The modern Western strain of Christianity has nearly forsaken the ancient art of prophetic voice. Rev. Jeremiah Wright has been criticized for his prophetic language because so many of us have forgotten what a prophet sounds like. Compared to the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah, Rev. Jeremiah Wright sounds tame.
The prophet Jeremiah calls Israel a prostitute, a corrupt wild vine, a craving wild donkey in heat, and then he heaps curses on their children and children’s children. That is only chapter 2! He does this for another 23 chapters! Why does he say such outlandish things? He is using prophecy to criticize the rampant injustice in Israel as its wealthy elite ruling class had turned their backs on the ideals of Jewish community. Their covenant with God to create a just society had been broken by their greed and arrogance.
"Cut down the trees
and build siege ramps against Jerusalem.
This city must be punished;
it is filled with oppression. (Jeremiah 6:6)
Take warning, O Jerusalem,
or I will turn away from you
and make your land desolate
so no one can live in it." (Jeremiah 6:8)
I’m not sure how you hear that, but I feel certain the wealthy elite in Israel heard that as “God Damn Israel!" The role of the prophet is to make people uncomfortable and to force them to confront their sins. It is important to remember that these prophets offer us a way out of God’s damnation. Jeremiah condemns Israel for its transgressions but he also offers a cure:
5 If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, 6 if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. (Jeremiah 7:5-7)
Will God damn America? Like Jeremiah, Rev. Wright warns of God's wrath unless we change our ways and turn away from war, racism and greedy consumerism. Are these two Jeremiahs expressing hatred for their nation? Absolutely not! Do they really desire the wrath of God to be poured out on the people of their nation? No, not at all. These prophetic voices are legitimate criticisms with sincere pleas for change. We shouldn't be afraid of these types of statements. We should worry if they ever stop, because it would mean that all hope for change has been lost.
What bothers some people about Rev. Wright is that he dares to criticize America. For them the nation is an idol that must be worshipped and any criticism is viewed as blasphemy. The flag has become their golden calf. They condemn Rev. Wright because he condemns worshipping the state as an idol. Rather than condemn him, we need to take Rev. Wright's prophetic warnings to heart and act to bring America back from the darkness of pre-emptive war, racism, our use of torture, and a lack of compassion for the poor and the sick among us. America can do better and Rev. Wright’s prophetic voice is telling us what we need to know so that we can be better.