NYTimes Religion Writer Baselessly Accuses Conservatives of Taking Rev. Wright's Rants 'Out of Context'

Mark Oppenheimer's latest bimonthly "Beliefs" column for the New York Times accused conservatives like Jonah Goldberg of misunderstanding "liberation theology" in using Rev. Jeremiah Wright to attack Barack Obama: "A Campaign Pitch Rekindles the Question: Just What Is Liberation Theology?"

The year 2012 looks a lot like 2008: high unemployment, a candidate named Obama promising to do something about high unemployment, and the Giants beating the Patriots in the Super Bowl. And one more thing: conservatives are still ridiculing liberation theology. With the complicity of clueless pundits and incurious journalists, they are reducing an important theological movement of the past 40 years to an abusive sound bite.

In 2008, conservatives gleefully attacked the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., Mr. Obama’s home pastor in Chicago, for his provocative remarks in sermons, taken out of context, including his assertion that 9/11 was evidence that “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.” They persuaded many that Mr. Wright was wielding something called “liberation theology” --  and that Candidate Obama had to answer for it.

Can Oppenheimer say exactly how Wright's remarks were "taken out of context"? Here's what Wright said in his sermon of September 16, 2001, five days after the attacks:

We bombed Iraq. We killed unarmed civilians trying to make a living. We bombed a plant in Sudan to pay back for the attack on our embassy, killed hundreds of hard working people, mothers and fathers who left home to go that day not knowing that they'd never get back home. We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and the black South Africans. And now we are indignant, because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought back into our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost. Violence begets violence. Hatred begets hatred. And terrorism begets terrorism. A white ambassador said that y'all, not a black militant. Not a reverend who preaches about racism.

Does that sound remotely "out of context" to you?

Oppenheimer continued in his Saturday column:

“How important a strain is liberation theology in the black church?” a reporter asked Mr. Obama at an April 2008 news conference. “And why did you choose to attend a church that preached that?”

To his credit, Mr. Obama began his reply to that reporter by saying, “I’m not a theologian.” But others had no such modesty. In March 2008, after tapes of Mr. Wright’s fiery sermons surfaced, Jonah Goldberg wrote in his blog for National Review, “I keep meaning to go to school on black liberation theology, but I just haven’t had the time. The similarities between certain strains of the German Christian Movement and Jeremiah Wright’s shtick certainly seem significant.” The German Christians were a movement of pro-Nazi Protestants in prewar Germany.

Also that month, Glenn Beck, then a Fox News host, called black liberation theology “the theological tradition based in hate, intolerance and racial black nationalism.”

Oppenheimer went on to praise "mujerista” theology, an off-shoot of liberation theology on behalf of Latino women, while soft-pedaling the left-wing revolutionary aspects of the movement.

The founding mother of mujerista theology, Ada Maria Isasi-Diaz, a Cuban-American who taught at Drew University, died May 13. She is remembered for the radical step of doing theological field work, talking to Latina women for theological insights that scholars might not glean from books. In works like “En La Lucha” (“In the Struggle”), she used interviews with Latina women, and their descriptions of prayer and religious rituals and festivals, to elaborate the Latina relationship to Christianity, and to the Bible.

Oppenheimer got in another arbitrary dig at Goldberg at the end:

Mujeristas may know nothing of Jeremiah Wright, still less of James H. Cone. They are not black, and they don’t know Marxist theory. But they, too, are liberation theologians, whether Jonah Goldberg knows it or not.

-- Clay Waters is Editor of the MRC's TimesWatch site