Rev. Jeremiah Wright – in context

For two weeks now, the vast majority of media coverage surrounding Barack Obama’s pastor, Rev. Wright, has been a straw man of epic proportions. After combing through countless sermons in order to isolate individual phrases that might be “shocking”, the media has successfully constructed a false caricature of Rev. Wright – and we’ve been beaten over the head with it for the better part of two weeks.

Rev. Wright’s comments seemed crazy. (“God damn America!”) They seemed indefensible. (Following 9/11: “America’s chickens have come home to roost.”)

Then, only after the storm started to die down, Rev. Wright’s comments actually appeared in context:

In Isaiah and elsewhere (how about Rome??), God does indeed curse the nation who puts herself ahead of God. The injection of context to this issue makes it immediately apparent that Rev. Wright has been unfairly demonized throughout this entire process. His words are not only justifiable in context, but dead-on. It’s serious, well-founded theology – and it’s a far cry from the ugly caricature of that we’ve been spoon-fed by the media for the last two weeks.

Now, let’s turn to Rev. Wright’s comments following 9/11. He was roundly criticized for saying that “America’s chickens have come home to roost,” which was the extent of the sound byte. Here’s the full context (it’s long, but it’s glorious):

So let’s get this straight: for two weeks now, the media has been claiming that Rev. Wright has “blamed America for 9/11,” when in fact, Rev. Wright was quoting – in context – a white ambassador? And Rev. Wright gets two weeks of bad press for this???

Say it loud: the talking heads are not your friend!

The willingness of so many to accept the character assassination of Rev. Wright just underscores the need for all of us to think for ourselves during this election season, and not blindly accept ideas constructed from 30 second sound bytes.

For additional reading on how much the “30 seconds per sermon” approach sucks, go here. For more videos of Rev. Wright, go here.

15 Responses to “Rev. Jeremiah Wright – in context”

  1. Betsy Says:

    Things take a slightly different perspective when viewed in the right context.

    Whether one agrees with Reverend Wright or not, it seems to me that he has been unfairly demonized to make a media controversy.

    Watch Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s 9-11 sermon in context on youtube and decide.

  2. FranIAm Says:

    Hey Tom – Easter Joy to you. It was nice to see your comment on my blog and thanks for the kind words. Do let me know if you are ever going to be in Saratoga Springs, I would love to say hello!

    I think you are correct in pointing this out, but here in soundbyte nation, what does context even mean? I hate to sound so cynical, but it frustrates me.

    For the record, for reasons too long to go into here, I continue to feel an ennui about this election that mystifies me. I am not enthused about Obama or Clinton, although on the meter, he gets a higher blip for me than she does.

    I put up a post about this the other day and generated a sh*tstorm of comments.

    There has also been more than one dust up of late in my bloggy world over matters of spirituality and religion, so that explains the title of my post.

  3. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Hi Fran,

    With regards to what context really means, I understand what you’re getting at, that in this ‘sound byte nation,’ the Rev. Wright thing has run its course, and whatever damage/fallout there will be has already been inflicted. We’re behind the news cycle.

    However, context in this case is extremely important, even after the fact. It may not even have any impact on the fly-by news cycles or spinning, talking-heads, but in the realm of right and wrong, it is profoundly important that we stand for what is fair, honest, and true.

    For the last two weeks, we have been fed a string of 10 second snippets that has allowed an evil caricature to stand in place of a fair representation of a great man. The result has been a dastardly attack on a wonderful and vibrant church, an immensely warm and gifted pastor and church leader, and the best presidential candidate in the race.

    From this point forward, we have the means to question this skewing, and some ammo to back it up. Which is exactly what I’m gonna do. 🙂


  4. gasdocpol Says:



    Does that make all members of his church suspect of having those proclivities themselves? Does every person need to be reassessed . Can we trust someone who goes to his church to be a babysitter?

    Somehow this situation is very analogous to what has been done to Obama in the first big swiftboating attack of the season.

  5. FranIAm Says:

    Interchange, exchange and conversation along with deep listening changes us, or should I say evolves us.

    As is seen here.

    It is long, but I hope you will read and comment, I go all over the place!

    Thanks Tom!!!

