A day of Jeremiah Wright: In Dallas church this morning, Detroit NAACP Banquet Sunday evening
I guess it’s because I have seen Dr. Jeremiah Wright preach so eloquently for so long, I just don’t totally see the need for the media circus that took place today. As a member of Friendship-West Baptist Church the last ten years, I’ve heard my fair share of what some may deem as “socially charged” messages from my own pastor. But I am willing to take a step back and try to understand why others may have views that differ from my own regarding Dr. Wright’s preaching.
Dr. Wright closed out a month long celebration of the 25th Pastoral Anniversary of Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III by preaching at both the 8:30 and 10:45 a.m. services. At the first service Dr. Wright preached from John 5:1-13 with the subject When the Lord Stars in Your Story. In the second service Dr. Wright chose as his text Judges 19:22-30 and used as a subject “When the Church Fails its Women.” It was a timely sermon regarding domestic abuse of African-American women.
Sam Hodges, Bud Gillett, The Associated Press, Debbie Denmon, and I’m sure many other media types came out on Sunday to see what Dr. Wright would say. It was more than just the media. And a number of my white brothers and sisters found their way to 2020 Wheatland Road today. This was a noticeable difference from an average Sunday, with many of those who visited bringing their children.
There were more people at the 1st service than I have ever seen for 8 am, and combined, I think it was the most that we’ve had at our church on a single Sunday. The C.M.E. crowd gave us an extra Sunday this year. You know…Christmas, Mother’s Day, and Easter (see ya’ll again in a couple of weeks).
A friend and I were talking earlier this week about the fact that there would be no video cameras allowed on the property today. “We’re on Streaming Faith (internet broadcast) every Sunday,” the friend said. “You know they have the technology to slice and dice that feed in a few minutes.” He was right. Video of today’s service was splattered all over the nightly news.
So let’s fast forward to this evening and Dr. Wright receiving an award from the Detroit branch of the NAACP. The event is billed as the largest annual dinner in the world where they serve over 10,000 paid guests. That’s a lot of chicken dinners.
Dr. Wright was also the keynote speaker for the event which was carried live on CNN. Their coverage was more thorough than most talks given by the president. It seemed a bit much, but in fairness to CNN they said that they were trying to present a picture of Dr. Wright that was more than a 30 second sound bite. To that end I have to give them credit.
Rick Sanchez anchored the coverage, with commentary by CNN contributor Roland Martin and anchor Soledad O’Brien. As I listened to the way Sanchez relayed the events, I thought about how white viewers who were watching may have viewed the broadcast as compared to African-Americans. In NAACP banquet presentation, I saw some familiar slices of Black life.
Speaking of black life, my wife and I were at a friends house watching CNN over a game of spades. Parenthetically I remember the first time I realized that black folks and white folks play the game of spades differently. There are 3 main differences in the black and white versions of spades.
- Black folks take out the 2 of diamonds and 2 of spades and play with the jokers as extra trump cards. White folks don’t play with jokers.
- At the end of a round, white folks call the cards played “tricks.” Black folks refer to the cards as “books.”
- White folks bid “nil” or “nello” when they have a bad hand. If they get don’t turn any “tricks” after bidding nello, they get a bonus. In a game of spades at a black home if you have zero…that’s too bad.
And so we watched part of Dr. Wright’s address to the NAACP live, and saw a subsequent replay of the speech along with the introduction. I have to first start by saying I’ve been to a number of NAACP dinners, including many in my hometown of Paris, Texas. Ten thousand or two hundred, I didn’t see much difference.
Dr. Wright was introduced by Rev. Wendell Anthony, who is President of the NAACP’s Detroit Branch. CNN’s Sanchez described the introduction as one of “the most passionate we’ve seen.” Rev. Anthony was fired up, I’m sure from the excitement of the evening and the magnitude of the event. But I found myself thinking how some of my white friends may view his words.
There’s no doubt Anthony’s intro was passionate -and long-, but that’s kind of how black folks are. We can be loud at times; especially in our preachers. But loud and angry just aren’t the same thing. Were white viewers asking themselves why was he so angry?
When Dr. Wright approached the microphone to speak he said words that were familiar to anyone who has ever attended a black church with any regularity (yes even CME Christians): “The door’s of the church are now open.” Do they say that at white churches?
Well that phrase is a staple at black churches as an invitation to Christian discipleship and uniting with a church. On top of that, Dr. Wright was joking that Anthony had already preached a sermon.
So then Dr. Wright gave his address to the NAACP. Mr. Sanchez acted as if he were surprised that Dr. Wright used the words Jesus Christ in his speech. Imagine that… a preacher. “I’ve been running for Jesus for a long time, and I’m not tired yet,” Dr. Wright said. Words from a familiar gospel song that I’ve heard at least a million times.
Dr. Wright spent much of his time speaking the talking about the difference between Eurocentric culture and Afrocentric culture. “African music is different that European music,” he said. It is not deficient, just different.
He went on with what I’ve heard described as an “entertaining” speech that had attendees “doubled over with laughter.” Even though this was not a church I must expose a shocking fact: black people do laugh during worship service. As a matter of fact, like every Sunday. And if a black preacher takes over a congregation is not somewhat entertaining, he or she should make sure to keep their resume current.
The paralysis of analysis followed with experts and pundits. I think Soledad O’Brien made the best point when she said that Dr. Wright will remain a story throughout the election cycle. I agree with Soledad that it is better to meet the story head on than to let others create the story for you.
And with all that I heard of Dr. Wright today, two sermons and a banquet address, my thoughts have not changed.
- Dr. Jeremiah Wright’s homiletics are unsurpassed and in the tradition of the greatest preacher of the Christian faith.
- Black preachers have always spoken truth to power. There are some who continue to fill that needed role and there are others who feel that time has passed.
- Many Americans will not be able to appreciate the value of Dr. Wright’s words -especially to the African-American community- because they are unwilling to acknowledge the inherent differences between churches with predominantly black congregations and those with mostly white parishoners.
What’s news to some is another day at church for others. I wish it would all go away, but I know that it won’t. I’m glad that Dr. Wright has the courage to stand up for what he believes in, and fight against this unfair, undeserved portrayal of his ministry. There are a lot of people who are learning more about others through what has been a painful process. What man meant for evil, God meant it for good.
Photo by KATHLEEN GALLIGAN of the Detroit Free Press