Kelefa Sanneh, long the New York Times ’ hip-hop correspondent, now shifts his attention to theology in a New Yorker profile of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Senator Obama’s pastor. Wright’s public avowal of the “black liberation theology” of James Cone raised eyebrows after the February airing of some of Wright’s sermons. Cone, as I documented in a recent essay , argued that Jesus was black, and that blacks are the Chosen People.
In Sanneh’s account, Rev. Wright goes well beyond James Cone in promulgating an Afrocentric theology, with a declared affinity for the Islam of Louis Farrakhan. As Sanneh reports:
Although Cone’s work had a major influence on him, Wright was carried along, too, by his own research and inclinations. He criticized Cone’s assertion that blacks “were completely stripped of their African heritage as they were enslaved,” and argued that the black Church should engage more with the African roots of its worshippers: he defined Trinity as “a congregation with a non-negotiable commitment to Africa.” . . .
Like Cone in the nineteen-sixties, Wright may have worried that he would be judged, and found wanting, by purer and less forgiving forms of black nationalism. Farrakhan represented the threat; his followersparticularly the young black men whom churches sometimes had trouble reachingrepresented the prize.
Wright attended (but didn’t address) the Million Man March, the 1995 gathering in Washington that Farrakhan convened to promote self-reliance and “spiritual renewal” among black men. In the months afterward, Wright delivered a series of sermons that were reprinted in a book, “When Black Men Stand Up for God,” which presents a Christian response to the challenge posed by the Nation of Islam. In it, he lambastes the preachers who opposed the march on political or religious grounds: they had missed a prime opportunity to present their case to African-American men. And, by way of establishing his bona fides, he reminds readers that he studied Islam at the University of Chicago. “I have a different perspective on Islam than the average preacher,” he writes. “Islam and Christianity are a whole lot closer than you may realize. Islam comes out of Christianity.”
Presumably, Senator Obama didn’t hear those sermons, either.