Preaching and Politics: Hod in Gevurah
Tonight begins the 12th Day of the Omer (May 1 - May 2, 2008).
May that part of me that is broken in Hod in Gevurah be healed on this day.
Today, I listened to significant portions of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's post 9/11 2001 sermons that included "Gad Damn America" and "The chickens have come home to roost" (interpreted by many to mean Wright believed the US deserved 9/11).
The sermon in which the phrase "God damn America" appears is about the unchanging nature of God compared to the changing nature of governments. It was U.S. governments that permitted slavery and Jim Crow, but all along God was on the side of justice. The "God Damn America" wasn't a generic criticism of the U.S. It was tied each time to a conditional, "when she..." Watch the 20-second sound byte compared to the 10-minute of context version.
The sermon in which "the chickens come home to roost" appears is about the senselessness of killing and the cycle of violence. His review of the history of the white man pushing out the native Americans as well as going over the history of slavery was meant to promote perspective before pursuing revenge. He didn't paint revenge as an unreasonable response. In fact, he taught from Psalm 137 which tells a seemingly God-sanctioned story of revenge. He's just hoping and encouraging us to break that cycle of violence. He never justifies the 9/11 attacks or blames the U.S. for their occurrence. Watch the 20-second sound byte compared to the 10-minute of context version.
His sermons spoke in the voice of a preacher, not a politician. Indeed, Wright has spoken about the difference of the preacher/politician roles at the National Press Club this past Monday:
Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites, based on polls, Huffington, whoever’s doing the polls. Preachers say what they say because they’re pastors. They have a different person to whom they’re accountable.
As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I’m still going to have to be answerable to God November 5th and January 21st. That’s what I mean. I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do.
Wright transgressed when he thrust himself into the world of politics at this time. This is especially disappointing after his laudable tzimtzum (self-withdrawal, making himself smaller) that he achieved prior to his recent speeches.
Wright's inability to see the de-contextualizing of his 2001 sermons by opponents of Obama as an attack on Obama, not him or the black church, is a misreading of the situation that could be costly to the Obama candidacy. There is growing anger in the African-American community about Wright's recent behavior. One expression of this can be found, with analysis, in an article by William Jelani Cobb on the NewBlackMan blog.
Barack Obamma's response to Wright's National Press Club appearance was remarkable and inspirational. When I first heard about Reverend's Wright thrusting himself on the national stage this week in a way that would certainly be damaging of Obama, I was sad.
I was also concerned that Obama's need to fully distance himself from Wright would negate the message and power of the nuanced speech he gave at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia a few weeks ago. But seeing Obama respond again with elegance, honesty and courage, was inspiring. Though I guess some will see this as a flip, I see Obama's response as revealing himself as a passionate man, clear about his values and who he is, responding to circumstances that are real.
Preaching is Hod, the grandeur of prophecy. Gevurah with its earthiness and potential harshness and evil includes the realm of politics. The recent events reflect Hod in Gevurah that are not in dialog, but spinning at cross-purposes.
On this day, I wish for a healthier merging of the two, one in which preachers and politicians can play their important, but different, roles in encouraging the citizens of every country to work to make a better world.