The choir sang louder, longer and with more emotion. Even a boy who sat absorbed by his Nintendo DS stopped, looked up and noticed the mood had intensified. Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. took the pulpit.
Wright delivered the sermon on Monday night at the Grace Baptist Church of Germantown as part of Preaching with Power, a forum on black preaching and theology that runs through Thursday.
The annual event, which has taken place for 29 years, is hosted by The Urban Theological Institute of the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia. It has featured speakers from across the country, but on this night Wright was returning home. The house was packed to welcome him.
His father received a degree at the seminary and was a pastor at Grace, said John Kahler, director of communications for LTSP. Wright, a pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, is famous for marrying President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama and baptizing their children. He is infamous for saying the United States’ own terrorism brought on al Qaeda’s attacks on 9/11, and that the United States invented AIDS to kill black people.
But Kahler described Wright as an outstanding preacher who has been misrepresented in the media. To some, that unfiltered honesty of belief is the source of his power.
“He doesn’t bite his tongue. Sometimes the medicine is like Castor oil,” said the Rev. G. Daniel Jones, a member of UTI’s advisory board at LTSP, as he introduced Wright. “But it’s good for you.”
Wright started his sermon by talking about the Book of Acts, and said that Philip, a deacon who became an evangelist, represented preaching with power. Years ago, he used Philip as a model for his deacon-in-training program once he noticed that the deacons in his church would give ungenerously at collection while their wives enjoyed luxuries.
“Choosing deacons was as far removed from Act 6,” he said. “As Sarah Palin is to being called intelligent.”
Wright stressed that preaching with power connects the hearer to the holy, replaces cultural blindness and calls forward a commitment to serious change.
This message wasn’t lost on Angela Dean.
She attended the event because her church was one of the sponsors, and she wanted to hear Wright speak. She thought it was a powerful sermon and that she could apply what he talked about in her life, she said.
Sharon Griffin also enjoyed listening to Wright. Griffin was impressed with his honesty and how down-to-earth he appeared, she said.
It wasn’t the first time Acquanetta Watts Davis had seen Wright, but she was still moved by his message.
She particularly identified with what he said about Catholicism. Growing up she was forced to go to church without truly understanding the Bible. But she is learning it now, she said.
Wright continued talking after the service at the lower auditorium. He took questions from the audience and spoke about a range of topics from African music to his grandson graduating from Howard University to gender bashing.
He was especially critical of how people let selfishness control their behavior in everyday life.
“I don’t care how many African miners die. I’m going to get my bling-bling,” he said, and proceeded to talk about stores like Wal-Mart. “We’re looking for the best buy. We got money on our mind, not the people.”