  6. John J. Says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more Tom (Hi, by the way; Fran led me over here). The 9-11 speech is the best instance of context being completely misused that I have seen yet in these. If you take the last 5 seconds of what they keep showing from that sermon, and the first 5 seconds after it, it is a completely different sermon.

  7. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Welcome, betsy, gasdocpol, and John J.

    gasdocpol, I agree with your basic premise – that Obama shouldn’t be judged according to what his pastor says or does – but I’m appalled at your comparison of Rev. Wright to a ‘pedophiliac priest.’ Let’s just be clear that making incendiary (and true!) comments in a sermon are really not the same thing as child molestation.

    John J, I appreciate your additional context, as well as the observation about even five more seconds on each side of the clips change everything. To me, that is further evidence of how intentionally the media skewered Rev. Wright just to get a shot at Obama, which is really quite insidious.


  8. gasdocpol Says:

    I was saying that even the parishioners of a clergyman who has done worse things than wright are not subjected to the censure that people are imposing upon Obama.

  9. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Gotcha. And I’m with ya. Thanks, gasdocpol.

  10. Diane Says:

    Tom this is wonderful!!! I need to add you to my blog-roll.

  11. Tricia of Charlotte, NC Says:

    Right context? THIS STORY IS A LIE. He was NOT quoting Ambassador Peck. As a matter of fact, if you would bother to check, you would see Ambassador Peck gave his interview well after Rev. Wright’s sermon. CHECK THE DATE OF THE INTERVIEW: 10/10, Wright gave his speech 09/16.

    Additionally, quoting in context…what is that?

    So let’s see..I can quote you in context and say whatever I choose and associate it to you. YOUR REASONING IS ABSURD!

    Even if it was in regards to an interview he heard (which wasn’t Ambassador Peck’s)…that is his interpretation and opinion, NOT QUOTING. Nor should it be claimed as such.

    Don’t you think if an Ambassador, OUR Ambassador had said anything even remotely close, especially right after 9/11…we and the whole world would have heard about it?

    Check your facts first, Sir (which is the same thing you are placing the blame on others for) and commenters, you are capable of the same thing instead of just following like sheep to whatever someone says.


  12. Tom Ryberg Says:

    Hi Tricia,

    First of all, welcome to the blog. As I am frequently wrong about lots of things, I welcome your attempt to set me straight. However, you are very mistaken on this particular point.

    You write: Right context? THIS STORY IS A LIE. He was NOT quoting Ambassador Peck. As a matter of fact, if you would bother to check, you would see Ambassador Peck gave his interview well after Rev. Wright’s sermon. CHECK THE DATE OF THE INTERVIEW: 10/10, Wright gave his speech 09/16.

    I appreciate what you are trying to say, but your timeline simply is not correct. The video of Rev. Wright’s 9/16 sermon, included in this post, demonstrates this:

    At the 3’14” mark, Rev. Wright states: “I heard Ambassador Peck on an interview yesterday…he was on Fox News. This was a white man, and he was upsetting the Fox News commentators to no end…[he pointed out] that what Malcolm X said when he got silenced by Elijah Muhammad was in fact true: ‘America’s chickens are coming home to roost.'”

    Wright expands on this topic for a moment, then ironically, apparently in anticipation of this very controversy, he says at 5’40”: “A white ambassador said that, y’all, not a black militant, not a reverend who preaches about racism, but an ambassador whose eyes are wide open, and who’s trying to get us to wake up and move away from this dangerous precipice upon which we are now poised…”

    Remember: Wright said this on 9/16/01, as this video clearly demonstrates. Therefore, your comment, however well intentioned, cannot be true.


  13. littlebangtheory Says:

    Tom, I’m so late in getting to this, I’m sorry. But in the intervening time, I’ve been thinking that the M$M snippets we keep hearing are just too out of context to be judged, and also that, hyperbole notwithstanding, the Reverend was right.

    Awesome job in pulling it together, man.

  14. Stories of Expatriation & Maturation Says:

    […] And to see UCC ordained minister, Jeremiah Wright’s comments and connection to Obama in context, I suggest you see Tom Ryberg’s post, Jeremiah Wright in Context. […]

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