The Corner

Audacity vs. Capitalism

In my piece for NRO today, “The Audacity of the Real “Audacity,” I provide a number of controversial quotations from a text of Jeremiah Wright’s “Audacity to Hope” sermon, and a number of controversial quotations from other Wright sermons as well. I’m going to continue that effort here, this time focusing on the issue of Wright’s antipathy for capitalism. Some of that hostility shows up in the quotes already provided in today’s piece. But other passages deserve attention.

Here is a passage from Wright’s 1991 “Audacity” text that almost certainly was spoken in something very close to this form in 1988, in the sermon that led to Obama’s conversion. We can safely assume this because the gist of the passage is alluded to in Obama’s book, Dreams from My Father. And as I explain in my piece today, the text I’m drawing on is much closer to the 1988 original than the heavily edited and “sanitized” text posted on the web last month. OK, here’s the text:

In our world, famine ravishes black and brown citizens who make up one-half or two-thirds of the globe, while feasting and gluttony are enjoyed by the minority of persons who inhabit the globe. I don’t know if you have ever been on one of those cruise ships that go to the Caribbean, but you do know of the hunger that is in such places as Haiti. Each week when those ships come back into Miami or San Juan, they dump more food into the Atlantic Ocean or the Caribbean Sea than the hungry citizens in Haiti can find to eat in a lifetime.

Here’s the “backstory” on this passage. Wright is not merely saying that there are tragic disparities between wealth in the West and in the rest of the world. Wright appears to believe that the capitalist system itself creates and depends upon the poverty and hunger of the “black and brown one-half or two-thirds of the globe.” In effect, Wright believes that just as slavery supported the capitalist economy of early America, capitalism today depends upon the de facto slavery of Third World oppression. We can see this in the following passage from Wright’s 2005 essay, “The Continuing Legacy of Samuel DeWitt Proctor:”

[This is] an age of “prosperity preachers,” who operate as if we live in a cultural vacuum. The garbage being proclaimed as the gospel by the prosperity pimps preaches capitalism as being synonymous with Christianity. It also preaches the philosophy of Adam Smith as if Smith’s philosophy were the theology of an almighty Savior!

Capitalism as made manifest in the “New World” depended upon slave labor (by African slaves), and it is only maintained by keeping the “Two-Thirds World” under oppression. That heresy has nothing to do with the message of the man from Galilee, a Capernaum carpenter who had no place to lay his head, and that heresy is completely oblivious of the culture that produced the gospel and the culture of Africans living in the American diaspora.

Dr. Proctor taught that cultural relevance is crucial if we are to be faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ instead of being faithful to the gospel of Adam Smith. We are descendants of Africa, not England. We have a culture that is not English. We are descendants of Africa, not Europe. We have a culture that is African in origin–not European. The Bible we preach came from a culture that was not English or European. Rightly dividing the Word of Truth means taking seriously the culture that produced that Word.

So one of the famous passages from the “Audacity” sermon would appear to betoken a broader view that holds capitalism to be a fundamentally evil and exploitative phenomenon, both alien to African culture and literally damaging to contemporary Africans and the broader diaspora of Africans around the world. Authentic Christianity, in this view, appears to be a fundamentally African cultural phenomenon, true understanding of which results in antipathy to the capitalist system itself. This view is quite consistent with the broader trend of Black Liberation Theology, and perhaps also with Wright’s three trips to Cuba.


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