Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright
A few days ago, on September 22, Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright celebrated another rotation around the Sun. God bless and keep him, in the name of all that is holy and divine! Amen. Ashe. Amen. Ashe.
I often think of Rev. Wright and his work, now more than ever, since I recently entered the seminary. Rev. Wright is a remarkable man of God, scholar, and Black liberationist. If I had a calling on my life to pastor or preach, I would study every detail of his journey, practically imbibe his sermons, meditate on his teachings, and attempt to comprehend his special brand of grace and fearlessness—if I had a calling on my life to pastor or preach. But alas, others proclaim to have a calling. Why are they not—or why are not more—Black pastors and preachers gathering at the feet of Rev. Wright and other folk of the cloth who imbue Black liberation into Black theology?
I entered the seminary primarily to reflect on and strengthen my relationship with God, give scholarship to my understanding of God and religion, and to authorize myself to not ever separate church and state—not intellectually or spiritually. Any of us who seek God and walk in faith to serve the Black community in any spiritual capacity can nary afford to make the distinction between church and state. Our suffering—the masses of Black people’s oppression—is government-sanctioned. And despite the narrative that is fed to us via white politicians and theologians, liberation is spiritual. Fighting for liberation is a ministry.
Rev. Wright continues to be a torchbearer for Black liberation theology. What does that mean? It means he has been a leader in promoting and conducting the theological preparation of Black ministers with emphasis on using faith as resistance to that which stifles the freedom and self-determination of Black people. He has taught at Chicago Theological Seminary and elsewhere. Served on countless boards and civic organizations. He is one of the co-founders of the Proctor annual conference. Named for Samuel DeWitt Proctor, a minister and one of Dr. King’s mentors, the conference’s mission is to” nurture, sustain, and mobilize the African American faith community in collaboration with civic, corporate, and philanthropic leaders to address critical needs of human rights and social justice within local, national, and global communities.” I imagine this means that they are not turning away from imperialism, a pre-eminent threat to Black folks globally. Come on, stay with me.
But even before Rev. Wright co-founded the Proctor Conference, he had already been looking to other elders-now-ancestors who believed the Christianity that we should practice is not what was handed to us on plantations to control and dehumanize us. Our Christianity needed to be relevant to the Black experience marred by insufferable discrimination, degradation, and deprivation. To be Black and Christian is not synonymous with being an irreversible, irretrievable, irredeemable servant to the master, Ephesians 6:1 that the white settler beckoned, in word and deed, we were: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear, and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ.” Like for real? We’re buying that as the word and intent of God?
Wright was a student of James Hal Cone, the innovator of Black liberation theology. In his book, The Cross and the Lynching Tree, Cone wrote, “Without concrete signs of divine presence in the lives of the poor, the gospel becomes simply an opiate; rather than liberating the powerless from humiliation and suffering, the gospel becomes a drug that helps them adjust to this world by looking for “pie in the sky.”” This is resistance. This is standing in the pulpit and preaching that Black folk need not wait to get to heaven to experience our full humanity. We can not be simultaneously made in God’s image and designated into perpetuity as the world’s scuff. That is not of divine nature. And, as importantly, we are not wrong, ungrateful, or disobedient when we resist a mandated wait until we get to the other side of Glory to experience a collective joy.
As a seminarian, let me offer that theological preparation is designed to hold accountable our interpretation of the Bible, that we are studying the Bible, religious faith, and practice critically and in the context of tradition, culture, community, and behavior to develop a sound philosophical and scholastic grounding. It is not an endeavor to be right or wrong religiously, but to be anchored spiritually and philosophically as we respond to our Divine calling and go before a people. Since forever, I have heard preacher after preacher commend the poor widow in Mark 12:43-44 for giving her last coins and living by faith. But when you read more closely, in the context of Mark 12:38-40 and Mark 13, we can discern that Jesus is referring to how corrupt the religious leaders are who control the Temple, and the widow giving out of poverty was an exploitation of her condition (thank you, Dr. Carey). Stop telling poor Black people to act in faith and give what we do not have. That is counter-revolutionary.
Rev. Wright and Rev. Cone are examples of theological grounding in practice. We see their work not omitting but committing to help Black folks walk in faith as we change the conditions of our collective. Equally as important, their work rebukes Satan, the first liar, the rulers, the authorities, the imperialists by calling them into the light. Rev. Wright was not considered controversial during Obama’s presidency simply because he was nourishing Black folk on the gospel. No sir, no ma’am. He became problematic because he called out America for her many sins—when he unapologetically identified this nation as an incessant domestic and global terrorist and used the nation’s history to document her ruthless raids.
As a seminarian, I am so blessed to have these men of God as extraordinary examples. The calling on my life is revolution, and I know that God has a place in that revolution. Our resistance to the liars, rulers, and authorities to set our people free is holy.
As a writer, historian-in-the making, and life-long student of Black Power, I’ll leave you with a bit of trivia: who do you think Rev. Cone studied and who’s work he used as the basis for his Black liberation theology? None other than arguably the greatest thinker in Black liberation in the 20th century—Malcolm X.