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Rev Wright: The Rich Keep People Poor

From the Religion & Ethics News Weekly, brought to you by taxpayer funded PBS:

INTERVIEW: Rev. Jeremiah Wright

August 17, 2007    Episode no. 1051

Read more of R & E producer Gail Fendley’s interview with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright:

Q: How do you view the prosperity gospel, particularly in the African American church?

A: The prosperity gospel is not new. It’s not new at all. Now it gets more coverage because of the media, and it has reached a larger group of people as prosperity preachers are using the media as a means of enlarging their territory and their congregations. If you go back to Reverend Ike, way back, thirty or forty years ago is when I first became aware of it. I did not grow up in an environment like that, but I became aware of it when I first heard Reverend Ike and his message. So it’s not new. It has taken off in the same age as computers, i-Pods, podcasting, multimedia, overseas televangelists now with markets in the Caribbean and overseas, and has affected not only the African American church but—Dr. Ogbu Kalu, a professor that teaches at McCormick Theological Seminary [in Chicago], writes extensively about how it has affected the church in Africa, West Africa and South Africa particularly, where persons identify material blessing as a sign of God’s favor—Bentleys, Hummers, money that shows them that God is blessing them. Well, the tradition from which I come, number one, shows that is a marriage of capitalism blessed with and dressed in Christian garb. It has nothing to do with the message of Jesus Christ. Jesus did not drive a Bentley nor did he [have] a Learjet. He talked about having no place to lay his head and he came—I think when he quotes Isaiah 61 it says, “I came, I’ve been anointed by the Holy Spirit” and the anointing is not to speak in tongues, not to have manifestations of wealth, but to preach the gospel to the poor. That’s the first thing Isaiah says, and that’s what Jesus uses as his inaugural text, and those of us calling ourselves followers of Jesus, seems to me, ought to be preaching the gospel he preached. Dr. King, when he died—we always focus on “I Have a Dream”—was in Memphis on behalf of the garbage collectors, poor people. He left the poor people’s campaign that he was organizing on the Mall in Washington to go to Memphis to make that speech, “been to the mountaintop” speech. His concern was for the poor, and the Christian gospel has at its heart the caring for the least of these; those who are born with two or three strikes against them and who do not have the advantages that some, that the small percentage of society has. And if the faith that we are preaching is following the carpenter, not the corporate exec—I know there’s a book called “Jesus CEO”—but the carpenter from Nazareth, it seems to me that faith ought to be following in the path that he was following in terms of helping people. Helping people with the basic necessities of life and to be all that they could be, in terms of how God created them to be. I’ve found this very interesting since college, and I got fascinated with it when I struggled through economics: people don’t realize that to be rich you’ve got to keep somebody else poor. Most of us don’t understand [that]. We enjoy the standard of living we have in the United States of America by virtue of how poor we keep so called developing countries and third world countries. [There is] no connecting of the dots at all, and that’s amazing and disturbing to me. One of the decisions my wife and I made about wedding rings when we got married was we’re not getting any diamonds until apartheid was over and until Mandela was free. Most people make no connection between the South African diamonds, the De Beers family, the Sterns, the diamonds in South America, and the diamonds we see all hip-hop singers and all movie stars dripping [in]. They make no connection….Ten, fifteen years ago nobody was making any connection between how many people were dying in order to talk about the miners and the plight of the miners in those countries.

Q: What impact does the growth of the prosperity gospel in the African American church have on the engagement of African Americans in social justice issues?

