Perhaps you were as moved by Barack Obama’s speech on race as I was, and as intrigued with the responses as well. Last year, at Professional Days before the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly, we heard Rev. Jeremiah Wright as our keynote presenter. He was impressive—learned, provocative, inspirational.
Our tradition of preaching is quite different from most Black preaching; our theology does not grow out of liberation theology, though we might use it. Rev. Wright has built a strong and important liberal church on Chicago’s Southside, and has been an important figure in recent American religious history.
The Lutheran theologian from the University of Chicago, Martin Marty, often attends Trinity Church and counts Wright as a friend. Marty is white and mainstream, and a senior spokesman for mainline Christianity. Wright is no racist, and his sermons are certainly in the tradition of the Biblical prophets, the Puritan divines, the preachers of the 1st and 2nd Great Awakenings in the US, the best of Unitarian Universalist preaching, and a liberal version of much of Christian fundamentalist preaching. Remember Falwell and Robertson claiming that 9-11 was God’s judgment on America—and Katrina, too!
Part of preaching is to call the powers that be into question. Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dali Lama, Ghandi—they all held their countries up to a higher standard and damned the evil of their world. We need more Jeremiah Wrights, not fewer. And we need more courage to face race in our country. Jefferson said he trembled because if God were just, he could only condemn the US because of slavery. We have all been wounded by racism—all of us. It is the stain in our country’s soul.
I want to talk about this during my sermon on April 13. Obama called for a national conversation on race. Let us have one at Neighborhood Church. If we can’t do it, why should we expect anyone else to? I know that there are divides between our members of color and our white members, and I know there is a great deal in common as well. The bonds are there, so let’s use them to explore this wound, and be a part of a healing process.
Rev. Dr. Jim Nelson
Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church