Friday, March 21, 2008

"Confusing God and Government"

In the interest of a more complete exchange between (a) brethren in Christ from every ethnic background and (b) fostering more careful sermon listening, I thought I'd link to the entire sermon that landed Jeremiah Wright in so much trouble, the "God damn America" sermon. The sermon is actually called "Confusing God and Government." To find the sermon, scroll down to the bottom of the post and you should find a media player with the full audio of the sermon. Also, you'll see extended excerpts from the sermon posted by CNN contributor Roland Martin.I'd be interested in your thoughts about the sermon, not just the reactions already circulating around the media, but your technical critiques as a preacher or a consumer of preaching. All are welcome.

Here are some questions that might be helpful as you listen:

1. What passage of Scripture is the preacher considering?

2. What are the major points of the sermon?

3. Do the major points/content of the sermon grow out of the text itself? Are the preacher's points the same points made by the text?

4. Does the preacher adequately situate the text and the sermon in the context of the chapter, book, and Bible?

5. How does the preacher illustrate his points? Are the illustrations helpful?

6. What are the preacher's main applications? Are the applications clearly related to the main point of the passage? How would you evaluate the usefulness of the applications?

7. Does the preacher make the gospel clear and urge his hearers to respond to the gospel?

8. What improvements might you recommend?

Answer one or all of the questions if you like. Again, the spirit I'm hoping to engender in this conversation is one of cross-cultural exposure and understanding, careful and charitable critique, and prayer for the Lord's body and His pulpit. I'll post every comment that embodies that spirit--whether critical, appreciative or indifferent. No one should feel disenfranchised because they're from a particular ethnic group or another. Critics inside and outside the African American church experience are welcome and encouraged to comment.

And the MEC ("the most edifying critique") Award will go to the best five answers received on or before Friday, March 28th. If the winners are interested, I'll send them a copy of either The Faithful Preacher or The Decline of African American Theology.

Grace and peace


wwdunc said...

I just listened to Wright’s message. I have several initial reactions to this message:

First of all, I’ve heard several messages by Wright on television and radio, here in “Chicagoland”. This is a very typical Wright sermon, both in terms of the way he handles the text and the style.

I’m also reminded of some of the “best” preaching that I heard in the African Methodist Episcopal Church—the denomination in which both my wife and I were raised, in which I was ordained and of which we were members until 10 years ago. It’s not a common message—the average Black pastor doesn’t preach this way—but it is very similar to the preaching of some of the more eloquent and educated pastors and bishops in the A.M.E. Church that I heard. It’s worth noting that the more educated ministers received their education from liberal seminaries, just like Wright. My experience has been that this kind of message has been very well received by Black church audiences.

I thought Wright made some good and helpful points, and that—for his majority Black, Chicago audience—this sermon was probably very encouraging. In context, I didn’t find his “God damn America” comment particularly shocking, other than the choice of words was unnecessarily strong (It’s interesting that even Wright seemed to recognize that his choice of words was excessive). My observation has been that most Black preachers (and I’ll include myself in this) are more direct—more blunt—in what they say than the average white preacher. I’m speaking in very general terms, based on what I’ve observed. Generally, we Black preachers leave you no doubt as to where we stand on an issue. But, clearly Wright’s message wasn’t an anti-America message at all, contrary to how it’s been portrayed in the media.

The message of the sermon had nothing to do with the message of the text. His main points (Governments lie—God does not lie; Governments change—God does not change; Governments fail—God never fails) are true—very true—but that’s not the point of the text. Wright built a message based on the political setting of Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. Once he set that up, he was finished with the text. Sadly, this is, again, typical of innumerable sermons I heard when I was in the Black Church.

Probably most important of all, the gospel is never, ever presented in Wright’s message. At the conclusion, the “doors of the church are opened” (that is to say, he extends an invitation to become a member of the church), but it is never made clear what people are supposed to come forward for. There is no gospel invitation. Christ’s death and resurrection are mentioned, but there is no mention of the reason Christ had to die, no mention of sin, judgment or God’s wrath. There is simply no gospel.

My experience has been that there is little mention of the gospel in most traditional Black churches. This fact is what breaks my heart. When white believers choose to criticize Barack Obama for being a member of Trinity United Church of Christ, I don’t think it is helpful at all, and it smacks of racism. In effect, you might as well criticize any Black politician who is a member of a typical Black church. Why don’t the critics go after Sen. Clinton’s United Methodist church (or Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush’s Episcopal Church in America?)? There is open heresy in white mainline churches; why does the Black Church get singled out for criticism? In my opinion, the need is not criticism but good-faith efforts to stimulate, encourage and support the preaching of the gospel in the Black Church.

Wyeth Duncan

Anonymous said...

