Damn you rich! You already have your compensation.
Damn you who are well-fed! You will know hunger.
Damn you who laugh now! You will weep and grieve.
Damn you when everybody speaks well of you!
A rant from a radical preacher? Without a doubt. Someone on the Obama campaign? Well, Sen. Obama says so. That's the Scholars Translation of Luke 6:24-26, and the speaker is Jesus of Nazareth.
In the King James Version, the first part of Luke 6:24 reads "But woe unto you that are rich!" That comes off as quaint and a lot less shocking to modern ears -- not the kind of preaching that nets you space on Fox News. But Jesus meant his words to be shocking. He meant them to strike against the status quo and shake up the comfortable.
God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.
God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.
That's Jeremiah Wright.
Is the vision of a pastor standing in his pulpit shouting "God damn America" shocking? Yes. But don't mistake Wright's (or Jesus') statement for what some drunk in a bar would mean using the same phrasing. Wright isn't saying "FU America!" he's saying "these actions of America are worthy of God's condemnation." He's just saying it in a way that cuts through the Sunday morning sleepiness and makes people sit up in their pew.
From Gandhi to King, it's in the nature of spiritual leaders to grab their audiences by the throat and their nations by the short hairs. This was true at the time of the Civil War and during the Civil Rights movement. Martyrs did not become martyrs by appealing to the status quo.
Don't take this to mean that I agree with every word that Wright spoke (e.g. the United States did not create AIDS), but neither do I feel like his words require that "his church should lose it's tax exempt status" that he's a traitor, or that he's an embarrassment to his church or to Senator Obama -- all comments that have appeared on this site.
Do I think that 9/11 was the "chickens coming home to roost?" Yeah, I pretty much do. Of course the terrorists bear the personal responsibility for their actions and the deaths that resulted. But to pretend that decades of actions overseas had nothing to do with that terrible morning is far more delusional than anything said by Rev. Wright. If you jab a stick into a hornet's nest and shake it for fifty years, the hornets might do the stinging, but you can't blame only the hornets. Actions have consequences, and though we may pretend to both purity of motive and prescience about outcomes, the truth is that violence tends to generate violence in return. Or, as that radical I quoted above said "those who take up the sword, will die by the sword."
The purpose of a good sermon isn't to placate, ease, and make people comfortable. A dangerous religion isn't one that challenges people and makes them squirm. Makes them angry. A dangerous religion is one that is too amicable to what you already think, one that pats you on the head and sends you forth in assurance of your own righteousness. If you want to search for "traitors" in the pulpit, turn your eye toward those who never find anything wrong in the actions of this nation.
I understand why Senator Obama finds it necessary to distance himself from Rev. Wright. There were plenty of things in those sermons that I don't agree with, and I'm suspect many of the ideas that grate on my nerves also strike the Senator as either wrong or unsustainable politically. These days, three isolated words on the news seem far more important than context or intent. But I wish he didn't have to do so.
Because getting your personal beliefs regularly challenged, rather than reinforced, is important.