Nearly three hours into the electrifying Sunday service at Christ Missionary Baptist Church, Pastor Gina Stewart was damp with perspiration.
Crammed pews of parishioners were winding down after being taken through a vigorous torrent of jubilation, anger and praise.
But the South Memphis pastor wasn’t done yet.
There was a more earthly issue eating at her—the recent coverage of racially charged remarks made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Chicago, longtime pastor of presidential candidate Barack Obama.
“I am a CNN junkie,” Stewart said to the overwhelmingly black congregation. But she warned them not to put too much stock in the news media’s negative portrayal of the now-retired pastor’s sermons or hold those statements against Obama.
Stewart’s sentiments are being echoed in churches across Memphis as local pastors are saying that Wright’s remarks were taken out of context with little understanding for the long tradition of prophetic preaching that goes on in black churches.
“What Rev. Wright said was the truth—ugly truth,” said Leonard Dawson, pastor of the predominantly black Cane Creek Baptist in South Memphis. “The truth of America’s history as it relates to African-Americans is ugly.”
“You could find incriminating tidbits if you combed through the sermons of a lot of pastors with that preaching style, [Pastor Brandon Porter of Greater Community Temple Church of God in Christ] said.
Ministering to a membership of 4,200 with locations in East Memphis, North Memphis and Cordova, Porter said, “Everything I say to the congregation isn’t exactly a message to the world.”