Getting it Wright

After his faith footnote, Wright returned to a less political reflection, saying, “Now, now. C’mon back to my question to the Lord, ‘What should our response be right now?'” [full text] After recount the surreal experience of being in NYC when no flights were leaving, and recounting some of the horrors of the terrorism in NYC, Wright continues, “I read what the people of faith felt in 551BC. But this is a different time, this is a different enemy, a different world, a different terror. This is a different reality. What should our response be.”
“The Lord showed [Rev. Wright] that this is a time for self-examination,” and specifically “the Lord said, this aint the time for you to be examining other folks relationship this is a time of self examination.”

This is exactly what my preachers were saying in that time. The thrust of this sermon is to ask Americans to pause before moving on to anger. It was intended to remind them of the log in their eye and the blood on their hands. I understand Obama’s response to this sermon, and others like it. I think at the point of his Philadelphia speech it made sense to denounce the implication that American’s deserved 9/11 but not to denounce the man who is much more than those comments.

Next, I will look at the more recent statements that Wright made in direct response to the controversy. These public comments were intended for media consumption, and for that reason I am inclined to treat them differently. You can find links to those comments, and an informed point of view from Dr. Bob Howard in the comments to my last post on the topic.

2 replies on “Getting it Wright”

Damn. I just had a really long repsonse lost because I’m in a crappy hotel with a time limited public internet terminal and it’s too late at night for me to recreate the whole thing.

Upshot was, I’ve read the link to the complete sermon, and I’m hard pressed to read ANY sense of “America deserved it” or “America is the bad guy” or anything politically partisan at all. It seems a very straightforward message of “violence begets violence” and being justified in fighting back doesn’t mean fighting is a solution. Understanding the differences between “terrorism” and other political violence is important, of course, but not really relevant to the point of this sermon. And I definitely don’t see his evocation of manifest destiny, slavery, Nagasaki, carpet bombing, and the like as being justification for 9/11. He’s only pointing out the simple and obvious truth that depending on your personal history and perspective you can see a lot of crimes you might want payback for, and what does it get you if you succumb to that default response?

And I think the comparison to Falwell’s statements is quite apt. Falwell clearly stated that America was being divinely punished for its sins (not for killing people, but for letting certain people have sex). From my interpretation, Falwell was basically in agreement with the stereotype of the Islamic terrorist, hating America for our freedoms.

Now, Falwell was pretty heavily bashed for his idiocy, and it’s just bad luck for the Dems that Wright couldn’t have been (unjustly) lambasted for his views seven years ago so it wasn’t a “news” story now.

I went back to what I myself wrote the week after 9/11, and whether it is more or less well handled than what Wright wrote, I feel like we hit upon some similar sentiments in certain places. I’ve pasted two particular passages here. The rest, if you’re interested, can be found under “9/11 Journal” on the “words” page of

“An inconceivable number of people are dead. Chances are that before this is over, there will be many many times more, most of them in distant lands with minds and hearts so different from mine that I could never imagine them. But those strangers that my country (and therefore I) will punish for their actions, and those strangers that my country (and I) will unfortunately punish for the actions of others, will be no more strange to me than the people who have died here. They will be no more strange to me than my countrymen whose vengeance will overpower their better angels. They will be no more strange to me than the true nature of friends, loved ones, and anyone who isn’t me. And I will never know for certain what they think and feel or why, or if they are truly as strange and barbaric and inhuman as they can so easily seem.

In practical terms, in the necessary and true rational world that requires us to defend and to attack, we, and by definition I, will cause the deaths of human beings as surely as these terrorists have done so, and we will be absolutely right to say that our noble ends justify the means. And maybe those ends will come about, and someday far from now there will be no people who are strange to us, and these feelings that we experience now — the hate and fear and sorrow and guilt and most of all the disconnection — will be the foreigners, and that these horrors ever existed will be the only things we don’t understand.”

from later in the week, upon a visit to the vigil/memorial in Union Square:
“There are so many people taking pictures of the messages we’re walking around. I try to read them all, to see if there is any one that I could take home with me that would sum up what is said here, but there are too many to be represented by a part. Many flags, many prayers, sometimes accompanied by a picture of a loved one who hasn’t called home yet. Many declarations of defiance, of strength, of unity, of support from visitors and foreigners, many symbols, many drawings of two square towers alone against a soft white cloud or a tear. Many Gods blessing America. Many many thanks to the firemen and cops and emt’s. And of course there are the screams. The raging demands for justice, vengeance, retribution, punishment, a place to direct and unleash that quiet anger. But more than all the rest combined, never conquering the dialogue, but the strongest, clearest, most persistent voice in the room calls for peace. Salaam. I try twice to add my assent to that voice, but both times I stand up disappointed in my attempts to express myself. I think that the word I need to add, and can’t bring myself to write, is forgiveness. I notice it doesn’t exist, even among the peace and love in this square. I try to imagine a way in which all the governments and all the people of them that ally to hunt down the perpetrators and the supporters of this destruction find their quarry. And taking them in the sights of the firing squads, drop their rifles and forgive them. And that somehow in that moment, we all have the most enlightened sense of empathy, and we realize that we are all each other, and it is no longer a question of doing unto others as you would have done, because there are no others. But I think of Nazis, and of slave traders, and of genocides, and of these madmen, and I can not see myself in them, and I can’t bring myself to empathize, and I justify it by saying that these people have never once and never will empathize with me, and I know that that’s just an excuse for my own weakness, my own inability to love enough to overcome their hate. So I say my insufficient peace, and I take the last train home.”

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