Jeremiah Wright and anti-Semitism

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It is with sadness, disappointment and outrage that I read and listened to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s recent comments to a reporter from the Virginia newspaper, the Daily Press.  Wright, the former pastor of Trinity UCC Church in Chicago and President Obama’s pastor until Wright’s incendiary comments during the presidential campaign caused Obama to break the relationship, was asked if he has spoken to the President lately.  He responded, “Them Jews aren’t going to let him talk to me.”  He later said that he meant to say “Zionists.”  Either way the Antisemitism from the mouth of a UCC pastor is appalling.  I have sent the following in an email to the President and Minister of the UCC, The Rev. John Thomas.

Dear President Thomas,
I am writing as a UCC minister for over 25 years, as Associate Dean for Ministry Studies at Harvard Divinity School for over 20 years, and as a long-time admirer of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.  It would be hard to overstate my disappointment in his most recent anti-semitic remarks.  I pray that you will denounce his remarks in the strongest possible terms.  As a servant of the UCC and one who has for over 20 years been involved in the education of students for ministry, I grieve his remarks and their reflection on our denomination.  I beg you to clearly and forcefully say that there is no room for such remarks or thinking among our ministers, retired or not.
Thank you,
Dudley C. Rose
Sr. Minister, North Prospect Union UCC, Medford, MA

President Thomas did release a statement about our solidarity with both Jews and Palestinians, but, unfortunately from my perspective, chose not to directly condemn Wright’s remarks.  Antisemitism has a very long history, and it is well-documented that the Christian Church has had a sordid role in that history.  James Carroll’s book, Constantine’s Sword, for example, is quite illuminating in this regard.

We were reminded of the how far the hatred of Antisemitism can go last week when the President visited the camps at Buchenwald, and we were given clear evidence that it is still alive and well when on Wednesday James von Brunn, a Holocaust denier and white supremacist, shot and killed Stephen Tyrone Johns, a guard at the Holocaust Museum in Washington.  Von Brunn was striking out at “Jews and blacks,” whom he blames for most of our society’s ills.

The message is clear.  Hatred is a curse on the human family, and tolerance of it puts us on a very slippery slope.  As children we used to say, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me.”  I think we’ve learned time and again, though, that the hatred of name-calling leads altogether too easily to broken bones and worse.  Most insidiously, when we believe the name-calling, it becomes a righteous justification for hatred and violence.  Just ask James von Brunn.  He’ll be only too glad to tell anyone who will listen just how holy is his cause.  Surely we have no place for even the beginnings of such rhetoric in our church.