Further to the what Kinky Friedman calls Obama's "Pastor Disaster," there has been an interesting exchange on the fantastic site Mirror of Justice. Greg Sisk begins it by reflecting on black liberation theology, exemplified by theologian James Cone and practiced by Jeremiah Wright. In Sisk's view, it often goes beyond the identification of injustice and the call for change to the incitement of hatred. He cites Cone's oft-quoted call for a God who hates and destroys:
If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community. . . . Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy.
For Sisk, there is a distinction between anger and hate. He contrasts Cone with Martin Luther King - something that I also do in my Law & Theology seminar.
In response, Eduardo Penlaver makes the whiteness as metaphor argument. When Cone refers to whites, he is referring to a system of oppression and not to individual white persons or even white people generally. He notes that Cone is often moving and prophetic.
I actually agree with the last sentence. As I think I have mentioned on this blog before, I cited Cone in a forthcoming law review article on the exclusion of worship from limited purpose public forums. I use him on the proposition that worship can have profound temporal implications, as it did in the segregation-era black church.
But I'm with Sisk who wries, in response, that "[w]hatever may have been originally intended when the theological terms were being defined in the quiet of an academic office, such rhetoric cannot be contained, especially when introduced to the public.
Most recently, Michael Perry posted this column on Wright by noted Lutheran theologian Martin Marty on his experience with Wright and Trinity Church. Marty found much to like about Wright, so much that, incredibly, he chooses to describe Wright's "fantasies about the U.S. government's role in spreading AIDS" as "distracting," ablbeit "harmful."
I find something slightly condescending about that. In an earlier post, I spoke to the racial etiquette that often distorts conversations about race. There is a notion that white people, to assuage their guilt and prove their good faith, must be "understanding" of exaggerated claims of injustice or, as in this case, crackpot theories of racial malevolence. One of the reasons that conservative talk radio is routinely branded as racist is that it fails to abide by this etiquette (although there are s few talkers who do come to the label honestly.
Marty notes that perhaps Jeremiah Wright was trying to live up to his name, acting as an Old Testament prophet who curses the enemy and calls upon God to strike them down.
Fair enough. The prophets are a major part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. But, for Christians, the Old Testament is not the end of the story. Nor did history stop on the Edmund Pettus Bridge.
What is troubling about Jeremiah Wright is that, notwithstanding all the good that he has done (and I am sure that it is considerable), the incitement of racial resentment and the preaching of a world in which you can't win harms, rather than helps, his congregation.
What is troubling about Barack Obama - what makes all of this an issue - is that he does not appear to have seen that until he wanted to be President.