Excerpts from Jeremiah Wright’s first interview with a broadcast journalist since the controversy over his remarks and his relationship with Barack Obama are posted below. The interview will air on Bill Moyers Journal on Friday, April 25 at 9 pm on PBS. (Check local listings at www.pbs.org/moyers.)
The persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly.
When something is taken like a sound bite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public. That’s not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they want to do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a “wackadoodle.”
It’s to paint me as something: “Something’s wrong with me. There’s nothing wrong with this country…for its policies. We’re perfect. Our hands are free. Our hands have no blood on them.” That’s not a failure to communicate. The message that is being communicated by the sound bites is exactly what those pushing those sound bites want to communicate.
What do you think they wanted to communicate?
I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ. And by the way, guess who goes to his church, hint, hint, hint? That’s what they wanted to communicate.
They know nothing about the church. They know nothing about our prison ministry. They know nothing about our food ministry. They know nothing about our senior citizens home. They know nothing about all we try to do as a church and have tried to do, and still continue to do as a church that believes what Martin Marty said, that the two worlds have to be together. And that the gospel of Jesus Christ has to speak to those worlds, not only in terms of the preached message on a Sunday morning but in terms of the lived-out ministry throughout the week.
What did you think when you began to see those very brief sound bites circulating as they did?
I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue. I felt for those who were doing that, were doing it for some very devious reasons.
Did you ever imagine that you would come to personify the black anger that so many whites fear?
No. I did not. I’ve been preaching since I was ordained 41 years ago. I pointed out to some of the persons in Chicago who are in all of this, new to them that the stance I took in standing against apartheid along with our denomination back in the ’70s, and putting a “Free South Africa” sign in front of the church put me at odds with the government. Our denomination’s defense of the Wilmington Ten and Ben Chavis put me at odds with the establishment. So, being at odds with policies is nothing new to me.
The blowup and the blowing up of sermons preached 15, seven, six years ago and now becoming a media event, not the full sermon, but the snippets from the sermon and sound bite having made me the target of hatred, yes, that is something very new and something very, very unsettling.
Here is a man who came to see you 20 years ago. Wanted to know about the neighborhood. Barack Obama was a skeptic when it came to religion. He sought you out because he knew you knew about the community. You led him to the faith.
You performed his wedding ceremony. You baptized his two children. You were, for 20 years, his spiritual counsel. He has said that. And, yet, he, in that speech at Philadelphia, had to say some hard things about you. How did those words…how did it go down with you when you heard Barack Obama say those things?
It went down very simply. He’s a politician, I’m a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. But they’re two different worlds.
I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes, he responded as a politician.
In the 20 years that you’ve been his pastor, have you ever heard him repeat any of your controversial statements as his opinion?
No. No. No. Absolutely not.
I don’t talk to him about politics. And so he had a political event, he goes out as a politician and says what he has to say as a politician. I continue to be a pastor who speaks to the people of God about the things of God.
In this new book, longtime organizers and movement educators Mariame Kaba and Kelly Hayes examine the political lessons of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath, including the convergence of mass protest and mass formations of mutual aid. Let This Radicalize You answers the urgent question: What fuels and sustains activism and organizing when it feels like our worlds are collapsing?
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