Dallas Morning News – Shawn Williams:Black pastors speak truth to power

Here is the article I wrote that appears in Wednesday’s Dallas Morning News. Some of this is familiar from Part 1, but there is about 30-40% new material.

Sick. Disgusted. Appalled. Those were some of the feelings that washed over me as I have listened to the mainstream media launch what I believe was an unwarranted attack on Dr. Jeremiah Wright Jr. in the past week or so. It should have been no surprise, but even my wary eyes were taken aback by the ferocity of the assault on his character and career.

I have had the pleasure to observe the gospel genius and hermeneutical excellence of Dr. Wright many times over the last 10 years since I joined Friendship-West Baptist Church here in Dallas. Dr. Wright has served as a mentor to my pastor, Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, and visits our church once or twice each year.

What is most unfortunate about the episode with Dr. Wright and Barack Obama is that it shows how little America knows – and how much less it understands – about the black church. The concept of social activism in the African-American church is a novel concept to many observers who don’t know its history.

The same media structure that undermined Dr. Martin Luther King in the civil rights era now wants to prop him up as an example of “color-blind” preaching. The Dr. King who was considered too radical and color-concerned by his own contemporaries is now painted as a Kumbaya dreamer. A guy who would be cool to sit down with over a latte.

An oft-asked question the last few days has been, “What is the need for a black church in today’s society?” I would suggest that the answer lies in asking white Christians why they haven’t joined a predominantly black congregation.

That certainly would help to break down what some consider unnecessary barriers, wouldn’t it? But it’s asking a lot. And our society more often expects African-Americans to abandon their heritage and integrate/assimilate with our brethren and fellow believers in the name of progress. Well that street runs both ways.

It is virtually impossible to separate the African-American struggle for justice and the black church. Think Frederick Douglass, the great abolitionist who in 1839 was licensed to preach in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Think Denmark Vesey, a founder of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., who was executed for his part in organizing a slave uprising in that very city. Think Rev. Ralph Abernathy and the Montgomery Improvement Association.

Whether it was Jeremiah Wright in Chicago or the late Rev. A.M. Seamon in Paris, Texas, the black preacher has made it his business to stand up for those under his charge, knowing that no one else in America would do so.

Black pastors have always been labeled as radicals when speaking truth to power. In every era of American history their message has been repudiated, denounced and rejected.

Today I have the opportunity to attend a church that does not separate salvation from the social struggle. I can’t say that I agree with every word that comes out of my pastor’s mouth. But would that be possible for any parishioner at any church? What I do agree with is his willingness to speak out against issues like an unjust war. History recalls Dr. King taking the same unpopular stance against the Vietnam War years ago.

Dr. Wright, a man who retired just last month after a 36-year ministry, now watches as his legacy is distorted and dismantled, particularly by those who would do anything to see Mr. Obama fall short in his bid for the White House. Years of evangelism and outreach have been reduced to 30-second sound bites and clips on YouTube. Dr. Wright, even with his most difficult opinions, deserves much better than that.

I am the son of parents who were forced to sit in the balcony at the movies and who had to wait until all white patients had been seen before the doctor would visit them. The resentment that still lingers among those who lived through that era is not lost on me.

Unless America accepts the challenge levied yesterday by Barack Obama, the country will remain in a state that is neither red nor blue: The state of denial.


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