On God Damning America

On relevant background between Wright and Obama here.

Video here of Wright’s sermons.

This is the video of the Brian Ross report on Good Morning America highlighting two controversial sermons by Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Obama’s pastor (very recently retired).

Direct quotations here via Political Punch.

One following immediately in the wake of 9/11 has this to say:

After 9/11, Wright said, “We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagaski and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye…America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

Now the geopolitical point Wright is trying to express (or should be) is that al-Qaeda’s (al-Qaeda 1.0) war against the US is due (in part) to US foreign policy. Every statement by bin Laden and Zawahiri mentions supporting the Chinese over the Uighurs, the Russians over the Chechnyians, the Israelis over the Palestinians, the Arab dictators over the masses, etc. etc. It’s also due to their fanatical (mis?)reading of their religion, which Wright does not acknowledge and should.

But the geopolitics aside, this is abysmal pastoral leadership. All of the above may be true (or at least have some truth in it) but the proper Biblical response to mass slaughter so raw in a communal worship setting is first and foremost lament and sorrow. Whatever reflections need to happen about the causes and possible complicity cause/effect need to come after grieving.

So no defense of the indefensible on that point.

Now the other one is much more intriguing to me.

Here’s Wright:

Wright in one 2003 sermon said of the treatment of African-Americans by the U.S., “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strikes law and then wants us to sing ‘God bless America,’ No, no, no, not ‘God bless America,’ God damn America — that’s in the Bible, you’re killing innocent people, God damn America for treating us citizens as less than human.”

The link between the two sermons is the militarization, the constant and ever escalating militarization of US policy–in both foreign and domestic affairs. Theologically this weaponization is an idolatrous act; it is part of the worship of a god of violence and power lust. It is the worship of our own egoic false selves, replete with violence and enmity, projected across the globe. A confession of our basic lack of a belief in Mercy and Love as the guiding forces of existence. MLK made this exact point by tying the maltreatment of blacks in America to the horrors perpetrated upon civilians in Vietnam.

But back to Wright. His first point is of course the highly highly controversial argument that the FBI and/or CIA was involved in supplying the drug trade to the ghettos. The classic text arguing for such is Dark Alliance by former LaTimes (and now deceased) columnist Gary Webb. Also Whiteout. Here’s a CIA report claiming otherwise. So I’m not in any position to make a call on that one. [Ed: I report, you decide]

But the last two–build bigger bigger prison, 3 strikes and your out–those are indisputable facts. 1% of the US population is now in the criminal justice system. The large majority are poor and a great number are African American. The Prison-industrial complex is a growing sector of the economy. (Invest now!!!).

And what Wright is getting at is this–he’s saying what is not allowed too often to be said or questioned in US society/media/politics: the folly of The Drug War.

The best way to view the Drug War I think should be as akin to Iraq. Baltimore as the US’ Fallujah. It is a domestic occupation (in this analogy). It is a never ending cycle of violence that sees lives destroyed both on the side of the soldiers (the cops) and the populace. A country where veterans–of Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Drug War–do not get proper treatment.

Like Iraq, all military solutions proposed and enacted. Very little in the way of reconstruction.

Where a disconnected economic structure creates a vacuum for a black market trade (Iraq: guns and oil, US ghettos: drugs). Where gangs control local power and individuals are forced in the escalating cycle of violence between occupier and insurgent to choose sides or otherwise face social censure and/or possible violence (being called “white” in the ghettos).

A country where the great trailblazers of liberalism Bill Clinton and Geraldine Ferraro can not see Barack Obama’s candidacy as anything more than being a “black candidate.” That following the history of slavery, Jim Crow, and the every day racism–especially strong in the North by the way where Wright pastored.

He lives and works in the muck of the Drug War. Where doors are kicked down and children see men dragged away in cuffs. Where the men face the deep shame that they can not protect their women and children.

And then he’s supposed to go to some 4th of July Parade and march with the Girl Scouts and the Chamber Commerce and sing God Bless America? Hell no. Hell no.

God damn America.

Now that surely is only one side of a bigger story. The US has been for many other immigrant groups a land of freedom and a place of opportunity from oppression. But that is not the history with African Americans (as well as Native Americans).

But if you feel into what that would be like, try to imagine given the lifeworld/situation, then I think it’s possible to see where that cry comes from. I’m not 100% promoting what he says. I’m saying try to imagine where it comes from first before we decide its truthfulness (or lack thereof).

