15 Things To Know About Obama’s Pastor Of 20 Years, Rev. Jeremiah Wright

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Written by Ann Brown
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Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, addresses attendees of the Veterans of the Mississippi Civil Rights Movement Conference dinner at Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss., Thursday, March 25, 2010. Rev. Wright says black parents must pass on to their children and grandchildren stories of the civil rights movement so the memories won’t die. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The Reverend Jeremiah Wright is the former pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which he began to lead in 1971. He is credited with transforming the church of 250 members into the largest in the United Church of Christ denomination. Wright is known for incorporating Black liberation theology into his sermons, and this among other things attracted the likes of Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

And it was due to his association to Obama, that Wright became embroiled in a philosophical scandal which led to Obama leaving the church and denouncing Wright.

Here are 15 things you should know about Obama’s former pastor.

When Obama And Wright Met

Barack Obama and Wright met in the late 1980s, while Obama was working as a community organizer in Chicago before attending Harvard Law School. They became close and Wright officiated at the wedding ceremony of Barack and Michelle Obama. He also baptized their children. 

“The title of Obama’s 2006 memoir, ‘The Audacity of Hope,’ was inspired by one of Wright’s sermons. This sermon also inspired themes for Obama’s 2004 keynote address to the Democratic National Convention. 

In 2007, Wright was appointed to Barack Obama’s African American Religious Leadership Committee, a group of more than 170 Black religious leaders who backed Obama’s bid for the Democratic nomination. 

The Controversy 

Obama had been part of Wright’s congregation for years, but when Obama hit the campaign trail the media started to delve into the life and words of Wright. In March 2008 ABC News excerpted parts of Wright’s sermons about terrorist attacks on the United States and government dishonesty. It ultimately led to Obama denouncing and distancing himself from Wright.

A More Perfect Union

After the spotlight was thrown on Wright’s sermons Obama felt he had to denounce his relationship with Wright. So he gave a speech titled “A More Perfect Union,” in which he tried to relate Wright’s comments to a historical and sociological context. In the speech, Obama again denounced Wright’s remarks, though he did denounce the man himself.

Controversial Sermons

Two of Writes most controversial sermons were “The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall,” delivered on September 16, 2001, and “Confusing God and Government,” delivered on April 13, 2003.

In “The Day of Jerusalem’s Fall” Wright preached about an interview of former U.S. Ambassador Edward Peck gave to Fox News. Wright said: “I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday…This is a white man, and he was upsetting the Fox News commentators to no end. He pointed out — did you see him, John? — a white man, he pointed out, ambassador, that what Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Muhammad was in fact true — America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

He continued: “Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador said that, y’all. Not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism. An ambassador whose eyes are wide open and who is trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised. The ambassador said the people that we have wounded don’t have the military capability we have. But they do have individuals who are willing to die and take thousands with them. And we need to come to grips with that.”

In the “Confusing God and Government” sermon, Wright pointed out that many governments have failed to make a distinction between government and God. he said: “Where governments lie, God does not lie. Where governments change, God does not change. The United States] government lied about their belief that all men were created equal. The truth is they believed that all white men were created equal. The truth is they did not even believe that white women were created equal, in creation nor civilization…The government lied in its founding documents and the government is still lying today. Governments lie.”

Listen to GHOGH with Jamarlin Martin | Episode 60: Jamarlin Martin “Jamarlin goes solo and talks about Facebook’s ban on Minister Louis Farrakhan and whether or not Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was always right. “

Still Not Feeling Obama

But although Wright has retired, he has stayed in the media spotlight off and on. In 2010, he complained that Obama “threw me under the bus.” He added he was “toxic” to the White House.

Oprah Exits

During the Obama backlash, Oprah Winfrey stopped attending Wright’s church. While some say this was for political reasons, there was no official reason given by Oprah. “According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright’s more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America’s favorite daytime talk-show host. Oprah’s decision to distance herself came as a surprise to Wright, who told Christianity Today in 2002 that when he would run into her socially…she would say, ‘Here’s my pastor!’,” Newsweek reported. 

