The late South African leader Nelson Mandela was quoted as saying that “A good head and a good heart are always a formidable combination.” Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., pastor emeritus of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, is blessed with that formidable combination. In over 40 years as a church leader, he has made huge contributions to the ongoing war for economic, cultural and political justice in this country and in Africa.
Because of Rev. Wright’s valuable contributions, he was recently honored by Howard University’s Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel. Nearly 1,000 people, including many students, paid tribute to someone whom the Chapel’s dean, Rev. Bernard L. Richardson, Ph.D., lauded as “a symbol and a reality of what the church is supposed to be.”
Equal praise came from Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III, senior pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, who called Wright “without question one of the greatest liberating and prophetic people ever to walk on this planet.”
Pastor Wright, who was in a wheelchair due to a stroke, humbly thanked those in attendance. Because of the stroke, he spoke in a low voice that still greatly inspired those listening. While listening to him I thought about a 2008 speech he made at an event hosted by the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, during which he said, “Liberation and transformation has been the bedrock of our preaching and practices for the past 36 years. In fact, our congregation took a stand against apartheid when the government of our country was supporting the racists of the Afrikaner government in South Africa…. Our congregation built two senior citizens housing complexes and has run two children programs for the poor, the unemployed and low-income parents in Southside Chicago for the past 30 years…. Our congregation feeds over 5,000 homeless and needy people every year while our government cuts food stamps and spends billions of dollars fighting an unjust war in Iraq…. Our congregation awarded over one million dollars to graduating high seniors going into college and an additional one-half million to the United Negro College Fund….”
In 2012, I heard Rev. Wright defend what he considered the true legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. against those who were reducing him to “I Have a Dream” and “I’ve Been to the Mountain Top.” Rev. Wright insisted that Dr. King, in both speeches, made powerful statements that supported his strong commitment to the causes of racial and economic justice.
All of the above clearly show why so many people showed up to honor Rev. Wright as a Master Pastor and a Master Teacher with a good head and a good heart.