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Separating pulpits and pundits


Ovetta Sampson
  • Ovetta Sampson

Every few decades, something happens that shocks us into remembering the dichotomy of this country's creation. It is no secret America has the dubious distinction of being called the world's liberator, while perpetrating injustice through history. Our forefathers shouted their eloquent pitches for liberty from rooftops of homes built by the numerous human beings they owned.

This time, the words that reopened our country's bewitching wounds came from a black preacher broadcast on CNN. You know his name. You've heard what he said. You've seen his own congregants ridicule the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. While delving into his incendiary sermons has become a second job for political pundits, I ask you to switch gears and dig deeper, to look at what Rev. Wright's rhetoric has really revealed.

Wright's words which, by the way, are neither new nor particularly insightful have floated around the "black church" for years. What some call seditious is simply summarizing the thoughts and feelings of many black folk.

Heck, even privileged blacks understand the painful legacy of slavery. As Condi Rice says, "... black Americans loved and had faith in this country even when this country didn't love and have faith in them and that's our legacy."

Which is why, when the Reverend's words were first broadcast to the mainstream, presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama didn't denounce. He politely demurred. Obama couldn't condemn a black preacher for voicing what many blacks felt was the truth. It wouldn't have been politically expedient.

So Obama engaged in an honest, personal dialogue about race. He acknowledged the oppression of the past but insisted on providing hope for the future.

But Rev. Wright had to keep talking. On CNN. With Bill Moyers. At the National Press Club. On and on, as his rhetoric became more shrill, his attacks more blunt. They went beyond the moral admonishment that clergy like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. espoused about America's racial history. Wright delved into the left-wing basement of the Democratic party, where government conspiracies (i.e., creating AIDS to kill minorities) live and thrive. Attacking Obama for being a "politician," Wright jumped into the spotlight. As a result, Obama has denounced his preacher of 20 years. And rightfully so!

Rev. Wright mixes politics with religion in a way I find offensive. His rhetoric condemns without offering reconciliation. He admonishes without hope. He doesn't point the finger at white America; he jabs it into the jugular, spewing venomous phrasing along the way. Yet he is allowed to do so because he's a preacher.

The real lesson in all this is that, Sunday, it seems, is the only day you get a pass on hate speech, whether it's Jerry Falwell saying the Lord loves segregation or Jeremiah Wright saying Jesus was oppressed by rich white people.

Sunday is the only sanctioned day for racism, bigotry and sexism. It's the only day you're allowed to congregate with the "like-minded" and speak against the "unlike-minded." You can condemn and judge those who don't fit your mold of Christianity, who don't follow your logic or line of thinking.

Too often, what's said on Sunday sounds more like Goebbels than the Bible. It reads more like the Washington Times or New York Times editorial pages than the Ten Commandments. It's your pastor. not precinct captain, telling you how to vote.

Rev. Wright's tirade has revealed politics is not far from the pew. That's not surprising, but what's intolerable is massaging the Message for personal politics. You don't like blacks, so you find something in the Bible that remotely condemns other races and make it a sermon's centerpiece. Or you have contempt for white people, so you find a sliver of scripture supporting your hateful speech and wrap it in Jesus talk.

Instead of Sunday being about the poor, the oppressed, children in need, love for one another, having compassion, and changing a dying world with the love of Jesus Christ, our churches have become like FOX News, with a running commentary on contemporary issues that have nothing to do with loving your neighbor.

I'm a proponent of separation of church and state. But what I'd like more is a separation of church and hate.

A writer, editor and former newspaper reporter, Ovetta Sampson is a community activist who has lived here 12 years. She is also a delegate to the 2008 Democratic state convention. Respond to her at

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