Obama's former pastor Wright speaks in Dallas

Posted Sunday, Apr. 27, 2008  comments  Print Reprints
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Urging the black community to stand up to injustice and stem the tide against rape, Rev. Jeremiah Wright delivered two sermons at a South Dallas megachurch in South Dallas on Sunday morning.

Wright, the former pastor of presidential hopeful Barack Obama, spoke at Friendship-West Baptist Church to honor the Rev. Frederick Haynes on the 25th anniversary of his becoming the church's senior pastor. Haynes, who's on the short list to take over the NAACP, has called Wright his "spiritual mentor" and "adopted father."

The event marked one of Wright's first public sermons since video clips from previous sermons served as a body blow to Obama's presidential campaign.

Haynes and others spent part of the morning defending Wright against the criticism and praising his career to an audience made up largely of Wright admirers.

"There is a movement of hope and change sweeping throughout this country because there is a Jeremiah Wright Jr.," Haynes said to the thousands in attendance.

Wright spoke during the 8 a.m. and 10:45 a.m. services, delivering different sermons to each group.

"Folks who can't see racism stamped across the criminal justice system are blind," Wright said during his first sermon, where he said that rampant injustice can leave people psychologically crippled.

He used a story from the book of John to talk about people who aren't willing to stand up for themselves, who he described as living on the corner of "Woe Is Me" and "It's Their Fault."

"Stand up," Wright ordered. "Stop wallowing in misery."

Wright listed accomplishments that a black man can achieve if he stands up for himself, all of which Obama achieved, such as being the first African-American to edit the Harvard Law Review and winning the Iowa Democratic caucus.

"You can be ... the first black man to have a black woman sleeping at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue legally," Wright said. "You can change the system."

Wright mostly left politics behind for his second sermon which he titled "When the Church Fails its Women." It focused on the need for churches to promote respect for women.

"The church fails its women when the church sits silent on the issue of rape," Wright said. "Teach our boys that the word 'no' means no, and teach our girls to stop giving out kibbles and bits."

He said respect for women is an issue that isn't highlighted enough in America.

"Bill O'Reilly doesn't understand this. Just look at his marital record," Wright quipped.

O'Reilly is married and has two children. He settled a sexual harassment suit with a former producer in 2004.

Wright encouraged members of the congregation who were victims of abuse or knew someone who has been abused to stand with him at the front of the church.

"I don't know who you are but you know who you are and God knows who you are," he said. Dozens of people walked up.

Stacey M. Floyd-Thomas, director of black church studies at Fort Worth's Brite Divinity School, presented Wright with an award he had been scheduled to receive at a black church summit in March. Wright canceled his appearance because of safety concerns.

"We as black Texans ... saw this as a time we would not refuse and we would not deny our modern-day prophet," Floyd-Thomas said.

Brite Divinity is on the campus of Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. Wright noted his displeasure with how TCU officials disassociated themselves from the decision to give him an award. He thanked Brite Divinity for "going against the president of Texas Christian, Texas Christian, Texas Christian University," emphasizing the word "Christian" each time.

Referring to "his public crucifixion" Wright listed several instances since in which supporters turned their backs in recent weeks.

A university that had planned to give him an honorary doctorate withdrew the offer, telling him they now questioned his patriotism, he said.

Bethune-Cookman College, a historically black college in Daytona Beach, Fla., uninvited Wright from delivering the commencement address at their graduation ceremony, Wright said.

Two churches in Minneapolis asked Wright not to visit "because they were afraid of what the Klan might do," he said.

Haynes said he banned media cameras from the morning's services because he didn't want parts of his sermons to be taken out of context to provide more media fodder.

"I don't want this to be circus," Haynes said. "I don't want to be in the ring."

He warned those in attendance that media crews were waiting outside to talk to church member and advised them all to politely say "no comment."

Haynes praised the hourlong interview Bill Moyers conducted with Wright that was broadcast on PBS on Friday, describing it as the first balanced portrait of the man since the scandal broke last month.

"It's something that needs to be part of every classroom in the nation," Haynes said. He said Wright "basically presented not only himself but the prophetic tradition of the black church in this nation. He represented the best of America."

AMAN BATHEJA, 817-390-7695

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