(2003) Rev. Jeremiah Wright, “Confusing God and Government”

Johnson Chapel on Feb. 9, 2007
Image courtesy Amherst College/Jessica Mestre, Fair use image

During the 2008 Presidential campaign, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, whose most famous congregant was Illinois Senator Barack Obama, burst unto the national political scene when media outlets reported and aired segments of previous sermons.  The segment which appeared most frequently and generated the greatest controversy was his phrase, “God damn America” for its treatment of people of color.  The entire sermon, delivered at Trinity on April 13, 2003, appears below.

If you were to ask the average Christian, “did Jesus cry?” almost every Christian would quote for you that John 11:35 verse, which most Bible students call the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept”. It is the verse, you will remember, that is found in the middle of the story about the death of Lazarus, the Lord Jesus’ friend. Jesus loved Lazarus, his friend; Lazarus had died. Jesus was outside the village of Bethany – he had not yet reached the city limits – Martha had met him, and he and Martha had talked. Martha was mad, and she let the Lord know that she was mad. Jesus had reassured her with words she did not understand, “I am the resurrection and the life: whosoever believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live again: and whosoever liveth and believeth shall never die.”

He had reassured her – she didn’t understand those words, but at least he had calmed her down for just a little bit. She left Jesus there, went back to the house and called her sister Mary and told her privately, “Jesus is here and he is calling for you.” And when Mary heard those words she got up quickly and went to where Jesus was just outside of Bethany. When those who were grieving with her saw her get up quickly and go out, they ran along with her – you find that story in John 11. They thought she was going to her brother’s grave site to grieve. When Jesus saw her crying, and Jesus saw those who were trying to console her crying, he started weeping.
The text says “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and he was deeply moved.”

He asked Mary and Martha, “where have you laid him?” and they said “Lord, come and see” and he cried: “Jesus wept.” You know, death will make you weep. When you lose someone that you love, you will weep. When you lose somebody that was close to you, the tears will come; I ain’t telling you about nothing that I read in a book somewhere, I’m telling you what I know from personal experience. I’m not telling you what I studied in pastoral counseling, I’m telling you what I have lived – for when the pain of death hits and the pain is deep, when the pain of death hits and the pain is personal, when the finality of death comes crashing in on you, and those words “never again” move from the region of possibility to the heart-wrenching realm of reality, that smile that made your day, never again will you see it.

That laughter that lit up your world, never again will you hear it. That wisdom that anchored your soul, never again will you experience it in this life. When that happens to you, my beloved, you will weep. You will cry. Jesus wept; Jesus cried. And most Christians learn very early in their walk of faith that John 11:35 verse – what does it say?

Congregation: Jesus wept.

You know that’s the first Bible verse you memories. You usually go around the table and have to say a Bible verse at dinner; “What’s your verse?” “Jesus wept.” But guess what? Guess what? Tonight’s text teaches us that that is not the only time that Jesus wept. On this day that we call Palm Sunday, when the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God and joyfully – as we just read – for all the deeds of powers that they had seen – on the Sunday that we call Palm Sunday, as Jesus rode on the colt – on the Sunday before Maundy Thursday, the Sunday before Good Friday, while some of the Pharisees in the crowd tried to stop the praise of the profession that was taking place – on the Sunday before he was put to death on a cross, stretched between two thieves, the Sunday that he said if these who are praising me hold their peace, then the rocks will cry out – on the Sunday before he sealed our salvation as he came near the city, the text we just read said, in the midst of the praise, Luke tells us that he wept over the city; he cried for his people who did not know the things that make for peace.

He cried for his people because they were blinded by their culture, they were blinded by their condition, they were blinded by their circumstance, they were blinded by their oppression, they were blinding by being in a spot where they desired – deeply desired – revenge, and they could not see the things that make for peace. We keep forgetting, we keep forgetting, and we need to remember; Jerome Ross wrote about it like he reminded you of it, write it down so you don’t forget it. These people had, in Luke 19, an occupying army living in their country. Jesus in verse 43 calls them their enemies – say enemies; their enemies had all the political power. Remember, they had to send Jesus to a court presided over by the enemy; a provisional governor appointed by their enemies ran the civic and the political affairs of the capital. He had backing him up an occupying army with superior soldiers – they were commandos trained in urban combat and trained to kill on command.

