God Bless America, or God Damn America?
As promised, here are Ed Blum's " 'God Damn America' in Black and White" and Ralph Luker's "Jeremiah." Both explain the historical origins of some of the rhetoric of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, lately of Barack-Obama's-minister fame. Both of them, in their own different ways, make the point Blum summarizes here:
What is striking, historically, is that there is nothing new in Wright’s sermon and how often African American perspectives on so-called American Christian nationalism are ignored. If we look closely at African American perspectives of Christian nationalism, we find Reverend Wright firmly in a long oppositional and rhetorical tradition.
Luker puts Wright in the tradition of Vernon Johns and other African American "Jeremiahs":
"The Almighty God himself is not the only, not the, not the God just standing out saying through Hosea, 'I love you, Israel.' He's also the God that stands up before the nations and said: 'Be still and know that I'm God, (Yeah) that if you don't obey me I will break the backbone of your power, (Yeah) and slap you out of the orbits of your international and national relationships.' (That's right)."
Those words from a jeremiad sound like something by the Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ. He's much quoted this weekend as having said: "God damn America." But the first quotation comes – not from Wright, but from Martin Luther King's first address to the Montgomery Improvement Association on 5 December 1955. Both African American preachers understand prophetic biblical preaching far better than those who feign shock at and condemn Jeremiah Wright's words.
Prophecy and politics can be difficult to mix, which, presumably, is why Obama is backpedaling a bit. But without prophecy, then politics loses something it can't do without.
Kevin Levin at Civil War Memory nails it here: In the end, I don't see much of a difference between Wright's pronouncements and the following by Frederick Douglass: "What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?" Or consider the following from Martin Luther King: "[T]he greatest purveyor of violence in the world today [is] my own government."
By the way five years ago this week George Bush made a decision to invade a foreign country that was not a threat to the United States. There is still no end in sight. Stop worrying so much about Wright's words and focus on a man whose words and actions have resulted in the deaths of close to 4,000 servicemen and women along with countless innocent Iraqis.
Just to add a bit to that: today's Wall Street Journal features an excellent extended piece by Gina Chon, "Iraq, 5 Years On, A Nation of Refugees," which details the immense costs of the war, including the four million Iraqis internally displaced or forced into refugee status outside the country. Never mind the $2 trillion (that's a T), and counting, cost at home. Embrace your inner jeremiad, and count the cost of hubris and mendacity, buried in the ground.