Monday, March 31, 2008

Black Church, White Church;

Despite Senator Barack Obama's speech where he denounced certain comments made by his former pastor Jeremiah Wright regarding the cause of 9-11 and how America should be damned because of its history with non-white folks, people continue to not let this issue go away.

Now, no one reads this blog. I don't push it and frankly I don't give a rat's ass whether anyone does. But if anything, the recent events regarding Rev. Wright's comments have brought to light the fact that Black folks and White folks may worship the same God, but for the most part, they don't do it together. With relatively few exceptions, Blacks and Whites attend. largely segregated churches. These churches tend to focus their ministries in very different ways.

I venture to say that those Whites who fly off the handle at Rev. Wright's comments have never been to a Black Church. While Rev. Wright's comments about 9-11 are on the more extreme end, and his remarks may be considered anti-patriotic by those Whites. who are used to their pastors wrapping themselves in the American flag in church, the tradition of black preachers calling out America for it's historical shortcomings is not new. First of all, to those who call Rev. Wright a wacko because of his comments, are you willing to throw Rev. Pat Robinson under the bus for statements he made claiming that America's tolerance of gays and lesbians has brought about God's wrath on the nation and that 9-11 was a sign of His displeasure with our country? If you are, I'll grant you credit for your consistency. If not, then you need to spend some time studying the history of the Black Church and its preaching traditions before you decide to slam Rev. Wright for a few extreme comments pulled out of 35 years of sermons delivered. Can you say "cherry picking", boys and girls?, I knew you could.

White folks, please understand this coming from a Black Man who loves America and who wants to see this country rise to its fullest potential for all its citizens. I love the United States. I served her as a sailor in her Navy, and of all the places I've been in the world, I've always reserved the greatest joy when my ship came into US waters. It is out of my love for the country that I and those like me have to make noise when the government does something stupid. If you truly love your children, you don't just sit by and tolerate every wrong thing they do. You administer correction. That is what black preachers have historically done from the pulpit. They want to see America work for all its citizens.

My people are the only group who were brought here against their will. We did not want to be here, we had no potato famines nor religious persecutions to spur us to seek refuge in this country. We were brought here in chains and made to work as slaves. But we are here, and we just have to make the best of our situation and make this country work for us. America has not worked out for us as it has for you. The history of this nation is soaked with the blood of my ancestors in their fight to be free. Slavery, Jim Crow, Segregation. White folks have not experienced these institutions. To you, America has been the shiny city on the hill, the promised land, the land of milk and honey where the streets are paved with gold. You have been taught that all possible with hard work and a belief in the goodness of America. We are not so sure. Our history speaks of a different America. One that chose to enslave one race to another and give legitimacy to it via the force of law. And once that law had been overturned, Blacks were treated as second class citizens under Jim Crow claiming separate but equal which ended up too much of the former and not enough of the latter.

White folks find Rev. Wright's statement about the government designing AIDS to be absurd and anti-patriotic. Most Black folks would also agree. But what about the Tuskegee Experiment where over a 40 year period, 400 Black men who had contracted syphillis were denied treatment so that government scientists could see how the disease ran its course? If this horrendous experiment could be conducted with the approval of the US Government, what other experimentation is happening? And given the history of how our country dealt with minorities, a statement like Rev. Wright's may come off as wacko, but more than a few Black folks have their suspicions due to events like what happened at Tuskegee between 1932 and 1972.

If White folks could live life in America as Black folks, then maybe they'd not be so bent out of shape by statements by Black preachers that expose America's warts. They'd see that we Black folks don't hate America, but that we just don't see it the way they do. But it was White folks who chased us into the balconies of church buildings and then ran off to the suburbs to create their own churches when Black folks got to be too numerous. And because whites did not want to worship with Blacks, Blacks had no choice to create their own congregations. Even today, we would welcome whites into our churches, but would not tone down our sermons or stop speaking truth to power just to sooth ruffled feathers. Rev. Wright proved one thing: The most segregated time of the week is still 11 am Sunday Morning. But with the new crop of megachurches like Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church, and locally, Covenant Church of Pittsburgh, Blacks and Whites are worshipping together. This can only improve race relations. But still the vast majority of churches are still monochromatic. I won't throw Rev. Wright under the bus for a few off the wall comments out of some 35 years of sermons. The man has done some good in that time. And most educated, reasonable thinking people will understand the context of his remarks. Blacks and Whites need to stop being so damn scared of each other. We're stuck here together in the same boat, and if we continue to row in opposite directions in an effort to get away from each other, all we end up doing is going in circles. And that does no one any good.



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CORRECTION: It was the late Rev. Jerry Falwell who blamed the 9-11 tragedy on gays, lesbians and pagans, not Pat Robertson although Rev. Falwell made the statements on Robertson's 700 Club and Robertson concurred with those statements.

1 comment:

Rob Carr said...

I can understand Rev. Wright's anger; I guess I pity him.

I can't bring myself metaphorically to throw anyone under a bus. I used to be a paramedic, so I've actually treated people run over by buses. If they are still alive, it's still horrifying, even by paramedic standards.

Still, I have no trouble rejecting Rev. Wright's statement. I find I'm a little politer about it than I was about rejecting Falwell and Robertson -- decades before 9/11!

They three may have done fine things for the Gospel, but what sticks in my mind was the disgrace they brought on the church by preaching hate. At least Falwell hasn't said anything idiotic in the last 10 months or so.

Over 3 decades ago, on Youth Sunday, I preached a sermon which started off with a joke. "A black man (black was the appropriate term back then) was making his way home from college. It was a several hundred mile walk. Sometimes, someone would stop and give him a ride. Mostly, he walked. On a Sunday, he walked into a church in rich white suburbia and sat in the back of the church, out of the way and as unobtrusive as he could be.

"An usher came over, just before the service started, grabbed him, pulled him out of the seat, and threw him out the front door. 'We don't let your kind in here!'

"They slammed the door.

"The black man sat on the steps to the church, crying. Jesus appeared, sat down beside him, put his arm around him, and said 'Don't feel bad. I've been trying to get into that church for years.'"

I didn't get a lot of complements on that sermon. Granted, in my own mind, I was picturing my own rich white suburban church with steps as I told the story. My Catholic Dad loved the sermon, though. I didn't turn out Catholic, like him, but still he was proud of his son.

My Dad and my Mom died without telling me that I was 1/8th "sub-Saharan African." Found out through a genetics test. I don't know if they knew or not -- someone did a real good job of passing after getting off the underground railroad here in Pittsburgh.

I know, I know, I'm not "black" enough, although I know full well I would not have been permitted to join that church in 1972 had my genetic history been known.

Today, I'm once again a member of that church, and there are a number of African-Americans who look at me as just one more old white guy. If I tell them I'm part African, they react pretty much the way the white people do. I'm not black enough, and I'm not white enough.

Ah well, maybe a couple more decades. Sigh.

(Actually, I have fun telling people I'm part African. If they can deal with it, they're someone I can be friends with, and if they can't, well, it's fun to mess with their heads.)