I'll take the challenge:) Here's what I think, (I could be dead wrong.

1.What passage of Scripture is the preacher considering?

Luke 19:37-44 ( Thesis: y’all looking to the government for only what God can give. A lot of people confuse God with their government.”)

2. What are the major points of the sermon?

A)Governments lie.
B)Governments change
C) Goverments fail (The Romans Government failed)

3. Do the major points/content of the sermon grow out of the text itself? Are the preacher's points the same points made by the text?

•Well the major points of the sermon did not directly derive from the Lukan passage. Nonetheless, the major points of the sermon are consistent only to what the preacher wanted to communicate with the tex, but not in accordance with the message that Luke endeavored to communicate to th early christians ( his audience). Luke’s ultimate goal in this passage was to certify Jesus’ messianic status (v. 38; “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!) , his royal personage ( He is the Son of David, He is King), and his messianic role as the Coming one predicted by OT prophets . Luke also developed the nature of Jesus’s kingship ( i.e. they set Jesus on the colt; he rode along…) . He also told us about Jesus’ sentiment about the people, the society, and the religious system— Jesus wept over the moral decadence of the society and religious system of his time.
•Talking about Rev. Wright’s major points: we might suggest that perhaps this particular text ( Luke 19: 37-44) bears some imperial overtones. In this regard, Rev. Wright’s points on the nature of Goverments in generally are consistent with what we know about the Roman imperial system . For example, in verse 43 Jesus predicted that, “For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you.” Christian Church historans informed us about a host of christian martyrs in the hand of Roman Goverment. We also know about Nero’s persecution against Christians, those who professed the Lordship of Christ. We also know that the Roman emprie promised peace to his people. That Rome and its citizens were the natural home of freedom and liberty. “They had established a democracy, the pretense of which was kept up throughout the early imperial period” ( N.T. Wright, Paul in Fresh Perspective, 63). So Freedom, justice, peace and salvation were the predominant themes of the Roman imperalism (ibid). So Rev. Wright might have a case here but not according to Luke’s salvific message, it is rather based on the implications of the social and political structures (ramifications?) of the text.

4. Does the preacher adequately situate the text and the sermon in the context of the chapter, book, and Bible?

This is not clear in the sermon.

5. How does the preacher illustrate his points? Are the illustrations helpful?

When one studies this sermon carefully it becomes clear that the illustrations substantiate relatively all the major points of the sermon. They are as follows:

•Government lie (Point 1) . Then he gives a number of examples: (1)“This government lied about their belief that all men were created equal.. The truth is they believed that all white men were created equal. The truth is they did not even believe that white women were created equal, in creation nor civilization. (2) “The government lied about Pearl Harbor. They knew the Japanese were going to attack. (3) “The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment. They purposely infected African American men with syphilis. (4) The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of colo. (5) The government lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq being a threat to the United States peace.”

He follows a coherent pattern in points 2 and 3.
•Government change ( Point 2)
Examples ,(1) “ Prior to Abraham Lincoln, the government in this country said it was legal to hold African in slavery in perpetuity...when Lincoln got in office, the government changed. (2) Prior to the Civil Rights and equal accommodation laws of the government in this country, there was backed segregation by the country, legal discrimination by the government, prohibited blacks from voting by the government, you had to eat and sit in separate places by the government, you had sit in different places from white folks because the government said so, and you had to buried in a separate cemetery . (3) “Where governments change, God does not change. God is the same yesterday, today and forever more. That’s what his name I Am means. He does not change.”

•Government Fail ( Point 3; so the Romans failed)
Illustrations, (1) And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent, she failed. She put them on reservations. (2) When it came to putting the citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters. Put them on auction blocks. Put them in cotton fields. Put them in inferior schools. Put them in substandard housing. Put them scientific experiments. (3) Tell your neighbor he’s (going to) help us one last time. Turn back and say forgive him for the God Damn, that’s in the Bible though. Blessings and curses is in the Bible. It’s in the Bible.Where government fail, God never fails. When God says it, it’s done. God never fails. When God wills it, you better get out the way, cause God never fails. When God fixes it, oh believe me it’s fixed. God never fails. Somebody right now, you think you can’t make it, but I want you to know that you are more than a conqueror through Christ. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

6. What are the preacher's main applications? Are the applications clearly related to the main point of the passage? How would you evaluate the usefulness of the applications?

My suggestion is that Rev. Wright wanted his audience to know that although the Government (might lie) has lied to us, (might fail) failed us and (might change) has changed or is subject to change ; God does not lie. God does not change, and God does not fail. It is also evident that the applications verify his major points. GOD NEVER FAILS is the main idea of the sermon. Rev. Contextually, Rev. Wright upholds the consistency of God in his dealings with mankind , in the midst of a changing world or government.

