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Angry Churches--Stuntz

Judging by Jeremiah Wright’s sermons, Barack Obama’s church seems to be an angry place—angry at white America for the many ways it has held back and held down the black community represented in its congregation. I want to write about one source of that anger—crime and criminal punishment—in another post. For now, I’d just note that one can see something similar in a lot of mostly white evangelical churches. There, the target of white believers’ anger is the secular culture that tolerates and even promotes all manner of evil.

Remember Jerry Falwell's comment about September 11? In a televised conversation with Pat Robertson, Falwell said that the terrorist attacks of that day were the wages of America’s sin—and Robertson said “amen.” Falwell and Robertson weren’t alone in that sentiment. And in the 1980s and 1990s, I heard a number of white evangelicals say that the AIDS epidemic was nothing more than God’s wrath visited on those who indulged in sexual sin and drug use. Sentiments like these are rarely heard from pulpits in white churches (at least, I don’t recall hearing them in any sermons), but I think they’re more commonly held than most Christians would like to think.

Falwell, Robertson, and Jeremiah Wright have a lot in common with each other: their instinctive response to what seems to them a morally blind culture is rage and condemnation. It’s incredibly tempting, but it’s the wrong response. Martin Luther King’s approach is the better one, and the one that is more faithful to orthodox Christian belief. King sought not to condemn the white world that sought to oppress him, though he had good reason to seek precisely that. He didn’t ask for God’s wrath to be poured out on those who persecuted him—on the contrary: he sought fellowship with his oppressors; he wanted to wrap his arms around those who rejected him. That kind of love is redemptive, as King’s life and legacy show. The rage that Falwell, Robertson, and Wright have peddled, by contrast, breeds nothing but more rage. Those propositions are ones that white and black Christians alike get wrong, and frequently.


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Comments ( 3 )

I am sorry but it seems to me that you misjudge both white evangelicals, indeed wildly stereotype them, and Martin Luther King. There is no equation to be made between Wright's racist rants against whites and confidence in the providential wrath of God against the wickedness of nations.

Indeed, the biblical dotrine that God acts in history to punish wickedness is the basis for the Christian attitude of peaceful overcomings of evil, not its antithesis. Romans 12:19-21

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

For this reason, in the very words of the Battle Hymn of the Republc, Martin Luther King assured his followers that the outcome of their struggle was guaranteed in time by God because God acts against wickedness in history:

"I know you are asking today, "How long will it take? . . . How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)
How long? Not long, (Not long) because:
Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)
He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)"
(Our God Is Marching On! March 25, 1965. Montgomery, Ala)

Likewise, he reminded his followers that if America failed to reform itself, God would deliver upon it the judgment given to other wicked nations:

"The Almighty God himself is not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, "I love you, Israel." He’s also the God that stands up before the nations and says: "Be still and know that I'm God, (Yeah) that if you don’t obey me I will break the backbone of your power (Yeah) and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships." (That’s right) Standing beside love is always justice, (Yeah)(Holt Street Baptist Church: December 5, 1955)

I respectfully disagree with the above commenter.

Do not confuse the role of the human -- whether that human be a sherpherd or from the flock -- and the role of God. Vengeance, retribution and judgment are the property of God. We are commanded in the New Testament to love our neighbors:

Matthew 22:36-40:
(36)‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ (37)He said to him, ‘ “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (38)This is the greatest and first commandment. (39)And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” (40)On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

I do not hear any love from Rev. Wright, at least towards his white neighbors in this country. I do not hear enough love from the pulpits of white-majority evangelical Christian churches. On the left hand, not enough love. On the other, the "Wright" hand, there is the poison venom of hate. Both are malignancies, but one is far far worse.

Thus, I disagree with the Good Professor that Rev. Wright and Revs. Falwell and Robertson are equivalents. They are not. Rev. Falwell was only theorizing (recognizing?) that the wrath of God had been visited on America. Rev. Wright has out and out called for the wrath of God to descend upon the white race. There is a difference. They may be points on a continuum, but they are not equivalents.

One of the curious things about the American Catholic church is our inability to achieve either the anger of Wright, Falwell et al., and our inability to work up the moral fervor of King. I'm not sure that's a good thing. Instead, I worry that we have become the Church of Laodicea.