Though more along the lines of what not to do… Thabiti Anyabwile looks at Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s latest controversial comments and shared some very important lessons for pastors to learn from Rev. Wright’s shameful conduct on the public stage.
It’s a cautionary tale for us younger pastors. Here’s a man that’s served the same congregation over thirty years, who has no doubt learned many things in that time. He’s perhaps forgotten more than I know. And yet, when he is supposed to be retired and out of the public light, seems so taken with himself and his view of the world that he’d beat the sheep rather than feed them and risk overturning perhaps the most significant bid for the presidency in American history.
The lessons are legion. Here are five from my perspective:
1. Feed the sheep, feed the sheep, feed the sheep. For the sake of argument, even if Obama was wrong in his Philadelphia comments where Wright was concerned, the appropriate response from the pastor isn’t a series of interviews but Galatians 6:1-2, gently pulling the erring brother aside. Insofar as Wright still regarded himself as the stronger brother and Obama’s pastor, he was obligated to bear with the weak (Rom. 14:1; 15:1-3) and to teach with all patience (2 Tim. 4:2). This, no doubt, is easier said than done when we’re feeling personally attacked. But our call to heal and lead the sheep trumps our “right” to self-defense.
2. Be willing to suffer reproach for doing good. Wright sees himself as a servant of the marginalized and oppressed, a role he asserts Jesus assumed. If he really believed that, he should willingly and joyfully suffer for doing good (1 Pet. 2:20-24; 3:13-17). To this we are called. While I think Wright’s theological and political commitments are wrong-headed, his life illustrates for me the importance of my being willing to suffer for what I think is right–the Lord, the gospel and the sheep.
3. Think carefully about a separation of church and state principle in my own ministry and public comments on public issues. This, I think, is a serious weakness in some quarters of American Christianity, with social gospels on the left and the right. Wright interprets the critical comments in response to his sermons as an attack on the black church. The comments fueling all of this were pretty clearly political comments, not gospel, Christian, or church-related comments. That he doesn’t see the distinction is quite alarming. Now he is in the public square assuming that his detractors at the least don’t understand the entire black church and at worst are anti-black church. Whenever or if ever I am called to speak on some public issue, I need to do the hard work of knowing where the Bible stops speaking, where my opinion begins, and where either state concerns are over-running more fundamental biblical concerns or vice-versa.
4. Seek counsel before speaking. That hardly needs any elaboration, except to say that on stages as large as this, and on a thousand smaller ones, we either help the cause of Christ by speaking well or hinder it by speaking poorly. “No man can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). Surely we should count the costs before waging war, seek counsel before advancing plans. And beyond seeking counsel, heeding it. I can’t imagine that any godly persons advised Wright to make these appearances, or they did that Wright kept their counsel. A good rule of thumb I learned in a different context: if you seek someone’s counsel and you decide to do something other than what they counsel, at least make yourself accountable to the counselor and the counsel by advising the counselor that (a) you’re going to do something different than what was counseled, (b) the reasons why, and (b) before you act.
5. Pray and war against pride. I don’t want to judge Wright. I don’t know the man’s heart or motives in all of this. But it looks like the same kind of pride that lurks in my heart, seeking to control the assessments I make of myself, my own importance and influence, and my reaction to situations and people who don’t think more highly of me than they do themselves. It’s been said a lot. And most of us have read or heard C.J. and others on the dangers of pride. But is it not ever with us? Does it not always threaten us, our relationships, and even our ministries? Had Wright never said a word in his own defense, many people would have judged his life of ministry on a wider set of factors, some favorable and some not. But now, it seems pride may have ruined a reputation after the public ministry was completed. It can do as much and more damage in all of our lives.
Be sure to read the whole post. I appreciate the wisdom and humility shared in his post.