The Chicago Teachers Union is in the process of forming an independent political organization that will promote and support candidates with more populist credentials, especially ones that will fight the city’s policy of shutting down dozens of neighborhood schools and opening charter schools that are publicly funded but privately managed.
On Jan. 15 the CTU held a breakfast in honor of Martin Luther King Jr., and invited the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to give a keynote address. This was a natural choice because before retiring in 2008, he had been a pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, a congregation in a largely black neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago made up of working class people and the poor. When he became pastor there in 1972, the struggling congregation had only 87 members but more importantly, a challenging motto and vision statement: “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.”
When Wright retired 36 years later in 2008, the congregation had over 6,000 members. Its program of ministries included soup kitchens, day care, drug and legal counseling, mentoring for young people, tutoring for kids, women’s health programs, an HIV/AIDS ministry, a credit union, book store, a 300-member choir, and many other ministries. When a young Barack Obama came to Chicago and began working as a community organizer on the South Side, he sought out Wright for his knowledge of the neighborhood. He then began attending there and was baptized by Wright who later officiated at his and Michelle’s wedding.
Wright was a powerful preacher with a keen interest in peace and justice issues. He was also deeply grounded in the Bible’s prophetic tradition of Amos in criticizing those who oppress the poor and crush the needy, focusing especially on the sins and hypocrisy of the political and religious establishment. The verses in Amos 7:10-13 describe what still happens today to those who prophesy against power structures in such a way. They are told to shut up, go back home, and be less disruptive.
On April 13, 2003 Wright’s prophetic bent got him into trouble with the establishment. In a sermon entitled “Confusing God and Government,” he described how our American government had put its citizens of Indian descent on reservations, its citizens of Japanese descent in internment prison camps, and its citizens of African descent in chains, slave quarters, on auction blocks, in cotton fields. inferior schools, substandard housing, scientific experiments, lowest paying jobs, outside the equal protection of the law, keeping them out of their racist bastions of higher education, and locking them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness. The government, he said, gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants to sing God Bless America. “No, no, no. Not God Bless America; God Damn America!.. God Damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God Damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme.” If he had said “God Condemn America,” he might have escaped the resulting firestorm, but instead he used the less genteel version.
These excerpts from his sermon were widely publicized on network television in early 2008 without any acknowledgment of the fact that Wright’s sermons invariably convey a more complex message than simple sound bites can express. Wright later commented, “People don’t understand ‘condemn,’ the root, the etymology of the word in terms of God condemning the practices that are against God’s people.” He went on to say, “Obama is a politician. I’m a pastor. We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds.” In May of that year Obama and his wife withdrew their membership in the Trinity congregation.
Last week on Jan. 15, Jeremiah Wright, now pastor emeritus of Trinity UCC, gave the keynote address at the Chicago Teachers Union’s breakfast in honor of Martin Luther King. Between 200 and 300 teachers and local pastors gathered to acknowledge King’s legacy as a crusader for social justice and union rights. Nothing illustrated the difference between the two worlds of religion and politics more clearly, however, than one of Wright’s comments: “King said, ‘I have a dream.’ Barack said, ‘I have a drone.’”
Both men had received the Nobel Peace Prize. But note the difference in their conception of peace and how to obtain it. Obama has engaged in targeting suspected nameless militants for assassination in foreign countries with which the U.S is not at war. It has been estimated that the U.S. has killed some 4,700 people abroad with drone strikes, outside of declared war zones. For example, the Obama administration has increased by 600 percent the drone strikes in Pakistan that the Bush-Cheney administration had initiated. The European Parliament recently issued a statement of concern about the legal basis, as well as the moral, ethical and human rights implications of the United States’ targeted killing program that authorizes the CIA and the military to hunt and kill individuals who have suspected links to terrorism anywhere in the world. So far, the U.S. has not responded to this statement of concern.
In addition to the drone program, Special Operations forces comprising 72,000 personnel are now deployed in 120 countries around the world to maintain an American imperial presence in critical locations and to facilitate military
engagement where necessary.
Martin Luther King had a much different idea about peace and the things that make for peace.
• • •
This column by local writers is dedicated to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world of peace and justice. Opinions expressed in “Lion and Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff. For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.