Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Wright's Jeremiads As American As the Earliest New England Pulpits

Barack Obama's public divorce from his former pastor notwithstanding, a columnist has developed a thought I posted here on March 28th. Rosemary Radford Ruether agrees that Jeremiah Wright's cursing of America has recent precedent from today's religious right. But, she adds, it's also a religious tradition of left and right that's as old as the earliest New England Puritans.

She quotes some of the conservative fundamentalists whose condemnations after 9/11 I alluded to, including Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. She also recalls the judgment of Robertson and John Hagee after Hurricane Katrina that the catastrophe was God's judgment against sexual sinners in New Orleans. (Hagee, by the way, has endorsed John McCain for president. McCain says he disagrees with Hagee on Katrina, but he won't disown anyone who supports his candidacy! Sounds familiar.)

After noting that the prophet Jeremiah condemned Israel for sins both sexual and social, Ruether cites similar jeremiads by John Winthrop, the first governor of the Puritans' Massachusetts Bay colony, in a shipboard address while the settlers were still at sea; and by Nicolas Street, pastor of the New Haven Congregational Church during the American Revolution.

Another contribution Ruether makes to the discussion is to quote one of Wright's more infamous passages at greater length: "The government gives [black people] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America--that's in the Bible--for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

The full context reinforces why Wright says God condemns America: above all for our self-worship, our lording it over those less well-off and powerful than us, instead of being the servant people the Puritans hoped we would be.

This does not relieve Wright or Obama from specifying the limits within which Wright's assertions are true. But it does indicate that Wright made some effort to do so.

[Apologies, by the way, for misspelling Ruether's last name in my April 9th post.]

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