Remember, it was soldiers of the Third Marine regiment of Rome who had fun with Jesus, who was mistreated as a prisoner of war, an enemy of the occupying army stationed in Jerusalem to ensure the mopping up action of Operation It’s Really Freedom; these people were blinded by the culture of war. Do you know what it’s like to live under military rule 24/7, 365? These people were blinded by their circumstance of oppression; their enemies not only had all of the political power, with Governor Pontius Pilate – y’all call him “Pontus Pilot” – he’s Italian, Pontius Pilate – Pontus Pilot was running the provisional government; their enemies also had the military power. They not only had political power, they had the military power. It was Roman soldiers who kept Jesus up all night.

It was the Italian army who led Jesus out to Calvary on Friday morning. It was the occupying military brigade who forced Simon of Cyrene to carry the cross for Jesus. These people were tired of their oppression, they wanted the enemy up out of their land (some of them did, some of them didn’t; not the businessmen, not those in bed with the enemy, let’s be clear, let’s be clear) but the average citizen wanted them out, but they also wanted revenge. They wanted their King to get this military monkey off their back – they wanted a “regime change”, if you will. And look what they called Jesus, look at it in verse 38, they called Jesus the “King”. Look at it, look at it, look at verse 38. They call him the King. “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord.” They wanted their King – see, their King – they saw God the Lord getting ready to do something about this situation. Blinded by the pain of their situation, they could not see the things that made for peace, y’all. So Jesus cried.

Let me help you with something. Let me help you, let me help you. The military does not make for peace. The military only keeps the lid on for a little while. The military doesn’t make for peace, and the absence of armed resistance doesn’t mean the presence of genuine peace. Somebody needs to hear me tonight, you’re not hearing me. War does not make for peace. We said at the eleven o’clock service “Fighting for peace is like raping for Virginity”. War does not make for peace, war only makes for escalating violence, and a mindset to pay the enemy back by any means necessary. When your wife or your children have been crushed by the enemy, when your mother or your father have been mowed down by the military, peace is not on your mind.
Payback is the only game in town.

You just bide your time and you wait for your opportunity, but somebody is going to pay dearly for the permanent damage that has come into your life and wrecked your world as it rocked your world. Military might does not make for peace, war does not make for peace. Occupying somebody else’s country doesn’t make for peace. Killing those that fought to protect their own homes does not make for peace. Press conferences claiming victory do not make for peace. Regime change, substituting one tyrant for another tyrant with the biggest tyrant pulling the puppet strings of all the tyrants, that does not make for peace! Colonizing a country does not make for peace! If you don’t believe me, look at Haiti, look at Puerto Rico, look at Angola, look at Zimbabwe, look at Kenya, look at Astra Boys in South Africa. Colonization does not make for peace. Occupation does not make for peace, and subjugation only makes for temporary silence. It does not make for peace.

These people who wanted a new King were blinded by their circumstances, and it made Jesus cry because they missed the meaning of his ministry. Turn to your neighbor and say “missed the meaning of his ministry.” When Jesus says, when Jesus says “you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” down in verse 44, Jesus is saying you did not recognize the time of my ministry. You did not see the meaning of my ministry. You are missing the real things that make for peace. You are – you are, you are confusing external appearances with external power. You are looking at the man and you are not looking at the one the man represents. You are looking at the miracle – that’s verse 37, when the deeds of power they are praising, that’s the miracle: sight to the blind – deeds of power; hearing to the deaf – deeds of power; speech to the mute – deeds of power; cleansing of the lepers – deeds of power; wholeness to the broken – deeds of – you are looking at the miracles and missing the meaning behind the miracles. A miracle is just a sign.

A sign only points to something, or points the way to something. Don’t get fixated on the sign and miss completely what the sign is pointing to. The deeds of power point to a God who is greater than any physical limitation and a God who can overcome any limiting situation. The things that make for peace, only God can give. Y’all looking to the government for that which only God can give. No wonder he wept. He had good cause to cry. The people under oppression were confusing God and Government.

Say “confusing God and Government”. Now if you don’t mind, if you don’t mind, I’m going to hang out here, homilificate for just a little while, and then I’m going to let you go home. I’ve got to pause here, however, as a pastor because a lot of people still confuse, 2000 years later, they still confuse God with their Government. Now we can see clearly the confusion in the mind of a few Muslims – and please notice I did not say all Muslims, I said a few Muslims – who see a law a condoning killing, and killing any and all who do not believe what they believe. They call if “jihad”. We can see clearly the confusion in their minds, but we cannot see clearly what it is that we do: we call it “Crusade”, when we turn right around and say our God condones the killing of innocent civilians as a necessary means to an end.

