FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Tolerance and the American Pulpit

A cable newscaster on Friday afternoon asked in a tone of voice that expressed her wide-eyed naivety: “What is liberation theology?” Having covered the news for many years, and having covered the Rev. Jeremiah Wright thunderstorm for two weeks, it was still a question that she had not bothered to research. And frankly, I don’t really want to experience that learning curve as part of my continuing coverage of the Presidential campaign.

I doubt that the summer of ’08 will be the time to provide a sufficient, good-faith answer to the question of liberation theology or how the black social gospel is spiritual grandfather to these momentous American movements. Such an attempt at national education played out upon our contemporary media landscape would likely morph very quickly into a witch-hunt.

Sen. Barack Obama appears to agree with this assessment. The Senator’s public review of Rev. Wright’s oratory during Tuesday’s “race speech” did not mention either keyword, neither liberation nor theology. And yet, Rev. Wright has asked that these be the key words applied to any serious assessment of his work.

Because it would likely be a poisonous time and place for the adult discussion that liberation theology requires, I think Obama’s judgment call is valid as he tried to move public discussion around the issue rather of “liberation theology” rather than through it.

However, I think there are stronger arguments for going around Rev. Wright’s oratory as a campaign issue. The stronger argument is that the American unity that Obama claims to want will require some faith in the principle of religious toleration.

Since it is “liberation theology” that is required to understand Rev. Wright, and since theological agreement is precisely the kind of thing that should not be required in the context of public policy debates, then it is time to agree that when Rev. Wright speaks from a pulpit in a church, it is better that a tolerant society back off of his comments as a Presidential issue.

There is some sophistication in the careful wording of Sen. Obama’s speech, which hints that he knows the difference between theology and policy discourse, even as he puts Rev. Wright’s oratory upon a two-dimensional plane of public policy. The clues are in the repeated uses of the phrase ‘as if’: “he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old — is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.”

Sen. Obama has three times denied the truth of is own pastor with the phrase ‘as if.’ But is it not the theological function of prophetic speech to talk precisely ‘as if’?

Although it is unlikely that the cable news cyclists would respect Sen. Obama’s call for religious toleration in behalf of Rev. Wright, I think that toleration is the better argument for moving on. An attitude of toleration has the benefit of refusing to flatten all public oratory into the plane of policy speak. And if we achieve this act of toleration for Rev. Wright, then we will strengthen the three-dimensional life of spiritual language for all theologies (or anti-theologies), and maintain a more healthy distance between church and state as a precious resource for everyone’s freedom of worship in a robust democracy.

GREG MOSES is editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review and author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. His chapter on civil rights under Clinton and Bush appears in Dime’s Worth of Difference, edited by Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair. He can be reached at: gmosesx@prodigy.net.

 

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Greg Moses writes about peace and Texas, but not always at the same time. He is author of Revolution of Conscience: Martin Luther King Jr. and the Philosophy of Nonviolence. As editor of the Texas Civil Rights Review he has written about racism faced by Black agriculturalists in Texas. Moses is a member of the Texas Civil Rights Collaborative. He can be reached at gmosesx@gmail.com

July 16, 2020
Vijay Prashad
Laos Has Tackled COVID-19, But It Is Drowning in Debt to International Finance
Louisa Willcox
Charlie Russell, Grizzly Whisperer
John McMurtry – Jeffery Klaehn
Money Capital vs Life Capital: the War of Values We Live or Die By
Jesse Jackson
A New Generation of Protest Holds Great Promise for America
Robert Hunziker
The Inertia Bugaboo
Jyoti Saraswati
Seeing the World Through Touch During a Pandemic
Sam Bahour
Time’s Up Israel: Get Your Knee Off Palestine’s neck
Nick Licata
How Protester Occupations Can Succeed
Dean Baker
It’s Going to be a Long, Hard Recession
Mary Miller – Ariel Gold
The U.S. Struggle for Justice for Palestine Begins a New Chapter
Rajan Menon
How the Pandemic Hit Americans: Selective in Its Impact, the Virus Has Struck the Homeless Hard
Chuck Collins
Fair Tax Solutions for Cities Facing Covid-19 Budget Crises
George Ochenski
The Times They are a-Changin’
Neil Decenteceo
Small Island Countries Aren’t Waiting for Rich Countries to Act on Climate
Binoy Kampmark
Blue Steak on Lygon Street: The Mario Corniola Effect
Nan Levinson
Veterans Go to Washington: So What?
July 15, 2020
Jennifer Loewenstein
Forging Greater Israel: Annexation by Any Other Name
John Davis
This is No Way to Live
Melvin Goodman
Bolton’s Book is Not the “Bomb” as Advertised
Kenneth Surin
Boris Johnson’s “Blundering Brilliance”…Now Only the Blundering Remains
Daniel Warner
Audacity and Hope in the Summer of Discontent
Thomas Klikauer – Nadine Campbell
Propaganda Beyond Trump
Omar Ramahi
Hagia Sophia and the Catastrophe of Symbolism
Binoy Kampmark
The Yeezy Effect: Kanye West Joins the Presidential Race
Robin Wonsley – Ty Moore
Minneapolis Ballot Measure to Dismantle the Police Will Test the Strength of Our Movement
Robert Jensen
‘Cancel Culture’ Cannot Erase a Strong Argument
Tom Clifford
Jack Charlton, Soccer and Ireland’s Working Class
Elliot Sperber
Mother Goose in the End Times
July 14, 2020
Anthony DiMaggio
Canceling the Cancel Culture: Enriching Discourse or Dumbing it Down?
Patrick Cockburn
Boris Johnson Should not be Making New Global Enemies When His Country is in a Shambles
Frank Joyce
Lift From the Bottom? Yes.
Richard C. Gross
The Crackdown on Foreign Students
Steven Salaita
Should We Cancel “Cancel Culture”?
Paul Street
Sorry, the Chicago Blackhawks Need to Change Their Name and Logo
Jonathan Cook
‘Cancel Culture’ Letter is About Stifling Free Speech, Not Protecting It
John Feffer
The Global Rushmore of Autocrats
C. Douglas Lummis
Pillar of Sand in Okinawa
B. Nimri Aziz
Soft Power: Americans in Its Grip at Home Must Face the Mischief It Wields by BNimri Aziz July 11/2020
Cesar Chelala
What was lost when Ringling Bros. Left the Circus
Dan Bacher
California Regulators Approve 12 New Permits for Chevron to Frack in Kern County
George Wuerthner
Shrinking Wilderness in the Gallatin Range
Lawrence Davidson
Woodrow Wilson’s Racism: the Basis For His Support of Zionism
Binoy Kampmark
Mosques, Museums and Politics: the Fate of Hagia Sophia
Dean Baker
Propaganda on Government Action and Inequality from David Leonhardt
July 13, 2020
Gerald Sussman
The Russiagate Spectacle: Season 2?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail