Sunday, April 27, 2008

Rev. Wright in Better Context in Bill Moyers PBS Interview

I just saw Bill Moyers' lengthy interview PBS interview with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright - Barack Obama's former paster, who has been the center of considerable controversy for his "God damn America" and other inflammatory statements.

I urge everyone to see it, because the sound bites that the media have presented, up until now, have taken Wright's comments seriously out of context.

Let's look at his "God damn America" sermon, as one example. Now, I think America is the most free country in the history of the world. Despite its many flaws, I feel happy and lucky to be living in the nation that Thomas Jefferson helped create. So those three words, taken on their own, were and are highly offensive to me.

But Rev. Wright did not say those just those three words in his sermon. He started that part of his sermon with a list of nations whose abuse of power, whose attempts to act like God, made them "fail". He mentioned Germany, Japan, Russia, and England (actually, the British Empire).

Then he got to America. He spoke of our massacre of Indians, our enslavement and auctioning of blacks, our enforcement of their poverty, poor education, second-class citizenship even after they were finally freed during the Civil War. And clearly, when you see that entire part of his speech, Rev. Wright is damning not America but those things that America did. And who would disagree with that? Who would say that there is not a crucial difference between America's finest ideals - "all men are created equal," as said in the Declaration of Independence - and the scourge of slavery and racism? Who would say that slavery and racism should not be damned?

Now, I might have put the phrasing a little differently were I making such a speech. I would have said slavery and racism are perversions of America, distortions of what is said in the Declaration of Independence, and God damn those destructive perversions of the beautiful American dream.

But that is nonetheless what Rev. Wright meant. That's clear when we see the whole passage and not just a clip.

The media, as a whole, have once again in this campaign done Americans a disservice by presenting small pieces of sermons out of context. Kudos for Bill Moyers and the Public Broadcasting Service for doing the right thing. As Jefferson the author of our Declaration of Independence foresaw, the free, open flow of information eventually brings out the truth.

PS added on Sunday (April 27) evening: I saw Rev. Wright's speech given to the NAACP in Detroit. I found it sage, inspiring, and highly entertaining.
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