That we say God understands collateral damage, we say that God knows how to forgive friendly fire, we say that God will bless the Shock and Awe as we take over unilaterally another country – calling it a coalition because we’ve got three guys from Australia. Going against the United Nations, going against the majority of Christians, Muslims and Jews throughout the world, making a pre-emptive strike in the name of God. We cannot see how what we are doing is the same Al-Qaida is doing under a different color flag, calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem!

Let me tell you something, let me tell you something, Jesus said something about that too. Oh yes he did. Jesus said “how can you see the speck in your brother’s eye and can’t see the log in your own eye?” Well, I submit to you we can’t see it first of all ‘cause we don’t see nobody who don’t look like us, dress like us, talk like us, worship like us as brother – and Jesus calls them brother. We demonize them and that makes it all right to kill them because our God is against demons. Then we can’t see the speck most of all because we equate our Government with our God.

We confuse Government and God. Let me tell you something; we believe in this country, and we teach our children that God sent us to this “Promised Land”. He sent us to take this country from the Arrowak, the Susquehanna, the Apache, the Comanche, the Cherokee, the Seminole, the Choctaw, the Hopi and the Arapaho. We confuse Government and God. We believe God sanctioned the rape and robbery of an entire continent. We believe God ordained African slavery. We believe God makes Europeans superior to Africans and superior to everybody else too.
We confuse God and Government. We said in our founding document as a Government, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” – created, that means God – “and endowed with a certain inalienable right” – that means given by God, and then we define Africans in those same documents as three-fifths of a person. We believe God approved of African slavery.

We believe God approved segregation. We believe God approved Apartheid, and a document says “all men are created more equal than other men” – and we’re talking about White men. We confuse God and Government. We believe that God approves of 6% of the people on the face of this Earth controlling all of the resources on the face of this Earth while the other 94% live in poverty and squalor, while we give trillions of dollars of tax breaks to the White rich. We believe God was a founding member of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Look at the lily-whiteness of the G-7 nations the next time you see a picture and you tell me if you see anything wrong with that picture.

When you hold it up against a picture of the color of the world’s population. We confuse God and Government. We believe God is on the side of the wealthy. We believe it is all right to send our military to fight – and if necessary, to die – in Iraq and anywhere else we decide is part of the “Axis of Evil” while George W. cuts the military benefits so when those boys and girls come back home, they can be as bad off as some of the Iraqis that we just “liberated.” We confuse God and Government.

We do. We believe, we believe, we believe we have a right to Iraqi oil. We believe we have a right Venezuelan oil. We believe we got a right to all the oil on the face of the Earth, and we’ve got the military to take it if necessary; or as George W. piously says, “as God so leads” him. We confuse God and Government. We believe it is all right to decimate the Afro-Colombian community by arming the paramilitary with United States tax dollars – our dollars – by hiring military whose real job is to protect the oil line owned by United States companies tied to the Presidency which was stolen by the oil interests. We’re confusing God and Government, and it gets worse – it gets worse.

We got a paranoid group of patriots in power that now, in the interests of Homeland Stupidity – I mean Homeland Security, ‘scuse me – they are taking away the Constitutional right of Free Speech because it’s “harmful to the interests of national security” – and those interests equate God with Government. Our money says In God we Trust, and our military says we will kill under the orders of our Commander-in-Chief if you dare to believe otherwise. We are still confusing God and Government in the year 2003, just like confused Luke 19. Well, in case you are in that great number, and I understand from the polls that the number has gone up, still confused; if you are in that number of confused folk 2000 years after Christ, let me share three quick things with you just to help clear up your confusion. Turn to your neighbor and say, and listen you got to say it right, say it with attitude and with Ebonics, say “He fitting to help somebody tonight.” Turn to the other side and say “fitting to”.

Governments – number one – Governments lie.

This Government lied about their belief that all men were created equal. The truth was they believe all White men were created equal. The truth is they did not believe that even White women were created equal, in creation nor in civilization. The Government had to pass an amendment to the Constitution to get White women the vote. Then the Government had to pass an “Equal Rights” amendment to get equal protection under the law for women. The Government still thinks a woman has no rights over her own body, and between Uncle Clarence – who sexually harassed Anita Hill – and the closeted clam court that is a throwback to the 19th century, hand-picked by Daddy Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, hung between Clarence and that stacked court they’re about to undo Roe v. Wade, just like they’re about to undo affirmative action. The Government lied in its founding documents and the Government is still lying today. Governments lie.