A: I think it has hurt it. It’s probably less now than it was in the civil rights movement, because now people are seeing, literally, Jesus, God as a cosmic bellhop—how to get stuff. And that’s exciting. People want stuff. People like stuff. And people are more interested in things. We love things and use people instead of using things and loving people. The prosperity gospel has affected negatively, adversely a larger percentage of the African American community than when I was, say, my kid’s age. Reverend Ike was a joke to us. We were concerned about, forty years ago, ending discrimination, desegregating public facilities, desegregation of houses, desegregation of public schools. They’re concerned about Beyonce and Usher and “Dream Girls” and getting rich, the younger people today, and they are like a slice of life when it comes to people who are sitting in the pews of those prosperity churches. Whereas when I was growing up the church [was] on the streets providing the troops, the public masses of civil disobedience against an unjust system. Well, our kids, the beneficiaries of those sit-ins, now are in a very different place. Now I think the media and prosperity churches have affected it adversely. I started to say it’s just about as bad as it was when I was growing up, but I think the media has enlarged those armies and increased the numbers. A lot of people, for instance, and the reason I started to say that, back in the ’60s, 40 years ago, one of the things many Americans forget is that Dr. King had a movement that was not widespread. It was not universal, it was not all over this nation. SCLC—the S is very important. It was a Southern movement, Southern churches. Churches up north really didn’t care. There were small little segments of clergy persons. So the prosperity thing back then really wasn’t that big. And today there’s really more options. The reason why I was about to say it was the same, that really the majority of the black community literally is not in church. We keep forgetting that. You see these mega things, these megachurches, the services. But when you see the average numbers, Barna research or the Gallup Poll, we say we’re religious, but who’s in church? It’s really not 50 percent of the African American community. Fifty years ago we had movies on Saturday and church on Sunday. But now you’ve got golf courses—they’re now integrated, you’ve got so many other options. Fifty years ago we didn’t have television like we have it today. Not only television, we have video stream. We can worship by video stream. That impact has not increased the numbers, but the numbers are not as overwhelming as a lot of people think they are.

Q: Has the prosperity gospel in any way reduced the African American churches’ response to Katrina? Is there a connection between those two things?

A: I would not say that, no.

Q: Has the response to Katrina from African American churches been what you wanted to see?

A: No, no, it is not. I am wrestling with that first question, because if you remember that big flap that occurred right on the heels of Katrina—[it] was Kanye West and T.D Jakes compared and contrasted, where Kanye West got everyone upset by saying, unscripted, that George Bush don’t care about black people. T.D Jakes says, well I don’t know what he’s talking about. T.D Jakes represents the church side. Kanye West represents where most African American communities’ heads are, whether they’re churched to unchurched. So many of our kids are influenced by and followers of hip-hop than they are the Holy Ghost. When you start talking about what the church is doing, again, let’s go back to percentages. If only 50 percent of the people are in church, let’s say 30 percent of those are prosperity. Those responses from prosperity people have been pitiful. Unfortunately, social justice people who have been active and proactive, they don’t get the media coverage. That’s not a big media—I mean, the [reopening of the] Super Dome was the media event: America’s back. I see the tear coming out of your eye, we sang God Bless America, Blue Angels flying over, the New Orleans Saints. Have you been over to the Lower Ninth Ward? Have you taken any pictures over there? No, we’re not going to show that. We’re going to show America’s back. The Saints are back. They almost got by Chicago, got to the Super Bowl, and we’ve got Carnival coming up. The prosperity people are looking at that. The prosperity people are looking at what the media say is going on in New Orleans as opposed to actually coming here as churches have been doing. But they don’t get the coverage. I was at a meeting last night, the Twenty-First Century Foundation, and found out something I didn’t know about. I’d heard about it, read snippets of it in the Christian Century. Of the four black historic Baptist denominations, National Baptist Incorporated poured four million dollars into restoration and redevelopment. I didn’t know that. You don’t read that in your morning paper. You read about looting or shooting or police or curfew, but you’re not reading what those churches are doing, so that those churches that are committed to social justice, those churches that have been historically committed to social justice have been active; they just don’t get the coverage. What gets coverage is MegaFest in Atlanta or CeCe Winans or BeBe Winans or Kirk Franklin’s newest song or Yolanda Adams—the big names that’s celebrity get coverage. Not sincerity and dedication.

Imagine having a President of the United States who believes that for one person to have something, another person must go without.

(Click here for Mr. Wright’s earlier interview with PBS.)

This article was posted by Steve on Wednesday, March 19th, 2008. Comments are currently closed.

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