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May 6, 2008                                



                You Really Don’t Know Us


I really don’t follow politics much anymore.  It is with much sadness that I have followed the Jeremiah Wright episode.


I have done precious little research or due diligence.  I don’t have a TV and have never watched a video on YouTube.  I can only go by the one-sided articles that I have read that do a lot of summarizing and are full of mischaracterizations.


I attend a lot of different churches.  When I go to a church with a pastor like that I surmise Rev. Wright to be I am bombarded with a series of emotions, some of them conflicting.  How wonderful it is to be in a place with soul; a house of God where no one is embarrassed to show how much they love Him?  Even if the voices are not pitch perfect, the praise and worship is almost always powerful and full of spirit.  There is always deep compassion for the difficulties of life in America for a brother or sister, especially if they are low income.


Often I am surprised by the quality of the knowledge of the Lord and His ways that emanates from the pulpit.  The people are invariably friendly and quick to give a hug.  But.  There’s that troubling word.


I know that in almost every circumstance I will see a pastor trying to put on a show and making it about him or her and not Jesus Christ.  Too many African American preachers adopt a syncopated style that ends every perceived important point with some emphatic unintelligible expression; usually, “a huh!”  This gives the presentation a staccato rhythm that many are used to from childhood.  I don’t know where it came from or who so many ministers are copying, but it’s tired. 


This type of foot stomping, minstrel show gyrating may be alright for the Cotton Club (or any club) or “Showtime at the Apollo” but it has little place on a pulpit at church.  It’s supposed to be about the Word and praising Him.  Sometimes the reverence and dignity gets lost in the showboating.


Other ministers adopt the affectations of Martin Luther King, Jr.  This is better, but there is little originality or authenticity to the preaching.


I don’t mind all of this so much; it is sometimes entertaining.  The big problem is “it.”  It is that inevitable statement that will come that makes me cringe and say, “I can’t believe he just said that—in church.”  It will be non-biblical, ungodly and possibly full of hate, narrow-mindedness or ignorance.  Of course, these short-sighted comments are by no means limited to black churches, but that’s a different story.


Having said that; I have to admit spending a good portion of the last week defending Jeremiah Wright on comment boards on the Washington Post’s website, among others.  I wasn’t so much defending what he said as criticizing the hypocritical double standard evident in the mainstream media’s coverage of this story. 


Anyone who has spent a lot of time around black churches and blacks would not be surprised by most of what he said.  It was as if all African Americans were demonized for not having politically-correct views.  Not only was this against the constitutional notions underpinning the First Amendment, it also discounts and overlooks the black experience.  Apparently, to many people we are still invisible over 50 years after Ralph Ellison’s book. 


The Spirit was telling me that getting this word out there is essential.  A true and godly racial reconciliation is impossible without it.  The post-Pentecostal community described in the book of Acts (2:44-47, 4:32-35) is impossible without overcoming this racial divide at long lost.  How are we going to embrace the world when we can hardly stand to look at each other?


So many blacks are so interested in seeing Barack Obama win the election that they are willing to ignore the ham-handed way he has treated Wright.  They do this knowing full well that their pastor has similar views and they may have just been discussing these issues and “carrying on” like he did at dinner last night.


I’ve noticed that most whites who bothered to comment beyond the electoral issues just don’t get it.  It wasn’t until Sunday, to my knowledge, that a major figure in the media came down hard on this hypocrisy (“The All-White Elephant in the Room,” a Frank Rich op-ed from the New York Times).


This past week has merely confirmed for me something that I have noticed for quite some time about my white brothers and sisters.  Your children play CD’s by black artists and know some of the street lingo.  You who paid attention during the 1960’s and 70’s have some of this down too.  Our athletes and comedians are often looked up to; it’s real life that presents a problem.


The problem is, these aspects of black culture that you embrace and/or emulate are in many ways the most shallow and superficial.  Don’t even get me started on rap “music.”  White America: the problem is; you really don’t know us.  Come on, come check us out, it’s been a long time.


We know you.  I can understand it if some kid from a low income neighborhood says something ignorant that he heard about Jews or whites from others in his community who never really knew any themselves. Or, some white kid saying something hateful if he came from a place with no blacks.  But, I expect more depth, more understanding, more open-mindedness and more forgiveness from white adults who have had significant interaction with African Americans of all types for years. 


To the media, you should be ashamed of yourselves.  Honestly, the rest of us should be ashamed of ourselves for letting us be misled.


The conversation is long overdue.


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