I don’t fear liberation theology. I’ve spent many Sundays in predominantly black churches. For a whole year before I moved out of Columbus back to northern Ohio, I attended Bethel Missionary Baptist Church on the Near East side of Columbus. For a whole year before leaving to teach English in South Korea, I attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Oberlin. I’ve visited a number of other predominantly black churches, too. I can assure you that black churches are definitely not all alike, though many do draw upon liberation theology when relating scripture to our day. But though a great many of them draw upon liberation theology, I would say only a very tiny percentage of the pastors teach that America invented AIDS to commit genocide against African-Americans. In fact, I’d never heard any pastor other than Wright preach that message.
And of course, Wright can preach what he wants to preach. I’m not going to urge him to be politically correct. He can decide for himself what he says. He’s protected by the First Amendment to our Constitution.
I think many pundits misunderstand liberation theology. It may be worthwhile for the news media to investigate liberation theology, because journalists, on the whole, are among the most clueless when it comes to religion.
Some pundits have taken issue with an agenda within predominantly black churches that’s very Afro-centric. These pundits try to equate this Afro-centrism with David Dukes racism, saying that if the words “black community” were taken out of the agenda and replaced with “white community,” blacks would have a problem with it.
I have a totally different interpretation of the Afro-centric agenda, a much more harmless one, from what I have absorbed while attending predominantly black churches. The Afro-centric agenda acknowledges that the black community lags behind the white community in several respects. The Afro-centric agenda serves the purpose of closing that gap. It is a pro-active approach. A self-reliant approach. A pull-themselves-up-by-the-bootstraps approach. A Booker T. Washington approach, if you will. If the Afro-centric agenda succeeds, the black community can be a beacon to other communities. Others, who aren’t black, would do well to put many of these practices to use in their own lives, too.
If liberation theology is an evil concept, then we should eliminate Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa is not religious per se. But Kwanzaa does highlight principles (Umoja=unity; Kujichagulia=self-determination; Ujima=collective work and responsibility; Ujamaa=cooperative economics; Nia=purpose; Kuumba=creativity; and Imani=faith) that lend themselves to an agenda of improvement within the black community, and there are commonalities between the celebration of Kwanzaa and liberation theology. I see no harm in embracing these principles and creating an agenda around it within the black community.
Among the works I studied in my African-American literature class at Ohio State, were three slave narratives. A quarter at Ohio State is only 10 weeks long, so the professor decides what he wishes to emphasize during that 10 weeks, as there isn’t enough time to cover everything in depth. The professor decided to emphasize the earliest African-American literature, slave narratives. As you can imagine this literature described some very inhumane conduct by slave owners. After Emancipation, a share-croppers life was still filled with horrors. Life with Jim Crow was no walk in the park either.
But my African-American literature professor put it all into perspective for the class. He said that though American history was not kind to the black community, and though racism still exists in modern America, he said that the United States of America was the greatest nation on earth. He pointed out that blacks can enjoy a better quality of life and rise to greater heights in America than anywhere else on the globe. He challenged the students this way: “If you think that there is some other country better than the United States of America, then you just haven’t traveled enough.” The professor said he loved to travel, and that he had traveled to more than 60 countries on 5 continents (I think Australia and Antarctica were the two continents he hadn’t visited). But as much as he loved to travel, he was always glad that he could call America his home, and he always looked forward to returning home.
I think, really, that’s what’s unsettling about what we’re hearing from Rev. Wright. He offers such scathing criticisms of America, but hasn’t talked about the silver lining behind the cloud. Even in the slave narratives, one is struck by the positive frame of mind the writers were in. They saw the silver lining in every cloud. Rev. Wright is now retired, and he is wealthy enough to move practically anywhere on this globe that he wants to move to. Somebody needs to put Rev. Wright on the spot. Someone needs to ask him why he lives in America.
Rev. Wright . . . why do you live in America? This isn’t a question to try to demean your religion at all, this is a question about your personal preference. After all, you have the means. You can go anywhere. You don’t seem to like our nation, based on what we’ve been hearing out of your mouth. Is there some reason you’re still here? So please tell us . . . why do you live in America?
So far, I haven’t heard any journalist put that question to him. I think his response would be newsworthy. Wouldn’t you want to hear what Rev. Wright has to say about that?
Better yet, Barack Obama could finally put the rancor over Rev. Wright behind him if he were the one that publicly asked this question. Envision a huge crowd of 30,000 gathered in an arena to hear Barack Obama give one of his electrifying speeches. Imagine him taking the stage and uttering these words:
“Rev. Wright, I’m sure you’ll hear this speech, so I have a question to ask of you. I said publicly that I suppose I really didn’t know you as well as I thought I did. I just want to know one thing. Why do you live in America? You have the means to live the rest of your life anywhere you want on this planet. I want to know why you live in America. **pause** As you all know from my tax returns, which I made public, I also have the means to live wherever I want. Let me tell you why I live in America. Let me tell you why I speak of hope when I speak of America. Let me tell you of the beauty that I see in America. . . (insert powerfully inspirational patriotic speech like only Obama can deliver here).”
Like Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, I give Obama permission to plagiarize the words I have just written. Senator Obama, if you give this speech, not only will you put Rev. Wright behind you, you’ll probably put the San Francisco remarks behind you, and most importantly, you’ll probably put Hillary Clinton behind you.
Now, all you bloggers in the Obama camp, forward this advice to Obama, because he needs to gain some traction with voters once more, and he needs to do it fast.