Sunday, November 2, 2008

Rev. Wright Returns Right Before Voting

Polemics or Politics

The stated purpose of this blog is to comment on communications more often than not in Central Texas. However, during this weekend before the general election when some nameless group calling itself The National Republican Trust predictably pulled out the preaching of The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, I was agitated. No, I was annoyed. Further, I felt compelled to pull out a little preaching of my own on the subject, first published in a different place earlier this year during the primaries. Preaching is communication. I went to church this weekend in Central Texas. So, it is OK to proceed.

When the media focuses on the preaching of The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the discussion should be about “Pulpit Freedom,” not politics. One might think that a preachers’ prophetic, even apocalyptic prose from the pulpit is rooted in the reformation. Certainly, the freedom to preach one’s mind was one of the driving forces of the reformation. And over the ages, dynamic preachers have helped move a nation’s or a people’s social, ethical, and religious priorities.

But it was in the Age of Enlightenment that Voltaire, the 18th century French philosopher said, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” It was in that spirit that our forefathers drafted the First Amendment to our United States Constitution. This pulpit freedom is embraced by congregations from Anabaptists to Unitarians.

I am most familiar with modern day Baptist beliefs, which would include the polemics of Dr. Martin Luther King, Junior. Certainly, his words changed hearts and minds in both a religious and social context. And, yes, his rhetoric was often emotional and unsettling as well as inspirational. Arguably, preachers are supposed to make their congregants uncomfortable. Preachers are supposed to make their congregants think.
Preachers, pastors, priests, ministers, imams, rabbis and congregation leaders today have a responsibility to preach the truth. And, as the movie script said, sometimes we “can’t handle the truth.” News media snatching quotes with the goal of writing the truth are ill-equipped to interpret the whole of a homily delivered on a given Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. Usurped portions for use in political advertisements violate intent entirely in most cases. Sermon quotations out of context may or may not tell the whole of the truth.

Further, it cannot follow that every congregant present can be presumed to be persuaded by the sermon. I have shaken my head in disagreement and contemplated standing and leaving in some circumstances. Looking back, I wish that I had left a few church houses having been offended by some of the histrionics. By staying and listening, I heard the whole context, however. I still might not agree, but I knew what I needed to know when it came time to decide whether to return to that church.

So, no, it is not about whether candidate for President and Senator Barak Obama should be linked to words preached by The Reverend Jeremiah Wright. In this country Rev. Wright has those same First Amendment rights that journalists hold dear. Journalists call it “freedom of the press.” Preachers call it “pulpit freedom.” They are close kin.

Jim McNabb
© 2008

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