It's About More Than Color

March 17, 2008

Pastor Jeremiah Wright has unleashed devilish forces. In this country, at a particularly sensitive time, when we Americans are balancing our many hopes for the world, he has heaped fury onto the scales and thrown us out of balance. 

The People's Press, modern media outlets, free...and explore subjects not sanctioned by the more liberal press, has brought Rev. Wright into the center ring...and held him there. All lights have been shining on his act this week, revealing an uncomfortable truth. Prejudice is not restricted to the color black. 

I married into a Hispanic family, a mixture of Mexico, Venezuela and Colombia. By nationality and marriage, our hues of brown range from rich espresso to pale café-au-lait. In the security of family love that permits acknowledging truth uncommon in the common press, we have witnessed the rare and uncomfortable situation where it is suspected that a family member is favored based on their position on the color wheel.

In this presidential election cycle, we had nationally prided ourselves that we could rise above the divisions of race and evaluate the caliber of presidential candidates on qualities more than skin deep. Rev. Wright has ended this false pride...and our silence on race.

Everyone has something to say. And most of it needs to be said. Silence about race has allowed us to pretend that it doesn't factor into the judgments people will be making when they pull the lever at the polls.

But the wider discussion in the media has missed the deeper implications of Rev. Wright's passionate sermons. We treat his statements as public speeches delivered from the podium to an audience. Not so. 

These were sermons delivered from the pulpit by one who has presumed to be a teacher, for which he will be more strictly judged. The scriptures are full of fire and brimstone. And we humans must sometimes be startled into righteousness by a sermon that comes from the belly. But in our righteous anger, we must sin not. If vengeance comes, it must come from the Lord. 

If the media walks fearfully around issues of race, it is even less capable of reporting on issues that involve religion. For the most part, hampered by lack of intimate scriptural experience and biased by caustic suspicion of people of faith, reporters are missing the core meaning of Rev. Wright's sermons and Obama's presence in the pew. 

The essence of Christian faith is the essence of Rev. Wright's folly. Reporting on this story outside the meaning of the Christian faith is like reporting on race relations in America while denying the presence of slavery in America. 

Christianity...the life of a response to sin, that unavoidable part of our human nature. Why do we sin? And how do we deal with sin...all of it...racial prejudice...and lust, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and do we deal with our human nature? 

As a Christian, Rev. Wright had assumed the privilege and responsibility of preaching the good news from Christ, sharing the words of Christ, a message which came from the Father.

He brought to the members of his church the eternal message of hope. But the hope of Christ did not rest on blaming others for our sins. Even less did it rely on threatening other sinners with damnation.

It's a hard Gospel of love. We are not given shortcuts. Love is the reward at the end of a straight path. Peter spoke for us, asking Jesus, "Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?" 

It was a question back then, just as it is today, with an unwanted answer. Not seven times, but seventy times seven. If our jacket is stolen, do not stop him from taking your tunic. The hope for humanity does not end in brotherly love until we get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

This is religious truth that is the essence of why Rev. Wright's words should matter to Obama, and why they should matter to us. One chooses a church very carefully. We may continue to attend, even when we wish they sang different songs and had pews instead of chairs. But we dare not embrace the message of a church that refuses to deliver the message of Christ. 

Beware, fellow Americans. We were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. [Gal 5:13-15, NIV] 

Rev. Wright is not a wayward uncle to be humored so as not to disrupt the annual family gatherings on the Fourth of July. He is the spiritual leader of the flock, tending his sheep. 

A flock that cheers a message of hate will never be a flock that delivers a message of hope to our matter how pretty the speech.

In his Christian responsibility, Obama might have used his influence over the years to redirect Rev. Wright's heart to spiritual truth. But if this had been his course for twenty years, resulting in an intransigent refusal of Rev. Wright to rewrite his sermons, Obama should have sought out a new church. He would not have founded a national political movement "inspired" by this particular "spiritual mentor."

Sitting in silence for twenty years, surrounded by the joyful jeers of parishioners cheering on a message of hate, is more the sign of one more sheep in the flock than of a shepherd who can deliver on inspiring promises of worldly hope. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.

Obama claims a Christian faith. His claim to faith is about so much more than the color of our skin. It is why the words of Rev. Wright matter. It is the real story that should run in The New York Times.

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Copyright ©2008 Jane Jimenez