Jeremiah Wright on Bill Moyers

Watch the interview (2 parts) here.

You actually get to see the church, go through his life, and (shock of all shocks) hear large segments of the (so-called) controversial post 9/11 sermon (the whole of which can be listened to here. At 8:22 he describes the destruction of the Towers as an act of those simply driven by hate–ever hear that one?).

In that sermon he uses Psalm 137. The famous Psalm (think Bob Marley) that begins “By the river we sat and wept for we remembered Zion.”

The people of Israel had been sent into exile by the Babylonians after the Temple was destroyed and Jerusalem sacked in the year 587 BCE. The oppressors taunt the Jews calling on them to sing “one of their songs”–not unlike slave holding whites mocking blacks by telling them to sing one them “nigger” songs.

They respond with the also famous, “How can we sing a song to our God in a foreign land?”

And here is the passage, the end of the Psalm (verses 7-9) that Wright quotes at the beginning of the sermon:

7Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, ‘Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!’
8O daughter Babylon, you devastator!*
Happy shall they be who pay you back
what you have done to us!
9Happy shall they be who take your little ones
and dash them against the rock!

You did read that last line correctly. The Israelites in sacred scripture pray for the cold blooded murder of Babylonian babies. By bashing their skulls on rocks. This verse is in fact not read in our churches because it’s considered un-PC. You don’t remember this line from Bob Marley do you?

For Wright this means that the people have moved from anger with foreign military/government for its war to revenge being sought on the innocents from within a population whose army attacked us.

He then makes the claim in the sermon that too many Americans (of which the media is highly complicit as well as the government) in the post 9/11 world he felt could move into this same position. While understandable and clearly a universal human reaction, it is wrong. It is not what God desires.

The sermon is a very traditional Christian pacifist sermon. There are limitations to that tradition, but he was in fact I think right about his warning: that people would want to move from legitimate anger and the need for self-defense against an aggressor to the desire for revenge on civilians. I actually think that explains the ability of the president to sell the war in Iraq better than anything else. We just wanted revenge. Didn’t matter who, didn’t matter if we had a plan for getting out, didn’t matter if we thought about the consequences, whether or not they had WMDs or not, whether they were connected to al-Qaeda (the actual army of attack recall) or not—-we want revenge. Somebody’s heads needs to be bashed against a rock. And like now.

The piece of the sermon that generated the most controversy–mentioned in the beginning of his interview with Moyers–is the notion of a history of American terrorism. As he says right after the now infamous remarks on US bombings of other countries, “violence begets violence.” This is again classic Christian pacifist thought. Not radical Marxism black nationalism. It has its limitations and blind spots, but again he is right in line with a long standing genuine Christian tradition. As he says when asked about Obama: He’s a politician and has to speak political language. I’m a pastor and I have to speak from the Christian tradition.

That other history for Wright (a theme he repeats in the interview on multiple occasions) is the forgotten history. He calls the dominant story a “myth” (correctly) and points out that if you question the myth you question the sacrality.

They only briefly touch upon what his teacher Martin Marty calls Wright’s “abrasive spots”. They could have gone into that more. But overall what you see is an actual human being and in many ways a thoughtful one at that. You may disagree with his views, but it is clear the guy thinks long and hard about what is going on and what the Church’s role in the actual existence of people as opposed to some magic fairy-tale liturgical creation on a Sunday morning (Disneyland Christianity) which has no connection to the flesh and blood reality the people in the pews actually live.

Published in: on April 26, 2008 at 12:15 pm  Comments (1)  

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  1. […] the midst of that post, dealing with that sermon and its relationship to Psalm 137 that I described here, Althouse makes a major […]

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