The son of a Baptist minister, Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. was born in Philadelphia on September 22, 1941. On March 1, 1972, he became the pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), a position he held until February 2008.
After a tour of duty in the U.S. Navy, Wright went on to earn a master’s degree in English from Howard University in 1969. Six years later he earned an additional master’s degree from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and in 1990 he received a Doctor of Ministry Degree from United Theological Seminary.
The writings, public statements, and sermons of Rev. Wright reflect his conviction that America is a nation infested with racism, prejudice, and injustices that make life very difficult for black people. As he declared in one of his sermons: “Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run!... We [Americans] believe in white supremacy and black inferiority and believe it more than we believe in God.”
Wright laments “the social order under which we [blacks] live, under which we suffer, under which we are killed.” Depicting blacks as a politically powerless demographic, he complains that “African Americans don’t run anything in the Capital except elevators.” Similarly, on its website Wright’s church portrays black people as victims who are burdened by the legacy of their “pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism,” and who must pray for “the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people.”
Wright attributes the high unemployment rate of African Americans to “the fact that they are black.” Vis a vis the criminal justice system, he likewise explains that “the brothers are in prison” largely because of their skin color. “Consider the ‘three strikes law,’” he elaborates. “There is a higher jail sentencing for crack than for cocaine because more African Americans get crack than do cocaine.”
In Wright’s calculus, white America’s bigotry is to blame not only for whatever ills continue to plague the black community, but also for anti-U.S. sentiment abroad. “In the 21st century, says Wright, “white America got a wake-up call after 9/11/01. White America and the western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West kept on its merry way of ignoring black concerns.”
Wright sees no reason to believe that Islam may be incompatible in any way with Western traditions. “Islam and Christianity are a whole lot closer than you may realize,” he has written. “Islam comes out of Christianity.”
Wright detests America’s capitalist economic structure, viewing it as a breeding ground for all manner of injustice. “Capitalism as made manifest in the ‘New World,’” he says, “depended upon slave labor (by African slaves), and it is only maintained by keeping the ‘Two-Thirds World’ under oppression.” Wright’s anti-capitalist perspective is reflected in TUCC’s “10-point vision,” whose ideals include the cultivation of “a congregation working towards ECONOMIC PARITY.” (Emphasis in original.) The TUCC mission statement plainly declares its goal of helping “the less fortunate to become agents of change for God who is not pleased with America’s economic mal-distribution!”
This view is entirely consistent with Rev. Wright’s devotion to the tenets of liberation theology, which is essentially Marxism dressed up as Christianity. Devised by Cold War-era theologians, it teaches that the New Testament gospels can be understood only as calls for social activism, class struggle, and revolution aimed at overturning the existing capitalist order and installing, in its stead, a socialist utopia where today’s poor will unseat their “oppressors” and become liberated from their material (and, consequently, their spiritual) deprivations.
An extension of this paradigm is black liberation theology, which seeks to foment a similar Marxist revolutionary fervor founded on racial rather than class solidarity. Wright’s mentor in this discipline is James Cone, author of the landmark text Black Power and Black Theology. Prior to the controversy sparked (in early 2008) by Wright's racially charged statements and by Wright's reference to Cone's influence on his thinking, the website of Wright's church identified Cone's writings as required reading for parishioners who wished to more thoroughly understand the church's theology and mission.
Wright commonly denounces the United States, which he views as a nation infested with racism and evil. In one noteworthy sermon, he paraphrased the assertions of another black preacher (with whose views he agreed entirely) as follows:
Fact #1: We've got more black men in prison than there are in college.
Fact #2: Racism is still alive and well. Racism is how this country was founded, and how this country is still run.... I don't care how hard you run, Jesse, and no black woman can never be considered for anything outside of what she can give with her body.
Fact #3: America is the #1 killer in the world. We invaded Grenada for no other reason than to get Maurice Bishop. We invaded Panama because Noriega would not dance to our tune anymore. We are deeply involved in the importing of drugs, the exporting of guns and the training of professional killers. We bombed Cambodia, Iraq and Nicaragua, killing women and children while trying to get public opinion turned against Castro and Qadaffi.
Fact #4: We put Mandela in prison and supported apartheid the whole 27 years he was there. We believe in white supremacy and black inferiority, and believe it more than we believe in God.