“God Damn America” Speech

Wright has come under fire for his words countless times, one of the most infamous is a sermon of this that came to be known as the “God Damn America” sermon. In April 2003 during a sermon, Wright said, “Let me leave you with one more thing…Not ‘God Bless America’; God damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating her citizens as less than human. God damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!”

On Immigration & Israel

Wright is still as outspoken as ever and in a recent interview with The Atlantic, he said: “I heard Donald Trump say if you’re here illegally you need to go back. Let’s start in the 1400s!” before quickly discussing the “the illegal state of Israel.” On the plight of Palestinians, he offered a Canaanite’s perspective: “What kind of God you got that promised your ass my land?” Just as suddenly he was back talking about to Trump: “You want to talk about thugs and rapists? Georgia was founded as a colony for criminals!”

Wright stirred more controversy when in 2015 he said Israel is an apartheid state, “Jesus was a Palestinian,” the Times of Israel reported.

On Reparations

The debate over reparations have been heating up, especially with several of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have endorsed the idea. Here are Wright’s thoughts: “One of the reasons America has never confessed to its original sin is that confession means repentance, and repentance means you gotta pay. That’s not Black people getting a check next week—it’s structural issues” like housing covenants and redlining.

Wright then lashed out at his former congregant Obama, who when in office opposed reparations. “My daughter and granddaughter call him our Halfrican-American president—he doesn’t want to talk about reparations,” Wright said. “It’s not personal responsibility. It’s not ‘pull your pants up.’ Don’t get on Fox News and lecture Black men. You’re missing the point. Let’s talk about white-on-black crime. Until we have a hard dialogue, it’s all gonna be superficial, ‘Kumbaya,’ ‘We Shall Overcome.’”

On The Constitution

According to Wright, the U.S. needs to create a totally new constitution because the current one is inherently racist, he quipped that trying to fix the problem with amendments is like leaving sugar out of a cake and trying to rectify the problem by sprinkling sugar on top once it’s out of the oven,” The Atlantic reported.

On Black Lives Matter

During his The Atlantic interview, Wright didn’t seem too impressed with Black Lives Matter. He offered: “You think Occupy is something, you think Black Lives Matter is something? In the ’60s kids were taking over administration buildings, taking over campuses, locking up faculty!” 

Wright About Town

Wright never shied away from the media or the public during the Obama scandal. On April 25, 2008, he did a now-famous hour-long interview with Bill Moyers. Wright also gave a keynote address at a fundraising dinner for the Detroit-chapter of the NAACP on April 27. On April 28, he spoke to the National Press Club.

Just The Facts

When Wright took on the role of past of Trinity United Church of Christ in 1971, he began teaching Black liberation theology and his message attracted the likes of  Oprah Winfrey, Barack and Michelle Obama to attend his church.

Author, Author

Wright has written about his philosophy in a number of books, including: What Makes You So Strong?: Sermons of Joy and Strength from Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.,” written with Jini Kilgore Ros, 1993; “Africans Who Shaped Our Faith (Student Guide),” 1995; “Good News!: Sermons of Hope for Today’s Families,” 1995; “What Can Happen When We Pray: A Daily Devotional,” 2002; ad “From One Brother To Another, Volume 2: Voices of African American Men,” 2003; among others.

Honors

Wright has been honored and won numerous awards. Wright received a Rockefeller Fellowship and seven honorary doctorate degrees, including from Colgate University, Lincoln University, Valparaiso University, United Theological Seminary, Chicago Theological Seminary, and Starr King School for the Ministry. Ebony magazine named Wright as one of the top 15 preachers. Additionally, Simpson College awarded the first Carver Medal  to Wright in January 2008, to recognize Wright as “an outstanding individual whose life exemplifies the commitment and vision of the service of George Washington Carver.”