POMPANO BEACH — By the end of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s stirring sermon in the packed sanctuary of Greater Bethel AME Church in Pompano Beach, there was not one man was left sitting in his seat on Sunday. Not one.
But Wright, President Barack Obama’s former mentor and pastor and the guest speaker for the church’s 2014 Men’s Day Celebration, wasn’t looking for a standing ovation for himself. He was, he said, trying to persuade the congregation’s men “to be bold enough and brave enough” to praise God.
Spiritually skillful, Wri-ght succeeded. “If the Lord got you off drugs, stand up,” he called out. “If he took you off alcohol, stand up. If he took you out of a toxic relationship, stand.” With each exhortation, a handful of men slowly rose to their feet. “If the Lord gave you a good woman, stand. If the Lord has forgiven you for some stupid stuff you did, stand.”
With only a handful of attendees still sitting, Wright added: “If the Lord woke you up this morning … stand.” From the members of the Boyd Anderson High School basketball team, who had assembled at the front of the church, to the Bethune Cookman University football team gathered in a reserved section of the church, to state Rep. Perry E. Thurston Jr., to Robert W. Runcie, superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, to the fraternity brothers of Omega Psi Phi, church and choir members and guests – all rose to acknowledge Wright’s challenge and plea.
Then, as if joining a procession of pilgrims, each slowly made his way toward the altar, where Wright had preached a special 11 a.m. service on “Restoring the Christian Man to his Rightful Place.”
Referring to the first chapter of John, verse 35, Wright told the congregation that “the Lord was on a manhunt.” He was looking then and now for men who know and study the scripture and who will bring other men to Jesus. As the sea of men stood in front of Wright, he admonished them: “Before this week is out, tell another man about what Jesus had done for you,” he said. “Before Dec. 31, bring another man to Jesus.”
One of those who credit Wright for bringing him closer to Jesus and Christianity is Obama, who formerly attended Wright’s Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. But, during Obama’s first run for the presidency in 2008, Wright became a campaign controversy when some of Wright’s sermons on racism in the United States were brought to light in the media.
On Sunday, Wright did not shy away from speaking about racism. “With all that a black man has to face today, you can’t face that on your own,” Wright said. “You need the Word.”
Wright also warned the African-American community not to put itself down as Nathanael did in scripture when Philip announced that the Messiah was from Nazareth. “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nathanael asked.
Wright said when a community lacks self-esteem, it internalizes white hatred and white supremacy. “We cut each other down, put each other down, shoot each other down,” Wright said. The thinking is: “‘Nothing good can come from the ’hood,’” he said. “‘How are you going to have a messiah out of Sistrunk?’” he said referring to one of Broward County’s main thoroughfares in the black community.
Wright’s Bethel visit was the highlight of the annual men’s day program, said the senior pastor, the Rev. Eddy Moise Jr., and event co-chairman Johnny L. McCray Jr., a local attorney. “It is a topic I think that needed to be heard,” McCray said of the theme.
Although it was Wright’s first time at Bethel, it was not his first time in South Florida. Wright spoke in 2011 on separate occasions at the National Baptist Congress at the Broward County Convention Center in Fort Lauderdale and at the Church of the Open Door in Miami.
At Bethel, Wright’s sermon marked the culmination of the men’s day celebration which included a Feb. 18 public forum on “Ending Domestic Violence in Our Community.” Wright agreed much needs to be done to rid the community of domestic violence, including violence perpetrated by the clergy. “We got some saying ‘amen’ on Sunday and whipping their wives on Friday and Saturday,” Wright said.