Fact #5: We supported Zionism shamelessly while ignoring the Palestinians, and called anyone that spoke out against it as being Anti-Semitic.
Fact #6: We conducted radiation experiments on our own people. We're just finding out about that. We care nothing about human life if the ends justify the means.
Fact #7: We do not care if poor black and brown children cannot read and kill each other senselessly. We abandoned the city back in the 60's back when the riots started. And it really doesn't matter what those "NNNNNNnnnnnnn............... natives" do to each other, we gave up on them and public education of poor people who live in the projects.... We, with VCRs, TVs, CDs, and portable phones have more homeless than any nation in the world.
Fact #8: We started the AIDS virus. And now that it is out of control, we still put more money in the military than in medicine, more money in hate than in humanitar[ian] concerns. Everybody does not have access to health care, I don't care what the rich white boys in the city say, brothers.... Listen up, if you are poor, black and elderly, forget it.
Fact #9: We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty.
Fact #10: We are selfish, self-centered egotists who are arrogant and ignorant and we prayer at church and do not try to make the kingdom that Jesus talks about a reality....
In light of these 10 facts, God has got to be SICK OF THIS SHIT! (emphasis in original) (Click here for video of this sermon.)
In his sermon of September 16, 2001 (the Sunday after the 9/11 terrorist attacks), Wright asserted that the United States had provoked the attacks because of its own foreign transgressions. Said Wright:
“We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands [who died on 9/11] in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost.”
In the same sermon, Wright characterized 9/11 as an act of "revenge" by an oppressed "people of faith" who had "moved from the hatred for armed enemies to the hatred of unarmed innocents." He compared what the al-Qaeda Muslims had done to unarmed innocents, to the vengeful bloodlust that had slaves had felt in a previous era: "I had to show them [his congregants] how the people who were carried into slavery were very angry, very bitter, moved in their anger from wanting revenge against the armies that had carried them away to slavery, to [wanting revenge against innocent civilians]," he explained in an interview with PBS's Bill Moyers.
In a 2003 sermon, a shouting Wright excoriated the United States as follows:
"The government gives [black people] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people! God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human! God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme!"
Many of Wright’s condemnations of America are echoed in his denunciations of Israel and Zionism, which he has blamed for imposing “injustice and … racism” on the Palestinians. According to Wright, Zionism contains an element of “white racism.” Likening Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to South Africa’s treatment of blacks during the apartheid era, Wright advocates divestment campaigns targeting companies that conduct business in, or with, Israel. He has referred to Israel as a "dirty word."
The July 22, 2007 edition of Wright's TUCC bulletin reprinted an article that Hamas political leader Mousa Abu Marzook had recently published in the Los Angeles Times. The piece was originally titled "Hamas’ Stand," but Wright changed it to "A Fresh View of the Palestinian Struggle."
A great admirer of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, Wright says:
“When Minister Farrakhan speaks, Black America listens. Everybody may not agree with him, but they listen … His depth on analysis when it comes to the racial ills of this nation is astounding and eye opening. He brings a perspective that is helpful and honest. Minister Farrakhan will be remembered as one of the 20th and 21st century giants of the African American religious experience. His integrity and honesty have secured him a place in history as one of the nation’s most powerful critics. His love for Africa and African American people has made him an unforgettable force, a catalyst for change and a religious leader who is sincere about his faith and his purpose.”
Wright’s praise for Farrakhan was echoed in the November/December issue of TUCC’s bimonthly magazine, the Trumpet, which featured an interview with the NOI “icon” who, according to the publication, “truly epitomized greatness.” “Because of the Minister’s influence in the African American community,” the Trumpet announced that it was honoring him with an “Empowerment Award” as a “fitting tribute for a storied life well lived.”
Wright accompanied Farrakhan on a 1984 trip to meet with Farrakhan’s friend, the Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi.
