This is written for Temple City Life's June issue. We'll see if it get approved!
Uncommon Sense June 2008
Jeremiah Wright is Wrong (But Not for the Reasons You Think)
The ancient prophet Jeremiah warned Israel that God was not pleased and that destruction was coming on the nation. In recent days, another Jeremiah has gained national notoriety and has damaged the campaign of a major presidential candidate.
I have no interest in rehashing the political fallout of Rev. Wright’s comments; it’s been done, and it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to address anyway. What I want to examine is this latter-day Jeremiah’s theology. And my conclusion is this: he’s wrong, but not for the reasons you think.
You may think he’s wrong for the harsh things he’s said about America (no need to reprint his most famous comment here). Prophets do say some harsh things. You may think he’d wrong for the conspiracy theories he’s spun (think of his AIDS-as-government-experiment comments). Well, some conspiracies may be true (though I surely don’t think this one is). You may think he’s wrong to praise Hamas or Farrakhan to Khadafy (and I’d agree with you). But I don’t think that’s the heart of the wrong.
No, I can forgive Wright for these things. What makes Wright wrong is his theology—his liberation theology.
It’s not unfair to call liberation theology (LT) an attempt to combine Marxism and Christianity. I’m uniquely equipped to speak to this matter. Before getting two degrees in ministry, I received two degrees in political science. I really do know Marxism quite well, and I know how it’s worked its way in theology via liberation theology. Liberation theology began among certain Catholic theologians in Latin America. They sought a way of “doing theology” that would account for the plight of the dispossessed and also pointed a way forward out of the extreme poverty and inequality of the region.
LT soon spread to certain Protestant theologians and began to morph into regional versions and racial versions. So you’ll find the concepts taken up by some theologians in Europe and Africa and to a lesser extent in North America and Asia. And you’ll find distinctive group-identity versions of LT such as gay LT or feminist LT or (as in Rev. Wright’s case) Africentic LT.
LT claims that it’s just doing what Judaism and Christianity has always done: decry inequity, declare God’s favor to the poor and to champion the cry for freedom. The Exodus becomes the dominate model for understanding God’s dealings: He delivers the oppressed, He judges the Pharaohs of the world and He grants a new freedom to the redeemed.
LT has the same problem that Marxism in general has: in narrows life to economics. Marx believed that his system (which he called “scientific socialism”) explained everything about life, from religion to family to marriage to culture to you name it. For Marx, everything is economic. And in LT, theology collapses into and is absorbed by economics.
In my mind, the great unmasking of LT occurred when one nation fully embraced it: Nicaragua under the Sandinistas (1979-1990). Many of the leaders of the Sandinista government were deeply sympathetic to or actively involved in LT. They proved just as vicious and oppressive as the government they overthrew. In the laboratory of real life, LT failed.
Real life rarely deters academics or off-kilter theologians. Wright is a product of a variant of LT that also embraces anti-historical ideas that make ancient Jews Africans and Jesus a black man. Wright follows the LT line in theology, economics and politics. His conclusions flow from his flawed theological premises.
I find his theology deeply disturbing for two reasons: the attempt to weld the faith of Jesus with the crackpot theories of Marx is abhorrent and very damaging to essence of the Christian faith. Second, I find his racial perspective on the Biblical inconsistent with what we know about the world of the Bible. For the record: Jesus was a swarthy Middle Eastern Jew. I find any theology that has to turn Jesus into something He wasn’t historically to be something which undermines the historical nature of the Christian faith. Frankly, this is just as disturbing as some Aryan Nation attempt to turn Jesus into a blond, blue-eyed (non-Jewish!) white guy.
So I say again: Rev. Wright is in the wrong. But maybe not for the reasons you think.