Watch the distancing.
This week, Kansas City will hear the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., a man most often referred to as “Obama’s former minister.” Wright is the Chicago pastor who emerged to the broader political world when his bombastic pulpit tirades were spotlighted during the 2008 presidential election.
“God damn America” was among the most offensive of Wright’s stinging commentaries. It was one of the statements that caused candidate Barack Obama to denounce Wright’s words and attempt to explain to the nation how an African-American preacher whose life had focused on racism and inequality might sound oblivious to more recent civil rights progress.
Wright is pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ, which had been Obama’s congregation before he was elected president. In Kansas City, Wright will appear at St. James United Methodist at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The Cleaver Lecture on Religion and Public Life was established at the St. Paul School of Theology by the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and others in 1999 to honor U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver. Cleaver was a pastor at St. James before he became a city council member and then mayor.
In an email to congregation members last week, the Rev. Adam Hamilton of Church of the Resurrection stressed the academic freedom of St. Paul’s, which moved much of its operations to Resurrection’s Leawood campus after Wright was chosen as this year’s lecturer. “Resurrection is not sponsoring this event, endorsing the event, funding the event, hosting the lecture or officially a part of the event in any way,” the email said.
Wright’s most recent brush with controversy came in January, when he quoted Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” but said that Obama says, “I have a drone.” Otherwise, according to news accounts, much of the speech was riffing on King, who famously spoke against the evils that can be caused by racism, war and greed, often citing capitalism. King opposed the war in Vietnam.
Not familiar with those King texts? Well, that is partly how these topics become controversial, when they’re ill-phrased or taken out of context.
“The Cleaver Lecture seeks to engage the community on matters of public service, policy and debate,” according to a website.
Rest assured, part of that mission is accomplished just by the choice of speaker this year.