Farrakhan’s October 16, 1995 Million Man March ranks among the events about which Rev. Wright has written most extensively and passionately. Wright -- along with such notables as Al Sharpton and Barack Obama -- helped organize the rally and attended it with his son, and has described it as “a once in a lifetime, amazing experience.” When a number of prominent African Americans counseled fellow blacks to boycott the demonstration because of Farrakhan’s history of hateful rhetoric, Wright derided those critics as “‘Negro’ leaders,” “‘colored’ leaders,” “Oreos,” and “house niggras” who were guilty of “Uncle Tomism.” “There are a whole boat load of ‘darkies’ who think in white supremacist terms,” added Wright. “… Some ‘darkies’ think white women are superior to black women…. Some ‘darkies’ think white lawyers are superior to black lawyers. Some ‘darkies’ think white pastors are better than black pastors. There are a whole boatload of ‘darkies’ who think anything white and everyone white is better than whatever it is black people have.”
On its website, Wright’s church describes itself in distinctly racial terms, as being an “Unashamedly Black” congregation of “African people” who are “true to our native land, the mother continent, the cradle of civilization,” and who participate in TUCC’s “Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.”
Some have suggested that such assertions, coupled with Wright’s own racially loaded statements and his close affiliation with Farrakhan, indicate that Wright is guilty of racism. But Wright dismisses this charge, stating: “I get tickled every time I hear a ‘Negro’ call me a racist. They don’t even understand how to define the word. Racism means controlling the means.”
TUCC promotes a “Black Value System” that encourages African Americans to patronize black-only businesses, support black leaders, and avoid becoming “entrapped” by the pursuit of a “black middle-classness” whose ideals presumably would erode their sense of African identity and render them “captive” to white culture.
Wright and his congregants offered Kwanzaa programs for the TUCC community. Kwanzaa is the holiday founded by Maulana Karenga, a self-identified “African socialist” whose “Seven Principles of Blackness,” which are observed during Kwanzaa, include not only the Marxist precepts of parity and proletariat unity, but are identical to the principles of the 1970s domestic terrorist group, the Symbionese Liberation Army.
When Rev. Wright took over as TUCC pastor, the church’s membership totaled 87. By 2007 it had become the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ, with more than 8,000 members. TUCC’s most well-known congregant is Barack Obama, who sought Wright’s counsel before formally declaring his candidacy for U.S. President in 2007. Obama and his wife had previously selected Wright to perform their wedding ceremony and, later, to baptize their two daughters.
On the "Pastor's Page" of the June 10, 2007 edition of the TUCC newsletter, was an open letter from Palestinian activist Ali Baghdadi calling Israel an "apartheid" regime that was developing an "ethnic bomb" designed to kill "blacks and Arabs." Wrote Baghdadi:
"I must tell you that Israel was the closest ally to the white supremacists of South Africa. In fact, South Africa allowed Israel to test its nuclear weapons in the ocean off South Africa. The Israelis were given a blank check: they could test whenever they desired and did not even have to ask permission. Both worked on an ethnic bomb that kills Blacks and Arabs."
The publication described Baghdadi as someone who had "acted as a Middle East advisor to the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, the founder of the Nation of Islam, as well as Minister Louis Farrakhan."
On December 4, 2007, Wright was named as a member of the Barack Obama campaign's newly created African American Religious Leadership Committee. Other notable members of the Committee included Rev. Joseph E. Lowery and Rev. Otis Moss III.
Rev. Wright retired as pastor of TUCC on February 10, 2008. He was replaced by Rev. Otis Moss III.
In March 2008, Wright stepped down from Senator Obama's African American Religious Leadership Committee after videotapes of his controversial sermons had repeatedly ignited fierce public debate and criticism.
On April 28, 2008, Wright delivered a nationally televised speech to the National Press Club. During the course of his talk, he said, "Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He didn't put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and he didn't make me this color." Suggesting that America had provoked the 9/11 attacks with its ill-advised foreign policies, Wright said, "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it to never come back to you." He mentioned the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II as examples of American wrongdoing. He complained that the U.S. government has never "confessed" for its involvement in the slave trade, and he refused to disavow his assertion that America invented the AIDS virus to kill black people. "Based on what has happened to Africans in this country, I believe our government is capable of doing anything," Wright said.
