The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, former pastor to President-elect Barack Obama whose remarks on racial injustice, conduct of the American government and U.S. foreign policy made him a divisive figure in this year’s presidential campaign, will be in Macon this week.
Starting Monday and continuing through Wednesday, Wright will preach at a revival at St. Paul AME Church. This will be his second visit to the city. Wright also spoke at St. Paul last year.
But that was before he gained notoriety for suggesting in sermons that “God damn America” for the way the country has treated American Indians, Japanese-Americans and blacks, or for suggesting that the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were the result of America’s chickens “coming home to roost” because of the country’s behavior overseas.
Wright delivered those sermons in 2001 and 2003 from his pulpit at Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago’s South Side. They were not made nationally prominent until the Democratic presidential primaries in 2008, when video of his statements began to saturate cable news networks and the Internet.
St. Paul’s pastor, the Rev. Ronald Slaughter, said there is more to Wright, however, than what has been portrayed in sound bites over the past year. Wright has spent more than three decades working in the community, helping to build schools for kids and homes for seniors, Slaughter said. And he grew his church from 87 members in the early 1970s to more than 6,000.
“He can be so inspiring if people remove the 2001, whatever that was. ... That was five minutes. You can’t compare five minutes to 35 years,” Slaughter said. “That’s why he’s coming back to Macon, for the 35 years.”
Slaughter said he doesn’t know what Wright will speak about when he’s here. The theme of the revival is “a life changing experience,” drawing on the birth of Jesus Christ, he said. Slaughter said his church’s worship center will hold up to 650 people, and groups from Vidalia, Albany and Dublin have expressed interest in attending.
The pastor concedes that not everyone in his congregation agrees with Wright’s statements, and he suspects that in the end Wright turned out to be a little too radical for Obama, who resigned his membership at Trinity earlier this year. But, Slaughter notes, Wright could afford not to be politically correct in his sermons. He wasn’t the one running for president.
“We’re bringing him back for being an ecumenical person,” Slaughter said.
Efforts to reach Wright to comment on his Macon visit were unsuccessful. Messages left for his executive assistant at Trinity, where Wright is now a pastor emeritus, were not returned last week. Slaughter also declined to provide contact information for Wright, who he said no longer gives interviews to the media.
Wright has limited his public appearances during the past few months while waiting for the presidential election to run its course. The St. Paul revival originally was scheduled for October, the same month it took place in 2007, but it had to be delayed this year to accommodate Wright’s scaled-back schedule.
Slaughter said he thinks people will be “shocked” when they finally hear Wright speak and discover he is not what they expected.
In fact, it was during Wright’s first visit to Macon that he inspired Mayor Robert Reichert, who during his inauguration speech last year quoted Wright’s sermons at St. Paul. At the time, Reichert said he felt the Chicago pastor was speaking directly to him when he preached about trusting God during changes in leadership.
Reichert said he intends to see Wright speak again this week.
“I loved his message. I loved his delivery. It was based out of biblical scripture, and it spoke true to me,” the mayor said last week, adding that Wright deserves to be treated with courtesy and respect during his visit. “And if you haven’t heard him, don’t pre-judge him.”
There are, of course, those who have judged him.
Among those is conservative radio talk show personality Chris Krok, who is organizing a protest against Wright’s visit. Krok received formal permission from the city to lead a demonstration against Wright with up to 50 people from 5-7 p.m. Monday, ending at the same time the preaching is scheduled to start.
Deputy Police Chief Mike Carswell said that Wright’s visit will receive “ample” police protection but that security will be no tighter than it normally is for a visiting dignitary.
“As far as outward signs, it will be pretty low-key,” Carswell said.
To contact writer Matt Barnwell, call 744-4251.