christ's time and in the region in which he lived. Christ never said one word about stopping slavery even though he recognized in his words that slavery existed. He left it up to us, through our personal transformation, to transform our society and get rid of injustice, repression and oppression.

Wright stressed that the black population has never received an apology for slavery. Well..., consider, my great, great, great grandfather was part Native American and lived in a farming community in Indiana, not far from Chicago. He felt so strongly about the Civil War and freeing slaves that he was determined to go fight it. His mother and wife locked him upstairs at night so he couldn't go. But he jumped out the window and went anyway. He died in horrible conditions in a Civil War prison. He was one of thousands who fought for the right of black people to be free.

Christ said, "Greater love has no man than that he lay down his life for a friend." If that action doesn't overshadow an apology, then I don't know what an apology is good for. Wright should realize that his comments are a slap in the face to all who sacrificed, died, and to this day are a nation that supports freedom for all. He not only is not enslaved in the US, he is not enslaved in Africa. The entire world changed in that day. Since that day, slavery has all but disappeared in this world, the Civil Rights efforts won a great victory against separation, and the people of the world stood up against apartheid in South Africa, and continue to stand against oppression. But humanity is not perfect and our work is still not done.

I worry that Jeremiah Wright is so indoctrinated in a culture of negative history, and repression that still exists today, that his vision is permanently clouded. While I won't deny the need for liberation theology, and sometimes even the more action oriented militancy of it, the difficulty with militancy is that it reaps more hard feelings and someone has to end it, or the war never ends. Unfortunately that ongoing cultural stance and outlook reflects on a serious candidate for public office.

All religions have to strain against the imposed barriers of their tradition. Tradition is the collection of stands and actions of the past. Sometimes tradition is an anchor that holds us back. Black religious tradition is what Wright cited as being what his religion is about. I think this is great - we all need our identities and culture. But it is difficult for any religion and any local religious organization to break with parts of their tradition when a transition is needed.

Religions have to be forward looking, not mired in the past, or they are doomed to live in their past, never improve, and die out. Bad practices and hate and anger and vengeance often live in the past, and are represented by such venomous symbols as "the government invented HIV." Negative attitudes collect negative examples to whip up passions, and result in inflammatory rhetoric that is divisive. Hate looks backward, love looks forward. Hate looks for enemies, love looks to make friends. Love is less focused on how things got to be this way, and more focused on how we make it better.

Unfortunately racism is very much alive in the US today. But the way forward is not in the past. Living in the past is just a way to perpetuate anger, separation, and racism. Love, knowledge, experience, and laws - all of these are paths toward breaking down barriers, and eliminating bias and discrimination.

I can't live Jeremiah Wright's life for him, or even walk in his shoes - he will continue being a pastor with a unique experience and a unique message. We all have to talk about the past some as bad examples. But I have to encourage Wright, and everyone, to consider reconciling with the past, and with traditions that no longer serve. Drop the angry rhetoric, and instead talk about what can be in Christ. One is divisive, polarizing, and counter-productive. The other breaks down barriers and is productive.

May God go with Wright in his message of reconciliation and transformation.

Yours in Christ,

Dorian Scott Cole

With this article, I offer my series in coming days on Alienation: What drives people apart and what brings them together.

Yours in Christ,

- Dorian Scott Cole

Author's Books

The Prophetic Pattern: Discussion Guide for Ancient and Modern Prophecy

Are we all going to die on Friday, December 21, 2012? My new book critically examines that question. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.

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On Friday, December 21, 2012, are we all going to die? Are there really signposts to the world's end? Does modern prophecy really merge with ancient prophecy? Will all of the Christians suddenly disappear? The answers may surprise you.

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Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. He is a licensed minister with a mainline denomination with full time pastoral and counseling experience. His education in religion and psychology was through a state university (IU) followed by independent study. Other books and publications: Ontology of God, How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

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Ontology of God: The voices of the ancients speak.

My recent book, Ontology of God, looks at what we can learn through the ages regarding the history of several aspects of religious development as affected by the ancient societies they were in, including law, mercy, and love. Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing. Description.
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Echoing through time are the voices of ancient people telling us about God. From Mesopotamia and Egypt 5000 years ago, often from even earlier oral traditions, every civilization has been inspired to tell us about God. Their voices vary widely and even conflict. Is there a common message that they thought was so important that they had to pass it on? In this book, the ancient voices speak.

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Available in print and ebook formats from various sources. Secure credit card purchasing.

About the author: Dorian Scott Cole is an independent, cross-disciplinary scholar with education and experience in psychology, philosophy, religion, language, visual semiotics, and technology. Other books and publications: How to Write a Screenplay, Writers Workshop Script Doctor,, and

Reading type: Mainstream Scholarly Specialist

Distribution notice:

You are welcome to make standard size quotations from this article with proper attribution (Dorian Scott Cole, One Spirit Resources Web site). This material is not public domain and may not be sold, mass distributed, published, or made electronically available in any form, without permission from Dorian Scott Cole


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Copyright © 2009 Dorian Scott Cole. Feedback and statistical corrections are welcome: Author, Webmaster, publisher.