Jeremiah was a Bulldog

By Rev. Don Rollins

Here’s something you may not know about rabbis, priests and pastors: most of us keep an eye out for a different gig. A chaplaincy gig. A nonprofit gig. A University gig. An anything-but-a-congregation gig. And I’m not making this up. Hell, most every clergy colleague I’ve gotten to know – from the newbies to the old-timers, the gifted to the mediocre – has a vocational Plan B. Or 20. (I’ve known colleagues who bailed from the parish and became corporate lawyers (gulp), so exasperated were they with the lousy pay, wacko hours and systemic dysfunction! Sometimes, enough’s enough.)

And sometimes the career change works—a boost for all concerned. But sometimes it doesn’t; in their haste to switch fields, many a rabbi, priest and minister ends up even more miserable, settling for a career that makes about as much sense for them as John McCain gigging as a mosh pit DJ. Go figure.

Me, I stay, in part, because there are times when being in the field of religion is just crazy cool. Take this long, measured-in-light-years, presidential campaign. Man, I’ve got sermon material out the proverbial wazoo, what with all the mudslinging, backbiting, race-baiting, Jesus-flaunting and flag-waving. Remember Mormon Mitt? That cross … uh, shelf in Huckabee’s Christmas ad? Hillary’s stammer when talking about her “faith,” looking about as comfortable as Eliot Spitzer at a couples’ retreat? Friends and neighbors, this stuff is sermon gold. It ought to be illegal to snarf up that much top-shelf material in a single presidential campaign. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel, no limit.

And, as if the embarrassment of sermon riches wasn’t embarrassing enough, now there’s the kerfluffle over that bulldog of a (former) pastor to Barack Obama, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. (You know, the one the senator refers to as, “an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with.”)

It’s true. When Jeremiah Wright comes un-taped about the sorry state of race in America, he sounds for all the world like his crusty Old Testament namesake. (Recall that that Jeremiah condemned ancient Israel for its tribal arrogance and callousness toward the marginalized. He implored his people, in no uncertain terms, to get it together lest God kick ’em into exile and slavery. Although Jeremiah possessed some serious prophetic mojo, the Israelites dissed him like, well … an old uncle. He was out of touch. Kooky. Demented. But it turned out that wacky old Jeremiah was not suffering dementia after all; he was doing his job as a prophet, speaking truth to power with love. So God had to send the Hebrew children people packing.)

Now there’s a cautionary tale if ever there was.

Back to the sermon material, what did Jeremiah Wright say that got folks’ underpants in such a righteous racial wad? You guessed it, something about tribal arrogance (“God damn America so long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”) and callousness toward the marginalized (“… God damn America. That’s in the Bible. For killing innocent people, God Damn America. For treating our citizens as less than human …”) And, as if that wasn’t enough to cause Obama’s people to dial up, pronto, a damage-control strategy, it seems the Rev. Wright once suggested that the 9/11 attacks might have had something to do with a failed American Middle East policy. Yikes.

Oh, that bulldog, Uncle Jeremiah Wright.

It’s downright spooky how similar are the messages of the two Jeremiahs, but I guess that just goes to show that nasty stuff happens in every age, everywhere. This is not the first time that some xenophobes came into power convinced that they had a divine-rights date with destiny. Freaky, but not new. And our arrogant ideologues are not the first arrogant ideologues to engineer a hostile takeover of a country’s conscience. Sad, but not new.

So, let’s keep it real—everybody knows it would be a monumental misstep for Obama to do anything other than distance himself from Jeremiah Wright. But it’s no less a shame and a sin against all that’s good. Put prophetic words in the mouth of a murky character from ancient Israel, and it’s scripture. But put them in the mouth of a no-nonsense preacher from Chicago, and it’s racist, irreverent and un-American.

It’s patently unfair, but, hey, there’s an upside for me. I don’t think I’m going to be running out of sermon material anytime soon, do you?

Rev. Don Rollins is pastor of the Nora Unitarian Universalist Church in Hanska, Minn.

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2008

Home Page

Subscribe to The Progressive Populist

Copyright © 2008 The Progressive Populist.