As Wright says immediately following that (check the vid)–“It’s in the Bible.” Well, in fact Wright’s right. The Ancient Israelite Prophets rail absolutely rail against the powers of their day. Rail against their own aristocrats and kings, their own government and say that God is not with their leaders when they trample the widow, the orphan, or the stranger in their midst.

e.g. As but one of hundreds of examples, The Prophet Amos 2:6-8

Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Israel,
and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;*
because they sell the righteous for silver,
and the needy for a pair of sandals—
7they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
and push the afflicted out of the way;
father and son go in to the same girl,
so that my holy name is profaned;
8they lay themselves down beside every altar
on garments taken in pledge;
and in the house of their God they drink
wine bought with fines they imposed.

Read the rest of Amos or Jeremiah the Prophet (the pastor’s namesake). If you think he (Wright) is saying horrifically controversial evil things about the country, just read Jeremiah and what the Lord says through him. Wow. Not even close.

Theologically (and Wright does this elsewhere) the obverse of damning is saving. As Karl Barth said God’s No is always simultaneously God’s Yes. God’s No to injustice and violence is a Yes to those of the peacemakers and those who are beloved of God. In a special way for the Christian (following Jesus and the Jewish tradition) the poor.

This is why Wright (and the whole history of black spirituality and Christianity) equates Jesus with the outsider. Because according to Christian theology he is the Incarnation of God. So God has taken up residence with the outsider and taken on their sufferings. God knows what it is to be so hurt. And the powers–earthly and demonic–can kill his body but he will rise nonetheless. His spirit can not be destroyed.

This Biblical tradition stands in tension with other strains that do tend to give credence to a Providential view, to God blessing and smiling upon the Kings and Princes of the World. Both are in the books. Both are preached from the pulpit in American churches.

On this point (re: the drug war) I think the country/society (including myself as a citizen) stand damned by our (in)actions. Not so much God damning America as by straying from a path of justice, we (all) fall into the ditch and lose our way. And evil results as a consequence.

Update I:

Given the political context of course we can’t have that discussion, so Obama has to apologize. Here it is.

Update II: Also to be clearer, Obama’s style is so vastly different than Wright’s. Generational difference. Personality styles very different. Politics are very different.

But Obama has always had this connection with radical left-wing politics. It was bound to come out sooner or later. I find it interesting that he both has this connection and yet isn’t bound by it (I don’t think he is, others do). I see it as taking the points/ideas of value he sees and jettisoning the excesses and stupidities of such a view (of which there are many). He’s got this past (and present) with very left-wingers and worked well with Republicans in the Illinois State Legislature. He is able to be in and connected to all sorts of different groups without being reduced to his affiliation with them and without (I believe) fundamentally altering his basic stances.

Wright needs to do him a favor and voluntarily resign from his position (mostly honorary) on Obama’s African-American Religious Outreach Committee. And not pull a Ferraro and blame whitey.

Published in: on March 14, 2008 at 10:17 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Enjoyed this piece, it reminds of the biblical saying that a Prophet is without honor on his own house. Simply because, as you pointed out Prophets basically detail the crimes of the very people they seek to save, particularly those in power . Theologically, speaking, who can object with this, this is a scenario that has been played out countless times in monotheistic religious history.

    How totally unsurprising, that the political elite is treating it the way they are, this has been the classical response by those in power, when truth is spoken to them. What is also not surprising, is the Christian right who align themselves directly with those in power and the rich and are behaving in their classical hypocritical manner, the High Priest of the time of Jesus comes to mind.

    What truly amazes me, is mankind ability to study history and marvel at the obviously misguidance of the High Priest, Pilate, Pharaoh, etc…etc ..etc., but also the extreme inability to recognize the same writings on the wall in their own time.

    If we think about it, Prophets are the most unpatriotic people ever, as their allegiance is to God not necessarily to their tribe.

    But the most damaging thing is the classical stereotype of African-American, which they have thus far been unable to thrust on Obama and that the angry black man stereotype and the Pastor sounds full of anger.

  2. “What truly amazes me, is mankind ability to study history and marvel at the obviously misguidance of the High Priest, Pilate, Pharaoh, etc…etc ..etc., but also the extreme inability to recognize the same writings on the wall in their own time.”

    Amen Brother.


  3. Outstanding analysis. Thanks for this. I’ll be passing it along…

  4. thanks Wendy. peace.


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