Turn to your neighbor and say “Governments lie”. The Government lied about Pearl Harbor. They knew the Japanese were going to attack. Governments lie! The Government lied about the Gulf of Tonkin – they wanted that resolution to get us into the Vietnam War. Governments lie! The Government lied about Nelson Mandela, and our CIA helped put him in prison and keep him there for 27 years. The South African Government lied on Nelson Mandela. Governments lie! Turn back to your neighbor and say again “Governments lie.” The Government lied about the Tuskegee experiment; they purposely infected African-American men with syphilis. Governments lie! The Government lied about bombing Cambodia, and Richard Nixon stood in front of the camera, “Let me make myself perfectly clear, we are not –“ Governments lie! The Government lied about the drugs for arms Contras scheme, orchestrated by Oliver North and then they pardoned – the Government pardoned – all of the perpetrators so they could get better jobs in the Government. Governments lie!

The Government lied about inventing the HIV-virus as a means of genocide against people of color. Governments lie! The Government lied about a connection between Al-Qaida and Saddam Hussein, and a connection between 9/1-1/01 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Governments lie! The Government lied about Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq being a threat to the United States’ peace. And guess what else? If they don’t find them some Weapons of Mass Destruction, they’re going to do just like that LAPD and plant them some Weapons of Mass Destruction. Governments lie!

But I’m fitting to help you. I’m fitting to – turn to your neighbor, say “He fitting to help us.”

Where Governments lie, God does not lie. Read Numbers 23:19; it says “God is not Man that he should lie.” That’s the Kings James translation. The New Revised Translation says – repeat it after me so that you won’t forget it – “God is not a human being that he should lie.” Say it again. “God is not a human being that he should lie.” Let’s say it together. “God is not a human being that he should lie.” Where Governments lie, God does not lie. That’s number one.

Number two: Governments change.

Long before there was a Red White and Blue colonization, the Egyptian government was doing colonization. They colonized half the continent of Africa, they colonized parts of the Mediterranean. All colonizers ain’t White. Turn to your neighbor and say “oppressors come in all colors.” Hello, hello, hello. But while the Government of Egypt and Pharaoh ran it, they don’t run a thing today, and why? Because Governments change. When the Babylonians carried away the people of promise into exile, the Babylonian Government was the baddest government around. But when King Nebuchadnezzar when crazy, his government was replaced by the government of King Belshazzar. King Belshazzar held a great big feast, big banquet, defiled the sacred vessels stolen from the temple in Jerusalem and a hand appeared out of nowhere and started writing on the wall, “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin”.

And Daniel translated the writing for the king, and told him “here’s what it means, king” – you can find this in Daniel 5 – “Mene: God has numbered the days of your government and brought it to an end.” Governments change. “Tekel: you have been weighed on the scales of justice and you’re too light to balance the scales.” “Parsin: that’s from the verb Peres; your kingdom, your government is divided and given now to the Medes and to the Persians.” And the Bible says that night, that same night, King Belshazzar was killed and Darius the Mede took over the government. Governments change, y’all. Darius was replaced later on by another government, and then another 70 years later King Cyrus said to the people of promise, y’all can go back home. All I’m trying to get you to see is that Governments change.

Prior to Abraham Lincoln, the Government in this country said it was legal to hold Africans in slavery in perpetuity. Perpetuity’s one of those University of Chicago words, it means forever. From now on. When Lincoln got in office, the government changed. Prior to the passing of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, the government defined Africans as slaves, as property – property! – people with no rights to be respected by any Whites anywhere. The Supreme Court of the government – same court, granddaddy court of the one which stole the 2000 election – Supreme Court said in its Dredd Scott decision in the 1850s: no African anywhere in this country has any rights that any White person has to respect at anyplace, anytime.
That was the government’s official position, backed up by the Supreme Court – that’s the judiciary – backed up by the Executive branch – that’s the President – backed up by the Legislative branch and enforced by the military of the government, but I stopped by to tell you tonight that Governments change! Prior to Harry Truman’s government, the military in this country was segregated. But Governments change.

Prior to the Civil Rights and Equal Accommodations laws of the government in this country, there was Black segregation by the country, legal discrimination by the government, prohibited Blacks from voting by the government, you had to eat in separate places by the government, you had to sit in different places from White folk because the government says so, and you had to be buried in a separate cemetery. It was Apartheid American-style from the cradle to the grave, all because the government backed it up. But guess what? Governments change!

