The media frenzy over the remarks of Barack Obama's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, raise critical challenge to the prophetic role and voice of the black church. These "incendiary" remarks have set off a firestorm in the media, exposing the deep divide that exists on Sundays - America's most segregated hour of the week. This controversy serves as a stark reminder that the problem of the color line that still divides the U.S. and its churches. This often misguided debate obscures the rich and necessary prophetic role of the black church. Most coverage fails to capture the competing narratives and self-definitions of the U.S. that coexist depending on one's race and social location. While I'm uncomfortable with some of Dr. Wright's overly provocative rhetoric, and disagree with some of his claims (like his suggestion that AIDS was a creation of the U.S. government), I still vehemently defend the prophetic tradition that Rev. Wright has advanced over the course of 36 years of ministry. I agree with the Rev. Otis Moss III, the new Pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, that we do a grave disservice by boiling down over 207,000 minutes of Dr. Wright's preaching into a handful of 30-second sound bites, most taken out of context.
Many may be wondering what I mean by prophetic voice and asking why it is so critical for the full vocation of the church and the health of our democracy. Prophets foretell the future in the name of God, speaking truth to power against injustice while calling us back to God's word and kingdom. According to Obery Hendricks, "prophetic speech is characterized by an overwhelming sense of an encounter with God and a message of moral and political judgment that a prophet feels divinely compelled to proclaim