It was the revelatory sermon that threatened to derail Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy. Already under scrutiny for his relationship with Reverend Jeremiah Wright of Chicago for the latter’s controversial and pointed sermons, Obama was thrust into the heat of the scandal when Wright’s infamous “God damn America” sermon was leaked to the press. Critics united in condemning the sermon as radical and un-American, and they questioned Obama about his fidelity to Wright and his church.
Obama ultimately survived the connection between himself and Wright, but discussion about the preacher and his sermon continued. And in 2014, Raphael Warnock – who has a history of giving his own radical and un-American sermons – took it upon himself to defend Wright’s sermon as “Christian preaching at its best.”
Speaking at a roundtable discussion, Warnock said that much of the controversy surrounding Wright’s sermon could be traced to white America’s unfamiliarity with black theology.
“Owing to the pervasive reach of the electronic media and the political machinations of powerful partisan interests caught up in a colossal contest for control over the most powerful nation on earth, millions of Americans, indeed, people around the globe were exposed to a thirty-second clip of a fiery black preacher preaching to his own congregation on a Sunday morning. Extracted from its context and looped to the point of ad nauseam was the most provocative phrase, you heard it over and over again: ‘God Damn America,’” said Warnock at the time.
“The black church, so central to black life, yet barely understood by mainstream America was thrust to the center of a national dialogue,” Warnock continued. “Part of the disconnect that happened in the conversation after Fox News and other made Jeremiah Wright’s sermon famous, part of the disconnect was cultural … in this way there was a disconnect between black and white Americans as the latter were televisually transported to a black church on any given Sunday morning where preachers are expected, even encouraged, to speak the truth, to tell Pharoah, tell it like it is with clarity, creativity and passion.”
Warnock said that, far from being contemptible, Wright’s sermon deserves to be held up as a masterclass in preaching.
“So in that sense, Jeremiah Wright, whose sermon, by the way, if you haven’t read the whole thing, is a very thoughtful and insightful piece on the relationship between God and government, it’s a piece that I would situate in the continuum with St. Augustine’s ‘City of God’ and Martin Luther’s ‘Temple Authority,’ and to what extent it should be obeyed, the reflections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his context – some of it situated it in the continuum of Malcom. But I think it’s Christian preaching at its best,” he concluded.
Warnock, bafflingly, is in a virtual dead heat with Sen. Kelly Loeffler.
Then again, Obama was elected twice, too.