While in Columbus, Ohio, on business (and to sneak in some "family time" with my mother, two brothers, and sister who live there!), I heard Rev. Jeremiah Wright speak at Ascension UCC, Sunday, March 22, 2009, at 8:30 am.
It was a beautiful, sunny spring day with a crisp morning chill and the promise of warmth later on and I was sharing an experience with my sister, D'Ebrar who has followed in my Baptist father's footsteps and become a minister.
Our father died eight years ago and I recall him saying things as provocative and stinging as the statements made by President Obama's former pastor in those much-played video clips.
Actually, when I was in college serving as editor-in-chief of the newspaper at a state-supported black college that Hugh Downs correctly stated was once called "the Uncle Tom College" when he interviewed its President, I wrote things far more revolutionary than anything said by Rev. Wright or my father in the underground newspaper I published in retaliation for not being able to quote The Last Poets in the school paper.
I wanted to hear and see Rev. Wright in person to affirm what I believed and what the media missed: Jeremiah Wright is no less anti-American than those of us who have believed in and fostered dissent since the birth of this nation.
Was Thomas Payne unpatriotic when he wrote "SOME writers have so confounded society with government, as to leave little or no distinction between them; whereas they are not only different, but have different origins. Society is produced by our wants, and government by our wickedness; the former promotes our happiness POSITIVELY by uniting our affections, the latter NEGATIVELY by restraining our vices. The one encourages intercourse, the other creates distinctions. The first is a patron, the last a punisher"? (Payne, Common Sense, 1776)
While Wright's language was strong and considered excessive by many in those video-clips, it was not as strong as the language used by Frederick Douglass in his Fourth of July Speech.
"This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day? If so, there is a parallel to your conduct. And let me warn you that it is dangerous to copy the example of a nation whose crimes, lowering up to heaven, were thrown down by the breath of the Almighty, burying that nation in irrecoverable ruin!"(Douglass, "What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?", July 5, 1852).
Now, if that was all of the speech, I doubt that there would be schools named for this great American. However, these words were also spoken that day eleven years before the start of the Civil War: "Pride and patriotism, not less than gratitude, prompt you to celebrate and to hold it in perpetual remembrance. I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation's destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost" (Douglass).
Fortunately, this historical speech was recorded in its entirety and those passages that some might find offensive weren't be taken out of context. My task when I went to see Jeremiah Wright was to put into context what the media effectively sliced and diced to create the biggest sensation.
What I saw was a classic black preacher at his finest. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is noted for his oratorical skill as well as his actvism; however, I heard orators as great as Dr. King every time I walked through the doors of a church growing up, especially when I heard my father.
Rev. Wright, who many will always regard as unpatriotic because of one or two statements made to emphasize the "wickedness" of government that used fear to push an agenda that was not necessarily in the best interests of the people, preached a sermon in Columbus. He didn't deliver a revolutionary manifesto or scream hatred from the pulpit as so many believe he does.
His sermon was brief and effective, demonstrating that he is not only a good orator, but a theologian. His text was Isaiah 43:1-5, and he talked about the warnings given by the prophets before the fall of Babylon.
I really believe that regardless of how he may say it, Rev. Wright is only trying to warn us about the dangers of power and corruption - not because he hates his country; but because he loves it.
I am a strong believer in the dissent that I as an American am allowed to express with my government as a constitutional right. Only when such dissent is expressed can we break with policies like the ones put forth by the last administration, which though once popular, were rejected by the majority of American people eventually when it was revealed they were not in the best interest of the people.
Actually, the most unpatriotic statement I've heard anyone make in recent memory was the one made when told that the majority of Americans did not support the war in Iraq, former Vice-President Dick Chaney said, "So?"