Friday, April 11, 2008

Wright Stuff calls attention to an article in the Dallas Morning News about reaction from black preachers in the Dallas area to the "surprising" content of some of the sermons of Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama's former pastor. Surprising, that is, to whites whose images of black preaching comes from iconic memories of Martin Luther King, Jr. preaching to the country during the civil rights struggles of the 60's. As I pointed out in a previous post Wright was echoing anger expressed by King himself in some of his own sermons.

And as the Dallas Morning News article points out, this venting of frustration by black American preachers from the pulpit is not unique:
The controversy is letting white America in on what was well-known to black Americans: A profound distrust of government and other institutions is preached in varying degrees from black pulpits – and shared by many in the pews...

"Our history in America says that we are not shocked by his statements," said the Rev. Frederick Haynes III, senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas.
Where does this distrust come from? From this kind of history, perhaps:

History fuels the distrust – particularly the infamous Tuskegee Experiment. For 40 years, beginning in 1932, nearly 400 black men with syphilis were enrolled in a health study to be treated for "bad blood." They were never told they had syphilis and were not treated for it because the doctors wanted to do autopsies on men who died with the disease.

The government only admitted what happened in 1972, after the Associated Press broke the story. The near-universal knowledge of that experiment among African-Americans grants credence to other health-related conspiracies.

"Certainly not in my lifetime will there ever be a sense of resolution and total trust in the medical system because of that," Dr. Reed said.

Meanwhile, racial inequities in health care continue to be documented. Just last month, a study of California's Medi-Cal managed care program identified significant differences in care for poor blacks, compared to poor people of other races.

"No matter how you slice it – in terms of the disease burden, outcomes, access to care – there is a disproportionate impact on communities of color, and particularly on the African-American community," Dr. Rawlings said.

Does this excuse vitriol coming from the pulpit? No. I think we who have the privilege of speaking on behalf of Jesus to our congregations are challenged to channel our anger at injustice into non-violent messages of compassion for our enemies and peaceful resistance to injustice. But I am also a very privileged white suburban American; I have never walked in the shoes of the oppressed, so I am loathe to cast stones at a preacher whose life experience is vastly difference than mine.

I am also somewhat amazed at the media attention Obama's pastor has drawn while candidates from the conservative end of the spectrum cast their lots with the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells and James Dobsons of our country who have been spewing vitriol for decades on our national airwaves at America and those they disagree with. Did we just expect more from our black preachers, or is there a double standard at work here?

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