Prophetic Anti-Obscenity: Another Reader on Rev. Jeremiah Wright

But is it not the theological function of prophetic speech to talk precisely ‘as if’? (“Tolerance and the American Pulpit,” Mar. 22, 2008)

One of the major functions of prophetic speech is to castigate society for its failures to follow divine precepts. One of the great precepts of both Judaism and Christianity is the responsibility of those who have to care for those who have not. Examples of this are the Old-Testament duty of farmers to leave behind some food in the fields for the poor to glean so that they may eat, and the fact that Jesus is so frequently shown caring for the poor (to the extent of washing the feet of beggars) — he didn’t serve the military and the politicians, he served the downtrodden and the cast-off. I’d suggest that this is really about all one needs to know about liberation theology. Both Judaism and Christianity are rooted in the idea of social justice.

The great majority of Americans are misled to think that the function of the prophet is to tell the future. The job of the prophet is to call upon society to adhere to the principles of social justice. This was as true for Jeremiah Wright and Martin Luther King,, Jr., (especially after he was enlightened about the relationship between racism and American imperialism and militarism — much like the revelation that Malcolm X experienced on his Hajj) as it was for Amos and Jeremiah.

Jesus and Malcolm and Martin Luther King, Jr. were all killed because the “good people” — those who benefit from our injustice towards society’s victims — couldn’t bear the criticism. And that’s why the hue and cry after Jeremiah Wright. How dare he tell his congregation (and the rest of us, now) that this nation’s actions in Iraq, etc., are just as damnable as they were in Viet Nam, etc.? His repetition of “God Damn America” was using the prophetic voice as a contrast to the obscenity of the imperialist-militarist repetition of “God Bless America”.

Best wishes,
Joel Shimberg
Quaker old-time fiddler

NOTE: “The Rev. Jeremiah Wright got a raucous standing ovation when he entered Saint Sabina church on the city’s South Side on Friday night . . . He also sang “Happy Birthday” to [Maya] Angelou, whose birthday is April 4. . . . He recently scrapped plans to receive an award in Texas, and to speak at churches in Houston and Tampa, Fla.” (AP, March 29, 2008).

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