Wright’s Faith Footnote

The next part of Reverend Wright’s sermon [full text here] is actually something he calls a faith footnote. If you’re a lawyer, you may remember footnote 4 in Caroline Products which provides the bases for basically all Substantive Due Process review and everything else Justice Scalia hates. If you’re an election lawyer, you may even think about footnote 52 from Buckley v. Valeo, which establishes forever and always the “magic words” of express advocacy. No matter who you are, you’ve probably heard of Reverend Wright’s faith footnote.

In his faith footnote, the pastor quotes Ambassador Peck as agreeing with Malcom X, that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost” on September 11, 2001. He goes on to say:

We took this country, by terror, away from the Sioux, the Apache, the Arrowak (phonetic) the Comanche, the Arapajo, the Navajo. Terrorism–we took Africans from their country to build our way of ease and kept them enslaved and living in fear. Terrorism. We bombed Grenada and killed innocent civilians — babies, non-military personnel. We bombed the black civilian community of Panama with Stealth Bombers and killed unarmed teenagers, and toddlers, pregnant mothers and hard working father. [fullest voice] We bombed Khadafi, his home and killed his child. Blessed be they who bash your children’s head agains the rocks.

[fullest voice] We bombed Iraq, we killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed the plant in Sudan to payback for the attack on our embassy — killed hundreds of hard working people –mothers and fathers, who left home to go that day, not knowing they’d never get back home. [Even fuller voice] We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon and we never batted an eye. Kids playing in the playground, mothers picking up children after school — civilians not soldiers. People just trying to make it day by day. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and South Africa and now we are indignant? Because the stuff we have done overseas is brought back into our own front yard.

America’s chickens are coming home, to roost. Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred, and terrorism begets terrorism

First, let us distinguish this comment from that of Falwell & Robertson, who said 9/11 happened because of our permissive society. One of the problems with those statements is that they are nonsense, like saying the terrorist attacked us because they hate our freedom. Also, Falwell and Robertson were saying that God allowed the attacks, or caused the attacks, or some other divine intervention way of looking at the world. Wright’s reference to historical events does not suggest that to me. He doesn’t say we’ve been sinful in our policies, but that they amount to terror.

So, let’s substitute a different sentiment, one in which the causation is similarly plausible. Let’s say a socially conservative preacher claimed that the domestic terrorist who bombed abortion clinics did so because the murdering of the abortionists would come back on them. Or let’s say a politically libertarian preacher said that the federal building bombers did so because the federal government’s repression was held up by implicit violence and that threat was coming back on it. What is wrong with such statements?

I believe it is true that our methods of taking this country from the native people, was wicked and immoral. I believe enslaving Blacks in this country was wick and immoral. I believe we’ve used our militarily unnecessarily. But, why label American military violence as “terrorism”? Much of the violence he lists is distinctly not the asymmetric warfare that we think of as terrorism. There can be no purpose but to equate those actions with the acts of Al Quaeda on 9/11. That is, to say that the former not only causes the latter, but that the former justifies the latter.

I much preferred the sentiments I heard from my ministers. That is, before we do anything, we need to ask ourselves, “Why do they hate us so much?” Recognize that we have some control over the situation, without justifying the acts of violence from our enemies.

4 replies on “Wright’s Faith Footnote”

Hello, Jim. Thought I’d piggyback on this post of yours and offer links to the texts of two recent speeches by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, at the National Press Club and the NAACP.

National Press Club transcript (you’re going to have to paste each section of the URL to get to the correct page):


What puzzles me is how anybody can derive from these speeches any possible “hatemongering” or “bombast,” much less self-promotion. And so far, after a brief, unscientific survey of criticisms, I haven’t been able to spot clear identification on the part of Wright’s critics of exactly what phrases or attitudes are considered “bombastic,” “divisive,” antisemitic, or “anti-American.” The pattern that does seem to form is a general ignorance of the traits of black preaching, and a concerted over-reaction to any form of substantive critique — especially (dare we say it?) from a person of color. An educated, articulate, critically-thinking person of color. Note that, as Frank Rich so eloquently points out, the MSM has ignored John Hagee, the fundamentalist televangelist to whom John McCain came seeking his endorsement (not, we might add as a droll aside, his own pastor of many years). Check Rich’s column from this past Sunday’s New York Times.

Bob Howard


I think Hagee is a big deal, although, I don’t think we should assume he’ll be ignored. The media love Obama and McCain, but they love a juicy story more. I think the comparisons may still well come up.

What do you think of the issue I raised about the difference between causing and event and deserving the outcome? Do you disagree that Wright’s speech suggests that America deserved the attack on September 11 as retribution for our own acts of terror?

I recognize that is what the Old Testament prophets said. But, is it right? If your child has ignored your advice and cause something terrible to happen to him or her, isn’t there a difference between saying, “Child, can’t you see that your actions caused this to happen,” and “Child, you can’t what you deserved.”?


You push a salient point in making the distinction between the mere noting of a relationship of causation on the one hand, and justification of an act on the other. And, true, Wright’s choice of the word “terrorism” for the actions of any political state may not be strictly accurate in the examples he cites. I’ll grant you that much.

But I think Wright is making a different point — which admittedly might be obscured by the above inaccuracies and distinctions. What I heard him saying was that whatever label you slap on the actions by the US in bombing various people, the unilateral actions of our government are likely to cause some sort of a backlash. I got the impression that he was not at all justifying the September 11th attacks, but rather putting them in the category of payback for perceived unjust bombings. And the rhetorical move he made to do so in his sermon was to quote that sentiment from an official of the Bush administration. In other words, although he did agree with the “chickens” sentiment, it originated with neither Wright nor the African American church. In short, he seemed to be saying that if you keep punching people, you can expect that someone sometime will punch back. If we show no respect to the sovereignty of national boundaries, it should not surprise us if other nations — or terrorist groups — begin imitating us. To quote from One who seemed to know a bit about the labyrinthine human heart, “the one who lives by the sword will die by the sword” — and nobody should be surprised.

Peace is just so much easier to live with (hard to accomplish, but much easier on the economy, the neighborhood, the environment, and — oh, yes — the good people).

Bob Howard

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