Peggy Noonan had an interesting column this week. I almost didn’t finish it, but I am glad I did. She was commenting on the uproar over Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s various statements and said:
He seems like a bright man, warm, humorous and compelling, but also needful and demanding of the spotlight, a showman prone to crackpottery…
However, the key point is that she wasn’t angry as so many of her friends and acquaintances were. The reason is she thinks that while the whole situation is counterproductive and “part of the great ‘barbaric yawp,’ as Walt Whitman called the American people fighting, discussing, making things and living,” it is essentially not significant or definitive.
She likened Wright’s statements and Mr. Obama’s sitting under him in a church where these kind of statements would be made as “I am still Irish [Black]. I can prove it. I can summon the old anger” and a way to seek solidarity with the group you are part of. It does not define your day-to-day actions, the essence of who you are. It is similar to Confederate flags on the back of pickup windows (the South shall rise again) or hating the Yankees when they come to town to play your team. It is seeking a memory of solidarity as a sounding in the navigation of your life.
While I see Peggy’s point, I disagree with her about its significance. While I understand the Irish, Black, and other solidarity she alludes to, I think that in the end, if not outgrown, it evidences failure. It is not the evidence of a mature person, destined for significant leadership, but of an immature person, still spouting the raucousness of youth. It is not how someone leading a large Church should act, nor someone who seeks to be the President of the United States. We should hold our senior Pastors and our Presidents to higher standards than allowing them vent solidarity with bitterness.
This is especially true of those who claim the life of Christ as their own. “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” (1 Corinthians 13:11) Leaders are supposed to be better than that. They are supposed to evidence what Paul told Timothy:
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lords servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. 2 Timothy 2:22-25a
Yes Peggy, I think you identified the issue, but failed to see the underlying failure. Your twenty something example did not fit grown mature men in positions of power, trust, and authority. You argument actually identified the problem more completely. Thank you for pointing that out, though that was not your intention. I am glad I finished the article.
Jeremiah Wright — a failure? Well, yes. Name three Christian leaders who aren’t. Name three Christians who aren’t.
Well, OK — you, me, and Billy Graham. Name four, then.
Of course Wright says some dumb things. Or perhaps things that are mistaken and conflict with what typical Americans believe about ourselves.
My problem was that, as the Wright controversy exploded, I was reading Hosea. Can you imagine what his countrymen were saying about his diatribes?
While I don’t know that Katrina and 9/11 were God’s wrath for homosexuals or racism, do we believe that God is not annoyed by our preference for self-satisfaction thru material comfort over full-life worship of Him?
Were Hosea’s contemporaries more estranged than we? Or might there be some truth to what Wright says?
George, as a senior Pastor of a large church, Wright is not Hosea, but under Paul’s admonition to Timothy. Old Testament prophets were outsiders, not Levites serving at the Temple. While it is possible to meld the two, I do not remember an example, save Jesus.
Even with that, prophets warned and called to repentence, and they definately would not take God’s name in vain.
No Christian leaders should be failures, though when failing they should repent, not continue on and on and on.
God’s judgment usually takes a generation to reach its fullness. I believe we are about to see God’s “annoyance,” as you put it, over “our preference for self-satisfaction thru material comfort over full-life worship of Him.” I believe it has begun.
Grace and peace.
William — True. Wright is not Hosea. He is not Timothy. and neither of them were Levites. Wright is Wright.
Perhaps the only point on which we disagree is on your assertion that Jesus is an example of a melding of a prophet and a Levite. I understand that Jesus was not a Levite, but rather in the order of Melchizedek. That’s not essential to the matter at hand, tho.
Paul did advise Timothy on the characteristics of a church leader. It would be easy to assume being “above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money” means being a nice guy in the context of our society, but I’m confident you and I would agree that when Paul advised about being “above reproach” he was not suggesting the author of Hebrews was wrong to commend Moses for “esteeming the reproach of Christ [to be] greater riches than the treasures in Egypt.” I think it’s clear from Acts that Paul considered it good to be reproached by those who opposed God and His ways.
I agree, if I understand where you’re going, that none of the NT writers denounced the Roman Empire in which they lived. However, John did say “that the whole world lies under the power of the evil one” and did not exclude certain favorite nations. And Paul wrote to the Ephesians that it’s not people per se who are our opponents but the evil force — while some believe that the evil force does not act thru humans/human institutions, I am not among them.
I also agree that the prophets did not use God’s name without meaning, altho I expect that many of their listeners thought they were just blowing smoke. Not unlike today, when many think that all this God-talk is just something we make up.
And I agree that Christian leaders should not be failures. But they (often/probably) are, I expect — which is why they would repent. I recall reading yesterday a story about John Piper: a young man asked him how he stayed so humble; Piper responded, “What makes you think I am?” Fortunately, our righteousness depends on faith in One Who is successful and not in our own success.
So you believe God’s judgment is coming. I believe that, too. And so does Wright.
As you say, grace and peace. To all who do and would believe our Lord saves.
Ezekiel was a Levitical priest, but that’s not the point really. Your point in the post is that Wright is childish, not that he’s engaging in the long tradition of the prophets. He simply isn’t, and anyone who thinks he isn’t is either ignorant about what he’s up to, ignorant about the tradition of the prophets, or unable to think about the parallels and analogies or lack thereof between two distinct things.
Wright is a conspiracy theorist who refuses to recognize the good in things, exaggerating in a linguistically-inappropriate way, and all the while replacing the gospel (and indeed denying its implications repeatedly) with a social gospel and a divisiveness that is not of Christ. He is no prophet of God. He’s a false prophet. The criteria for that are very clear in the New Testament, and the kind of divisiveness within the body of Christ that he seeks to sow is typical of the false teachers the apostles regularly confront and declare to be not of Christ, the sort of thing justifying excommunication.
Preach it, Jeremy… It seems clarity of thought and understanding are in short supply these days.