Under Bill Clinton, we got messed up Welfare-to-Work bill, but under Clinton Blacks had an intelligent friend in the Oval Office. Oh, but Governments change.

The election was stolen. We went from an intelligent friend to a dumb Dixiecrat, a rich Republican who has never held a job in his life – is against affirmative action, against education, against health care, against benefits for his own military, and gives tax breaks to he wealthiest contributors to his campaign. Governments change – sometimes for the good, and sometimes for the bad. But I’m fitting to help you again; turn back and say “He’s fitting to help us again.”

Where governments change – write this down, Malachiah 3:6 – “thus sayeth the Lord:” – repeat after me – “for I am the Lord, and I change not.” That’s the Kings James version. The New Revised says, “For I the Lord do not change.” In other words, where Governments change, God does not change. God is the same yesterday, today and forevermore. That’s what is name, “I am”, means you know. He does not change. There is no shadow of turning in God; one songwriter puts it this way: “As thou hast been, thou forever will be.

Thou changes not. Thy compassions, they fail not. Great is thy faithfulness Lord unto me.” God does not change! God was against slavery on yesterday, and God who does not change is still against slavery today. God was a God of love yesterday, and God who does not change is still a God of love today. God was a God of justice on yesterday, and God who does not change is still a God of justice today. Turn to your neighbor and say, “God does not change.”

Where Governments lie, God does not lie. Where Governments change, God does not change. And I’m through now. But let me leave you with one more thing.

Governments fail. The government in this text comprised of Caesar, Cornelius, Pontus Pilot – Pontius Pilate – the Roman government failed. The British government used to rule from east to west. The British government had a Union Jack. She colonized Kenya, Guana, Nigeria, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Hong Kong. Her navies ruled the seven seas all the way down to the tip of Argentina in the Falklands, but the British failed. The Russian government failed. The Japanese government failed. The German government failed. And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian decent fairly, she failed. She put them on reservations. When it came to treating her citizens of Japanese decent fairly, she failed. She put them in internment prison camps. When it came to treating her citizens of African decent fairly, America failed.

She put them in chains. The government put them in slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton fields, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into position of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law, and then wants us to sing “God Bless America.” No, no, no. Not “God Bless America”; God Damn America! That’s in the Bible, for killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating her citizen as less than human. God Damn America as long as she keeps trying to act like she is God and she is supreme!

The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African decent. Think about this, think about this. For every 1 Oprah, a billionaire, you got five million Blacks who are out of work. For every 1 Colin Powell, a millionaire, you got ten million Blacks who cannot read. For every 1 “Condeskeeza” Rice, you got one million in prison. For every 1 Tiger Woods, who needs to get beat at the Masters with his cat-blazing hips, playing on a course that discriminates against women; God has this way of bringing you short when you get too big for your cat-blazing britches.

For every 1 Tiger Woods, we got ten thousand Black kids who will never see a golf course. The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African decent. But I’m fitting to help you one last time – turn to your neighbor and say “he’s fitting to help us one last time.” Turn back and say “Forgive him for the ‘God Damn’, that’s in the Bible Lord.” Blessings and cursing is in the Bible, it’s in the Bible. But I’m fitting to help you one last time. Let me tell you something.

Where governments fail, God never fails.

When God says it, it’s done. God never fails. When God wills it, you better get out the way. ‘Cause God never fails. When God fixes it, oh believe me, it’s fixed. God never fails. Somebody right now, you think you can’t make it, but I want you to know you are more than a conqueror, through Christ you can do all things, through Christ who strengthens you. To the world, it looked like God has failed in God’s plan of salvation when the savior that was sent by God was put to death on a Friday afternoon. It looked like God failed. But hallelujah, on Sunday morning the angels in Heaven were singing, “God never fails.” You can’t put down what God raises up. God never fails.

You can’t keep down what God wants up. God never fails. If God can get a three-day Jesus up out of a grave, what’s going on in your life that in anyway can’t match what God has already done? He’ll abides with you, he’ll reside in you, and he’ll preside over your problems if you take them to Him and leave them with Him. Don’t take them back – turn to your neighbor and say “stop taking your problems back.” Should we always bring our problems to the altar and then do we just them right on back to our seats? Turn and say “Stop taking them back!” God never fails. Turn and tell them “God never fails!” God never fails!

God never fails.

Multimedia relating to (2003) Rev. Jeremiah Wright, “Confusing God and Government”