Wright challenges ‘church folk’
Long before becoming known as “Obama’s pastor,” the Rev. Jeremiah Wright was known as a dynamic preacher and community leader who helped turn a small Chicago church into one of the largest and most influential in the country.
Judging by his appearance Tuesday at Elm Grove Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, the retired Wright can still captivate a crowd with a spiritual message and a few biting remarks. Wright last visited the church in 2007.
During his message titled “The Good Shepherd,” Wright’s most pointed attacks were reserved for “church folk.” He compared them to the Pharisees and scribes in Luke 15 who were critical of people or “sinners” who wanted to talk and sought help from Jesus.
“There was something about the way Jesus talked that was very different than the way other men would talk,” said the 69-year-old Wright, who retired in 2008 after 36 yeas as pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.
Jesus was often quite effective as with the case of a man named Zacchaeus in Luke 19.
“Whatever it was that Jesus talked to Zacchaeus about caused a rich man to give back half of everything he owned to the poor and to pay back all the folk he had cheated to get rich — four times what he had cheated them out of,” Wright said. “You will not hear that sermon preached on Wall Street ...
“I find it fascinating that whatever it is the Pharisees had to say on a regular basis, these tax collectors and sinners didn’t come near to listening to them,” Wright said. “Maybe what church folk got to say ain’t what people need to hear.”
Then Wright described church folk dealing with topics such as women in ministry, dress in church and speaking in tongues.
He criticized what church folk said after the levees broke in New Orleans. “Leading white televangelists said it was God’s punishment on a sin-filled city.”
He criticized what church folk had to say about immigration: “They want to run all the Mexicans out of Arizona and Texas. They gonna run black Haitians and black Cubans back to their islands, which they keep in poverty, and they’re going to take their country back.
“You know what church folk say is insane,” Wright said. “What church folk say is insensitive. What church folk say is stuck on stupid. Maybe church folk just need to shut up and listen to Jesus.”
Among those who wanted to talk to Jesus were the hated tax collectors, Wright said.
“They were the Uncle Toms with no regard to our people,” he said. “Tax collectors were parallel from the first century to the 20th century black drug dealers in the black community, dealing death to their own people, making the enemy rich, for a few crumbs, for a few pieces of bling-bling, expensive cars and bread for himself but the man getting all the money.”
The church folks should have been rejoicing when the sinners came to Jesus, Wright said.
“Church folks ought to be shouting,” he said. “Instead of shouting, they’re grumbling.”
After all the entertainment, which included Wright singing a couple of Motown classics, gospel and a little rap for the young people, he got into the crux of his message.
Unlike the muttering church folks, Jesus the good shepherd showed love and compassion for the lost sheep in the parable in Luke 15.
Sheep, Wright explained, can’t see more than 6 feet in from of them.
“A sheep gets lost 6 feet at time,” he said. “We get lost 6 feet at time.
“Every sound the sheep hears is a potential trap because they could only see — how far? –— 6 feet,” Wright said. “So when his heart races and his body bruises, look what the good shepherd does. Jesus says he lifts him up and lays him on his shoulder.”
The sheep’s heart stops racing, “because he knows he’s safe in the arms of the shepherd,” Wright said.
It was a quite a message for the former Marine who many first became familiar with during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign.
Wright was criticized for controversial sermons and public remarks, some critical of the United States government. Obama resigned his membership from Trinity soon after.
The Rev. Edward Howard said he’s been around for about half of Greater Mount Gideon Baptist Church’s 100 years, including the last 42 years as pastor.
The church at 205 Alice St. will hold its 100th anniversary service at 11 a.m. Sunday.
“I’m really excited — just the idea we’re going to celebrate 100 years,” said Howard, 85.
Speaker for the service will be the Rev. Gary McNealy of Greater Friendship Missionary Baptist Church in Clewiston, Fla.
The theme of the anniversary is “100 years together as one body in Christ, committed to the will of God.” It is based on Proverbs 16:3: “Commit thy works to the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.”
“All of us are committed to the will of God,” said Emma Woods, chairwoman of the anniversary program.
Woods said Sunday’s service culminates four days of anniversary events, including a youth explosion and intercessory prayer.
A couple of COPS brought preaching and singing recently to inmates in Louisiana, including at the Dixon Correctional Institute.
Officers Kenneth Tutwiler and Brian Dodson, of the prison ministry Cops Out Preaching Salvation in California, ministered to about 100 people during a service on June 25 at Dixon. Tutwiler, the founder and president of COPS, preached while Dodson provided music along with the DCI Gospel Choir.
“The Holy Spirit moved through this service big time,” Tutwiler said. “By the time I was done preaching, I knew God had emptied me out. I preached a message titled ‘Falling Through the Cracks of Life.’ Brian sang and blessed all of us. He was so powerful on stage singing.”
The 5-year-old COPS ministry has 13 members, mostly active law enforcement officers. The group travels the country preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ in churches, prisons, jails, churches, teen centers and other facilities, said Tutwiler, who has been involved in prison ministry for 16 years.
The foundation of the COPS ministry comes from the words of Christ in Matthew 25:36: “I was naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.”
Tutwiler said the visit to Dixon was part of five facilities in four days for COPS. The group also visited the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola and the Elayn Hunt Correctional Center in St. Gabriel.
Faith Matters runs every other Saturday. Contact Terry Robinson at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@ theadvocate.com.
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