Martin E. Marty: Cited by Pastor Wright as a great influence





... BILL MOYERS: In 1972, Jeremiah Wright became pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. He inherited a struggling congregation of just 87 members....

BILL MOYERS: So, when you looked out on that handful of worshippers that first Sunday morning, 87 members, I'm sure all of them weren't there--

REVEREND WRIGHT: Oh, yeah. They all knew they heard this new kid was there with a big natural. So, they came to see--

BILL MOYERS: They were there.

REVEREND WRIGHT: Yeah.

BILL MOYERS: So, what did you see and what did you think you had to do?

REVEREND WRIGHT: Well, actually a good friend of yours, I believe, and one of my professors, got me in the predicament I'm in today, Dr. Martin Marty, one of my professors at the University of Chicago--

BILL MOYERS: One of the great distinguished historians of religion in America.

REVEREND WRIGHT: He put a challenge to us in 1970, late '69, early '70, I'll never forget. He said, "You know, you come into the average church on a Sunday morning and you think you've stepped from the real world into a fantasy world. And what do I mean by that?" He said pick up the church bulletin. You leave a world, Vietnam, or today you leave a world, Iraq, over 4,000 dead, American boys and girls, 100,000, 200,000 depending on which count, Iraqi dead. Afghanistan, Darfur, rapes in the Congo, Katrina, Lower Ninth Ward, that's the world you leave. And you come in; you pick up your church bulletin. It says, there is a ladies tea on second Sunday. The children's choir will be doing. He said, "How come our bulletins, how come the faith preached in our churches does not relate to the world in which our church members leave at the benediction?" Well, it hit me. And it hit me several different ways. Number one, I know there's a church publication, the bulletin, the weekly bulletin. But what about the ministry? And what about the prophetic voice of the church that's not heard? We're talking about things that our members are wrestling with a whole bunch of other things. And the sermons and the ministries of the church don't touch those things.

So, when, I looked and said this church had said to me, in fact not just to me, the church, the congregation has said, "OK, we were started by a white denomination. We were started in this community to be an integrated church. Ten years, that hasn't happened. Are we gonna be a black church in this community? What are we doing for this community?" They put together a statement that shows all the candidates for the pulpit. I was one of the candidates. They said, "Can you lead us in this new direction? How do we minister to this community in which we sit?" Not just on Sunday, first you have to attract people to come-- or even be interested in our worship experiences on Sunday. But what do we do in ministry that speaks to the community and the world in which we sit? That's Martin Marty. That's Martin Marty.

BILL MOYERS: Marty told me that you launched a strenuous effort to help the members of that church overcome the shame, and I'm quoting him, "they had so long been conditioned to experience." What was the source of that shame?

REVEREND WRIGHT: What Carter G. Woodson calls the miseducation of the Negro. That Africa is ignorant, Africans are ignorant; there is no African history, there is no African music, there is no African culture, anything related to Africa is negative, therefore you are not African. Chinese come to the country, they're still Chinese-American. We have Chinatown. Koreans come, they're still Korean. They have Koreatown. Africans come, they're colored. They're Negro. They're anything but Africa. In fact, we don't even call them Ebbu, Ebibu, Fulani, Fanti, Ga, no, no, no -- they're all "Negro." Portuguese, "Negro" Spanish. They're all gettin' lumped into black, but we're not black, we are Negro with a capital N.

The shame of being a descendant of Africa, was a shame that had been pumped into the minds and hearts of Africans from the 1600s on, even aided and abetted by the benefit of those schools started by the missionaries, who simply carried their culture with them into the South and taught their cultures being synonymous with Christianity. So that to become a Christian, you had to let go of all vestiges of Africa and become European, become New Englanders and worship like New England, worship God properly and right. Well, that shame was a part of the shame that many Africans in the '60s and the '70s were feeling.

Dr Reuben Sheares is my predecessor -- he was the interim pastor at Trinity -- coined the phrase "unashamedly black," where blacks coming outta the '60s were no longer ashamed of being black people, nor did they have to apologize for being Christians. Because many persons in the African-American community were teasing us, Christians, of being a white man's religion. And no, we're not ashamed of Christianity. And we don't have to apologize for who we are as African-Americans. So that, I think, is what Marty was talking about....


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