Thoughts on Obama and Wright


The blogosphere is buzzing about the relationship between Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama and pastor Jeremiah Wright.  The questions are numerous.  The main issue among some Christian bloggers has been Obama’s proximity to Wright’s version of Afro-centric Christian theology and it possibly hurting his bid for the White House.

My question: why should Wright’s version of Afro-centric Christian theology hurt Obama? why is this an issue?  

Is it because the label “afro-centric” is a qualifier? and thus far Obama (contra his political opponents) has distanced himself from the race issue.  Given our current political and racial climate in the United States I would to.

But what’s wrong with afro-centric? Especially when much of Christian theology for the past 500 year or so has been “euro-centric”.  Of course we haven’t called it “euro-centric” Christian theology.  We’ve just called it “Christian”.  Kind of like “person” meant “white person” for many centuries. Or like “rational”, “pure”, “normal”, “clean”, “articulate”, etc. meant “white”.

Of course those who are uncomfortable with the qualifier afro-centric Christian theology or black theology would do well to understand the historical and social reasons why black folks use these qualifiers.  They only reveal their racial privilege by their ignorance of why black folks have had to do theology in this light.  

Here’s a truth about afro-centric theology that often goes missing in these discussions: it is a theology that seeks to re-affirm black humanity and resist the congenital effects of white Supremacist Christian culture.   It is an attempt to cure black folks  (and hopefully other folks) of racial self-hatred and ‘apocalypse’ the pervasive genetic defect of white supremacy in North American Christianity.

Note: it is a strange irony that a theology that seeks to affirm black folk’s being made in the image of God and that seeks to resist the long history of white supremacy in North American Christianity would be considered ‘racist’.  Its the strangest of historical ironies. 

What unconscous habits would lead one to make such a charge?

My suggestion to folks uncomfortable with the qualifier “afro-centric”: read indigenous black church history.

Start here:

And for something a little more palatable if you don’t like black Christian radicals:
I’d start here rather than rely on Sean Hannity for theological references.

 Initial thoughts…. 

22 thoughts on “Thoughts on Obama and Wright

Add yours

  1. Good points, all of them. Wright makes some key points in the sermon of note (at least the segment I saw), and comes with the fire and fervor that scares white people. He spoke the truth with the passion of a prophet that shocks the collective white psyche. Instead of taking such an opportunity to collectively spend some time in reflective silence, in the face of fear white folks label Wright a racist.

    Also, I’d add Du Bois to the list of Afro-centric writers and indigenous black church history, especially his spiritual short stories found in The Crisis.

  2. I heard talk radio people freaking out so I listened to a couple ‘suspected’ sermons by Rev. Wright and decided that if this is the faith informing Obama then I can’t wait to vote for him. Before this I was planning on voting for Clinton.

    Another irony is what became the staple of western theology was mostly developed by Africans in Alexandria, Carthage, and the big dog Augustine.

    Glad you are back on the web.

  3. Anthony,
    Good thoughts. My concerns are the statements such as “the government created HIV” and others that do not seem to build anyone up. Am I missing something?

  4. Having checked out the sermons, they don’t freak me out or disturb me, in regards to Obama. What his preacher says would only concern me if he was getting a cabinet appointment!

    The theology within the sermons is an interesting take on God’s judgment and the sins of governments and people. I appreciate the corporate effects of sin, and think that someone like Walter Wink has a lot of great things to say about it that are more Biblical than Obama’s pastor. The white church, (hey that is me and we need a better name, taking suggestions!) does, however need far more Afro-Centric influence in its theology. Much like the positive influences of Liberation theology, it gives voice to the margins which can greatly impact us all.

  5. Anthony, thanks for speaking into this serious situation.
    Obama’s comments today felt quite historic.
    Hope we have a chance to meet at the Purple State of Mind
    screening next week.

    Have a blessed Holy Week!


  6. Good thoughts – the only point where I thought he really stepped out of line was when he started openly endorsing Barak. Other than that – it was a pretty standard critique and with a lot of good points.

    On the other hand – I’ve been totally impressed with Barak’s response.

  7. Thanks to everyone who responded to this issue. Obama was wise by jumping right back to the issues.

    Craig. I’ll definitely be seeing you at the screening. Looking forward to it.

  8. Anthony,

    I appreciate your thoughts here. As I watched the video clips of Rev Wright the past couple weeks, I thought, “Am I the only white guy out here that thinks he is right on? What is the big controversy here?” Hillary DOESN’T know what it is like to be called the N-Word!! There IS such a thing as white privilege in this country! To me, he seemed to be speaking from a standpoint that most white people don’t know of – so how can white people have much to say in criticism of him?

    While I think this is the case, I feel like Obama’s speech in response to all the craziness was historical! As I heard someone say, “Finally, a politician is speaking to us about racism as though we are adults”.

  9. I’ve enjoyed following this post. In this morning’s Atlanta paper, was this op-ed comment was sent in by a reader:
    “‘Barbie’ case shows color of justice

    When I heard that the “Barbie Bandits” would be sentenced, I thought: We will see if the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s theology has any merit. It does! When one young blond bank robber is given only probation, her sentence does not fix the crime. The scene from a Malcolm X movie keeps coming to mind. When Malcolm X and his friend and their two white female companions are in court, Malcolm X and the black friend are given hard time. The females are given probation. Look at this current case. Who is serving the hard time? I don’t understand how these two young women could commit the same crime and only one has to serve time. This is the type of justice that drives Wright to deliver messages that remind us that there are two different justice systems in this country, one for (white) well-connected folks and one for the poor (black) folks with no connections.”

    I think she has a point…

  10. I had the privilege of studying History of the Black Church, while at SCUPE, with Dr. Wright as my professor. I related in so many ways not only to his insights about African-American history and the Church, but also in how it applied to me as a Latino from Harlem, NY. I was not surprised though to see him and TUCC maligned in the media via sound bites. I find it interesting that the media didn’t cover John McCain’s endorsement by Rev. John Haggai with the same passion? I appreciate your comments and references. By the way Dr. Wright and I are still good friends.

  11. The white-black relationship has always been a colonial relationship in America. Blacks have always been given boundaries different than whites in all institutions. So to think that religion is any different is another form of denial.

    Pastors are very similar to Presidents in that we have a a choice about which one will serve us. Some denominations do not allow a democratic process in electing certain pastors, however we have the choice to find another church and pastor. We will never find a person that thinks and believes, or has had the exact same experiences as we have, so we choose those that have enough of what we deem important to serve us. In the black community the role of the pastor reaches beyond administration; black pastors are attempting to preach hope back into people that have historically been disfranchised, oppressed, and neglected. There is nothing passive about the fight against the “mind of Egypt.” Whom the son sets free, is free indeed.

    Rev. Wright grew up in the struggle against oppression like many pastors. Surely people don’t think he’s the only pastor preaching messages like this one.

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