7. Does the preacher make the gospel clear and urge his hearers to respond to the gospel?

According to what Roland Martin notes, “He (Rev. Wright) then went on to talk about the salvation of Christians through the death of Jesus Christ. The sermon ended with a song proclaiming, ‘God never fails."

8. What improvements might you recommend?

Follow the message of the TEXT! In this particular case ( Luke 19:37-44), let the message of the text consume you: your heart, your soul, your mind with the message of the cross, then you can communicate this same message to the people of God.

I also want to add that the media has failed to read Rev. Wright in context. That is a BiG Failure. However, in the same way, Rev. Wright's sermon has failed the message of the cross, which , Luke communicated in the relevant text.


Steven Dresen said...

Here are my remarks and critiques on the sermon covering Luke 19:36-44. As far as the major points or emphasizes of the sermon they would be:

A)Governments are oppressive, lie, and change but will always lie and be oppressive.

B)People often confuse the roles of God and government.

C) Christ can do what the government can't, and does not change, lie oppress.

He does a decent job of giving the context of the passage but in his exposition of the context he does reveal his theological presuppositions. While there is some subjectivity to his interpretation of the events I don't doubt that he was being as objective with the text as he could be in giving the context.

It goes downhill a bit from there. He uses various instances of the U.S. government "lying" and being oppressive to illustrate his points on government. The problem with his illustrations is factual verifiability, while some of what he said is factually true, such as in regards to the Tuskegee research there is validity to it as being an example of racism and mistreatment of African-Americans, his claims that they were intentionally injected with syphilis don't match up with the story on the Tuskegee University website.Pearl Harbor and the HIV are just conspiracy talk and really shouldn't have been used. The illustrations if they were to be of the kind he used should have actually been researched because they cam across more as paranoia and liberation theology blending.

His application that the people trust in Christ rather then the government is helpful, it is important to make a clear distinction between the state and the kingdom of God. He fails to make the gospel clear though by not emphasizing our sin and need of the forgiveness which comes through repentance.

His theological commitments are what cause the sermon to fall short and any correction would begin there. I would suggest if I had the chance to dialog with him that he should not put the emphasis he does on political issues but on Christ's redemptive work on the cross. I will say this though that he isn't much different then some preachers on the religious right in the style of how they preach or in the condemnation of America, the difference is merely in illustration as far as a sermon goes.

Nevergall said...

I don’t think it was a demonstration of expository preaching! (c;

As a Monday morning QB, I would say the Biblical text was out of sync with his message. Halfway through I forgot which text he referenced and he never really brings us back to it. He might have been better off with Numbers 23:18-20 as the referenced text for this topical message (he made mention of it during the sermon).

He seems to have a dramatic climax during his reading of governmental lies (some perhaps exaggerated) when it may have been better suited to climax during Biblical references. I am not suggesting his anger and resentment is not justified within his personal life, but I think it may have been misplaced in this message. What was the main point he wanted the congregation to remember when they left the building? Governments lie or God does not? Governments change or God does not? The political message of the sermon seriously outweighed the gospel message, and while one may speak to the emotions, the other has the power to penetrate the heart.

His sermon title has potential. However, he spent more time talking about the latter. Instead of focusing on the lies told, we should focus on the fallen nature that leads to them being told in the first place and how faith in Christ saves us.

Based on the titles of your books, in which one would he be mentioned (based on this sermon)? I would lean toward "Decline" due to the more liberating, social aspect and less of the gospel.

Anonymous said...

ok, sorry I'm being lame and not actually commenting on your entry, which I'm sure is comment-worthy however I don't have time to read or process anything at the current time.
I just wanted to thank you for your comment and I'm actually surprised you stumbled upon my humble musings. I really appreciate your response. Thank you for the conversation and I will certainly be reading your thoughts in the future.
In Christ, Emily

Anonymous said...

This is an exreme case of black liberation theology at work.

All of His sermons I've heard, wreak with it.

God is black. The chosen, afflicted are black.
The devil is ususally white. Etc

Is He a dynamic preacher? Absolutely.

Is He knowlegeable? exceptionally.

Does He espouse an hermeneutic which genders separation of the races? Yes

Does it perpetuate, a false and static image of America's race problems, as Obama sugessted? Yes it does!

His successor does the same. This is not a once in a while method of preaching, this is their main staple.

Does He preach the true gospel? No!

It is good to see the other responses, which recognize the same

Liberation theology of any kind, may empower the class to which it caters;beit, women, race, sex, etc.

Only the true gospel can do that and unite us!

By Grace Alone

Steven Dresen said...

Just wondering when will you announce MEC awards?