On December 7, 2008, Wright returned to the pulpit of TUCC for the first time since his retirement ten months earlier. In his sermon, he belittled people who think that politics should be kept out of the pulpit as “baby milk believers.” He complained that “[a]ny preacher who dares to point out the simple ugly facts found in every field imaginable is demonized as volatile, controversial, incendiary, inflammatory, anti-American and radical.” And he said, “Today is December 7th, the day that this [U.S.] government killed over 80,000 Japanese civilians at Hiroshima in 1941, two days before killing an additional 64,000 Japanese civilians at Nagasaki by dropping nuclear bombs on innocent people.” Actually, Wright had his facts mixed up. December 7, 1941 was the day when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.
At a May 18, 2009 rally organized by the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, Wright and former Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers jointly addressed a crowd of more than 400 people at the First United Church of Oak Park (a Chicago suburb) just prior to participating in an annual walk designed to call attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Asked by an interviewer in June 2009 whether he had spoken to President Barack Obama since the latter had taken his oath of office five months earlier, Wright replied:
"Them Jews aren't going to let him [Obama] talk to me. I told my baby daughter that he'll talk to me in five years when he's a lame duck, or in eight years when he's out of office.... They will not let him to talk to somebody who calls a spade what it is.... I said from the beginning: He's a politician; I'm a pastor. He's got to do what politicians do."
Wright went on to condemn Israel, saying:
"Ethnic cleansing is going on in Gaza. Ethnic cleansing [by] the Zionist is a sin and a crime against humanity, and they don't want Barack talking like that because that's [supposedly] anti-Israel."
At a September 17, 2009 anniversary celebration for the socialist magazine Monthly Review, Wright praised
the periodical for its “no-nonsense Marxism.” He added: “You dispel all
the negative images we have been programmed to conjure up with just the
mention of that word socialism or Marxism.” Wright also called America the “land of the greed and home of the slave.”
During a June 2010 seminar that he taught to a group of African Americans in Chicago, Wright made such statements as:
Also at the seminar, Wright said that Martin Luther King was misguided for having advocated nonviolence among blacks, who were "born in the oven of America." Wright referred to Italians as "Mamma Luigi" and "pizzeria." And he cited the writings of Bill Jones -- author of the book Is God a White Racist? -- as proof that white people despise blacks: "Bill said, 'They just killed four of their own at Kent State. They'll step on you like a cockroach and keep on movin', cause you not a brother to them.' "
In a series of speeches he delivered in the spring of 2011, Wright made the following comments:
In a July 8, 2012 sermon at Washington, DC’s Florida Avenue Baptist Church, Wright accused some of America‘s most prestigious colleges and universities of using white racism to infect the brains of black people, and to turn African Americans into “sheep dogs” and “biscuits”:
"Take that baby, him or her, away from the African mother, away from the African community, away from the African experience … and put them Africans at the breasts of Yale, Harvard, University of Chicago, those trinity schools, UCLA or U.C. Berkley. Turn them into biscuits then they’ll get that alien DNA all up inside their brain, and they will turn on their own people in defense of the ones who are keeping their own people under oppression....
"There’s white racist DNA running through the synapses of his or her brain tissue. They will kill their own kind, defend the enemies of their kind or anyone who is perceived to be the enemy of the milky white way of life.”
 When Black Men Stand up for God (Chicago: African American Images), 1996, p. 17.
 Ibid., p. 102.
 Ibid., p. 17.
 Ibid., p. 17. [Notwithstanding Wright’s implication that the harsh anti-crack penalties were instituted by racist legislators for the purpose of incarcerating as many blacks as possible, the Congressional Record shows that such was not at all the case. In 1986, when the strict, federal anti-crack legislation was being debated, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC)—deeply concerned about the degree to which crack was decimating the black community—strongly supported the legislation and actually pressed for even harsher penalties. In fact, a few years earlier CBC members had pushed President Reagan to create the Office of National Drug Control Policy. See John DiIulio, Jr., “My Black Crime Problem, and Ours,” City Journal (Spring 1996), pp. 19-20.]
 When Black Men Stand up for God, p. 16.
 Blow the Trumpet in Zion (Minneapolis: Fortress Press), 2005, pp. 8-9.
 When Black Men Stand up for God, p. 10.
 Ibid., pp. 11, 37.
 Ibid., p. 80.
 Ibid., p. 11.
 Ibid., p. 81.
 Ibid., p. 102.
 Ibid., p. iv.