Monday, April 28, 2008


Your missionary to Capitol Hill, Washington, DC, Rob Schenck, reporting:

I just got back to our ministry center after spending the morning as a guest at the National Press Club for an address by the highly controversial long-time pastor to Barack Obama, Dr. Jeremiah Wright. His purpose was ostensibly to explain and defend the Black church to a hostile audience, but I thought he went on to do more alienating than bridge-building.

In any case, I wanted to talk with him personally, and miracle of miracles, that happened! In an overflow room with very tight control and security, it seemed impossible to access America's newest religious celebrity. Never one to shrink back, I boldly introduced myself to one of his handlers and explained who I was. She was very warm and accommodating and immediately escorted me past the impenetrable rope line directly to Dr. Wright.

As always I tried to be as warm, congenial and deferential as I could. I introduced myself and extended a warm welcome on behalf of the National Clergy Council (my other hat in Washington), but quickly went to the matter at hand. With all due respect, I admonished Dr. Wright, warning him about the error of his Marxist informed "liberation" theology. I told him it was incompatible with the Gospel and was the source of his trouble.

That's when I realized Dr. Wright isn't all that interested in a "dialogue." A dialogue is exactly that, a two-way form of communication. It involves both parties listening as well as talking. Dr. Wright wasn't interested in talking to me, but quickly dismissed me and dropped his head into his notes. He then mounted the podium and went on what began as a thoughtful, carefully crafted defense of the Black Church and its history. It stayed that way as long as he stuck to his printed notes and teleprompter. As soon as he strayed, though, it quickly degraded into a sometimes diatribe against all those who don't understand his church or him in particular.

Instead of a noble and transcendent message--and a formal, humble defense--this became a "working out" of Jeremiah Wright's personal issues with a lot of people. I found particularly disturbing his intimidating behavior toward the young woman chairing the proceedings. It fell to her to simply read the questions posed by members of the audience by way of submitted index cards. (One of mine was selected: "Does God love the white racist in the same way he loves the oppressed black American?" Good answer--John 3:16!) Notwithstanding the reasonableness of the questions, Dr. Wright often leaned into the young lady, clearly violating her personal space, and acted as though she had authored the questions. At one point he seemed to almost physically bully her.

At no point would he concede that he had perhaps chosen the wrong words, allowed his temper to get out of control, or was the least bit wrong in anything he has said or done. He wouldn't answer the most controversial questions put to him. As time went on, he came off more and more dismissive and cocky.

Though I have been a critic of Dr. Wright, I went into this meeting with an open mind. I have spent a lot of time fostering relationships between white and black Christians. I have served in extended times of ministry in a large and all-black congregation. Our ministry has partnered with black organizations, often funding their efforts with no assertion of control or even visibility. We are right now co-hosting the annual National Bible Reading Marathon at the US Capitol, run principally by a black congregation pastored by a white minister. Sadly, Dr. Wright did little to strengthen such relationships and partnerships. I suspect he did more damage than good.

Please pray for Dr. Wright and his lovely wife and children. God help him to see the error of his ways and the power of Matthew 23:12, "And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted."

My assessment: I have a lot to learn, a lot to listen to and a lot to work hard to overcome, but so does Dr. Wright. May he have ears to listen and a heart to change!

More later . . .

Rev. Rob Schenck
Faith and Action
109 2nd St, NE
Washington, DC 20002

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for doing the job no one else seems equiped or willing to do. I believe you wound up talking with exactly who we thought you'd be talking with, because, if it looks like a duck, etc. etc. We pray for Pastor Wright, and especially his congregation- can you imagine the outcome of a steady diet of that stuff?! Bing