Beneath the kerfuffle over the incendiary statements Rev. Jeremiah Wright made during sermons at Trinity United Church of Christ, the episode illustrates our very human tendency not to confront those in whom we have vested authority. It’s true in most places, of most people, that we rarely confront those whom we have accepted as leaders and especially those who represent to us some legitimate authority.
Where, for instance, are the moderate Muslims who disagree with and disapprove of the fatwas issued by radical clerics? They exist, and remain silent.
Where are the moderate members of Rev. Wright’s parish who disagree with and disapprove of his comments? They exist, and remain silent.
We are far more apt to challenge those whose authority and legitimacy we don’t recognize or to whom we have few ties; thus, in politics in our free country, we have no shortage of critics no matter who is in power. It’s very difficult, however, to stand up against a legitimate authority figure — one whom we have ample reason to respect and follow under normal circumstances — and say, “No, that’s wrong.” It takes courage; and when we are faced with difficult pronouncements from religious leaders that kind of courage is particularly hard to come by.
It would have been nice to hear the story of a courageous Senator Obama calling his spiritual advisor on the carpet for denigrating the United States of America (especially after his swearing-in as a Senator). In the same way, it would be wonderful to hear about courageous Muslims calling their imams and mullahs and clerics on the carpet for the heinous pronouncements they make. The latter requires more courage, however, since the potential penalty could be much more severe than the former; that in itself tells us something about the Islamofascists in authority in radical Islam, and why the civilized world should extirpate them.
I remember hearing Larry Crabb quote Pascal to the effect that when the whole world is moving in the same direction (e.g., toward depravity), it only takes one person who decides to stand still to show the wrong movement for what it is.* But that one person has to “be strong and courageous,” as the Scripture says. Which is why it doesn’t happen quite as often as it should.
*He used the illustration in his address to the 1994 National Youthworker’s Convention in San Diego.