By Joe Ortiz
As a person who formerly functioned as an evangelist (1979 to 1985), I had the privilege of preaching at many of the predominately black churches in South Central Los Angeles. Also, as one who was deeply involved in the civil rights movement (from 1969 through 1999) I also had the privilege of working with mostly African Americans in South Central Los Angeles, as well. One of those efforts was serving as the press deputy for then California State Senator Diane Watson when she ran for the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in 1992 against Yvonne Burke, a former US Congresswoman.
Obviously during the campaign, I always went along with Senator Watson whenever she had speaking engagements throughout the district, which consisted of visitation to many of the predominately black churches in South Central Los Angeles. One of the things that I noticed during those church visits was that the style of preaching at predominately black churches was centered on liberation theology and the social gospel. I also visited several Latino churches as well as many Anglo Pentecostal churches and, while the Latino and Anglo Pentecostal worship services were highly demonstrative (speaking in tongues, dancing, etc.), they did not have that unique “whooping” style that is solely endemic to black preachers.
The black church is known throughout most African American communities for its focus on social gospel issues, including equality, jobs, education, etc. During moments of crisis the black church is also where local residents go to meet and discuss issues surrounding a variety of events, as it did after the August 29, 1992 not guilty verdict that was rendered in the famed Rodney King case, where he was assaulted by LAPD officers. Immediately after the verdict came in, the city broke out into the infamous 1992 LA City Riots.
I was among the many of Los Angeles’ community (and the only Latino) leaders who joined together at the famous First AME church in downtown Los Angeles, a church recognized as one of (if not the) top black churches in Los Angeles to discuss ways to stem the violence. The predominately black establishment (Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley, LA City Councilmen Mark Ridley Thomas and Michael Woo (the only Asian) and many other black leaders and elected officials gathered together during the moments leading up to the verdict. The church was then led by the legendary Pastor, the honorable Reverend Cecil Murray.
I say all of this to establish a backdrop to my involvement in the African American community for over thirty years, a proud life’s journey that has made me feel like an honorary member of not only the African American community, but of its churches as well.
Knowing the heart and soul of this proud community, I now find it immensely difficult to believe that the recent remarks by Senator Barack Obama, where he states he did not hear any of the incendiary speeches being made by his Pastor of 20 years, is a denial that rings a shallow note on the political harpsichord.
There is no way Obama can convince many politicos and pundits (in the know) that he is telling the truth about how close of an association he had (or did not have) with Reverend Wright. In addition to his deep relationship with Reverend Wright, most of the people Obama associated with throughout his community organizing work in Chicago, he had to interface often with many African American leaders and street folks who basically feel they have been denied the opportunities to become members of the predominate community, and share in the American dream. There is still much pain in black communities throughout America; a pain Obama and others reflect in numerous conversations amongst themselves. You don’t sit together for a cup of coffee with a “brother” without making a few remarks about “the man.” This is why most African Americans are supporting Barack Obama, because he is (supposedly) one of them!
But now, Barack Obama has turned his back on not only Reverend Wright, but on many of his former black associates and constituents when he threw Reverend Wright under the bus for political expediency. I can understand why the Reverend Wright is upset and chose to clarify his position! And he tried; but the mainstream media has turned the story line around to save Obama’s hide.
However, what most of the public and media fail to understand is where the Reverend really stands on this entire matter. To him, this is not about Obama and his campaign; it’s about Reverend Wright’s mandate from God!
He spoke about this on his interview with Bill Moyers. Wright did not deny his controversial comments to Moyers but actually reiterated that controversial sermon where he yelled most vociferous and damning remarks, “God Damn America!” Moreover, Wright continued to share more of his comments to Moyers to put his remarks in greater context:
“God is the giver of life. Let me tell you what that means. That means we have no right to take a life whether as a gang-banger living the thug life, or as a President lying about leading a nation into war. We have no right to take a life! Whether through the immorality of a slave trade, or the immorality of refusing HIV/AIDS money to countries or agencies who do not tow your political line! We have no right to take a life,” adds Wright.
What most media pundits and commentators do not understand (nor many members of the cloth, for that matter) is that Wright was expressing God’s indignation by rebuking the historical behavior of this country. This is why Reverend Wright chose to share his views in Detroit and with Moyer’s program. He felt he had to stand up during these various media appearances and make a clarification; not for his personal sake, reputation or for the political whim and expedience of the Obama campaign, but for God!
Dr. Marvin A. McMickle, who earned his doctorate from Princeton Theological Seminary, [and an author and pastor of Antioch Baptist Church in Cleveland, Ohio], has written a great book entitled “Where Have All the Prophets Gone? (Reclaiming Prophetic Preaching in America), where he presents volumes of scripture-based facts that prove the American church has lost its prophetic voice. He said it has been replaced by mostly a prosperity and social gospel. It lacks the prophetic preaching of justice and equality:
“When the Southern Christian Leadership Conference organized in 1957, it did so with a clear mission statement’ to redeem the soul of America’, said McMickle.
“The people who gathered in Atlanta for that founding event were essentially a group of preachers who were possessed by a prophetic zeal for justice and righteousness. Their focus was not simply on the Fourteenth Amendment and equal protection under the law; their focus was on the Exodus story and on God sending Moses to Pharaoh with the words, ‘Let my people go’.”
McMickle went on to say that out of the tradition of biblical prophets, God blessed our nation with the presence of preachers such as Martin Luther King, Jr., James Lawson, Ralph Abernathy and many other men of God who were willing to lay down their lives (as King did) to speak forth God’s word of justice and righteousness. Reverend Jeremiah Wright is among these brave prophets.
In essence, Reverend Jeremiah Wright is speaking boldly (with great risk since he has already been threatened with bodily harm) about injustice and unrighteousness that pervades our country’s leadership, especially by its government. He probably didn’t speak his indignation in a proper language nor in an acceptable tone.
Well, neither did the prophets of yesteryear, such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jeremiah and other patriarchs in the Old Testament; nor apostles in the New Testament such as Peter, Paul, James and others who were beheaded for speaking the same Gospel of justice and righteousness.
Unfortunately, Barack Obama, who supposedly has been a Christian (for at least 20 years), who supposedly has read his Bible, who supposedly went to church to hear Reverend Wright’s sermons for wisdom and biblical knowledge, has turned his back and denied a close friend and mentor for his own political expediency. Yes, Obama may have dodged a bullet by renouncing Wright during his news conference earlier this week.
Yes! Obama may win the nomination, and even be elected President, but it will not be due to a prophetic calling, but simply a political one. So much for change we can believe in!
Joe Ortiz is the author of two recently published books, The End Times Passover, and Why Christians Will Suffer Great Tribulation. (Author House Publishing) He is also the first Mexican American to ever host a talk show on an English-language and commercial radio station, beginning in Los Angeles at KABC Talk Radio in 1971.