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Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr.

Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.

1941—

Minister

Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. is one of the most widely acclaimed black preachers in the United States. Combining social concern, spiritual growth, and political activism, Wright, who preaches in a black traditional style, brings a message of hope, redemption, and renewal. In 1972 he became pastor of a small United Church of Christ congregation in inner-city Chicago. After more than thirty-five years in the pulpit, his congregation has grown to ten thousand and is the largest United Church of Christ congregation in the United States. While he has long been one of the nation's most visible black clergymen, it was his association with the presidential campaign of Barack Obama, and his fiery rhetoric during the hard-fought Democratic primary battle—including a sermon perceived by many as anti-American—that landed Wright in the headlines during 2008.

Wright was born on September 22, 1941, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Rev. Jeremiah Wright Sr. and Dr. Mary Henderson Wright. His parents were his earliest influences, instilling in him a deep religious faith and a strong, positive image of his African-American culture. His father, who served as the pastor of Grace Baptist Church for sixty-two years, was one of the first African Americans to receive a degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, earning a master of sacred theology degree in 1949. Wright was educated in the Philadelphia public schools.

Received Commendation from President Johnson

In 1959 Wright enrolled at Virginia Union University in Richmond, where he remained until 1961. That year he left school to join the military. He served in the Second Marine Division of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1961 to 1963, achieving the rank of private first class. In 1963 he graduated as valedictorian from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, and from 1964 to 1967 he served as a cardiopulmonary technician at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. During 1965 and 1966 he was awarded with three Presidential Commendations from President Lyndon B. Johnson.

After his discharge from the military, Wright continued his education. He enrolled at Howard University in Washington, DC, in 1967, and was awarded a bach- elor's degree in 1968 and a master's degree in 1969. He then entered the University of Chicago Divinity School, where he received a master of arts degree in 1975. He ended his formal education in 1990 when he earned a Doctor of Ministry degree in black sacred music from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

While continuing his studies, Wright also began making forays into a career in the ministry. Between 1968 and 1971 he did short-term stints first as interim pastor and then as an associate pastor. From 1970 to 1972 he was a researcher for the American Association of Theological Schools. He was also a columnist for Chicago's Independent Bulletin during 1972. On March 1 of that year, the thirty-one-year-old Wright was hired as the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, a position he continues to hold and for which he is primarily associated.

Grew Small Congregation into "Megachurch"

When Wright joined the staff of Trinity United Church of Christ as senior pastor, the inner-city church had just eighty-seven active members, most of whom came from the neighborhood surrounding the church. Wright embraced his new congregation and took up the phrase coined by his predecessor, Rev. Dr. Reuben Sheares: "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian." Within months the church had adopted the phrase as its motto and de facto mission statement. Fueled by Wright's passion and motivated by his preaching, the congregation began to grow by leaps and bounds. By 2004 there were more than ten thousand members, with people coming from across the metro area. The congregation, which proudly notes its diverse socioeconomic mix, dedicated a new worship center in 1997.

According to Wright, the Christian call extends in two directions: upward to God and outward to the community, and Wright takes seriously the need to reach out to others, especially Chicago's inner-city residents. Trinity has seventy ministry programs, twenty-two of which target youth. Half of the programs target the community, including adult education, literacy, computer skills, child care, and education for unemployed or low-income families. For Wright, religion, social outreach, and political activism go hand in hand. He vocally opposed the U.S. involvement in Iraq beginning in 2003 and has tackled from the pulpit such previously taboo issues as AIDS.

At a Glance …

Born Jeremiah Alvesta Wright Jr. on September 22, 1941, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Rev. Jeremiah Sr. and Dr. Mary Henderson Wright; married Ramah Reed; children: Janet Marie, Jeri Lynne, Nikol, Nathan, Jamila. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, private first class, 1961-63; U.S. Navy, hospital corpsman third class, 1964-67. Religion: United Church of Christ. Education: Attended Virginia Union University, 1959-61; Howard University, BA, 1968, MA, 1969; University of Chicago School of Divinity, MA, 1975; United Theological Seminary, DMin, black sacred music, 1990.

Career: Zion Church, interim pastor, 1968-69; Beth Eden Church, assistant pastor, 1969-1971; American Association of Theological Schools, researcher, 1970-72; Trinity United Church of Christ, pastor, 1972—; Chicago Center for Black Religious Studies, executive director, 1974-75; Chicago Cluster of Theological Schools, lecturer, 1975-77; United Theological Seminary, professor, 1991-97; Chicago Theological Seminary, professor, 1998; Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, professor, 1999.

Memberships: Ministers for Racial and Social Justice, United Church of Christ, 1972—; Black Theology Project, board of directors, 1975-95; Evangelical Health Systems, board of directors, 1986-89; Chicago Theological Seminary, board of trustees, 1999-2000; Virginia Union University, board of trustees, 2001—.

Awards: Dean's List, Howard University, 1968; Rockefeller Fellowship, The Fund for Theological Education, 1970-75; three Presidential Commendations from L. B. Johnson, 1965-66.

Addresses: Office—Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 W. 95th St., Chicago, IL 60628; Home—9167 S. Pleasant Ave., Chicago, IL 60620.

As Wright's reputation as a powerful and dynamic force grew, he became a sought-after lecturer and preacher. In 1993 he was named second on Ebony's list of the top black preachers in North America. Once admitting that he had considered a career as a seminary professor, Wright satisfied his desire to teach by accepting invitations to lecture at numerous universities and seminaries. He first stepped in front of a classroom in 1974 as an adjunct professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. In 1975 he was an adjunct professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and from 1976 to 1992 he served as an adjunct professor for the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education. He has also taught courses at United Theological Seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, and Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Wright has authored several books, including Africans Who Shaped Our Faith, Good News! Sermons of Hope for Today's Families, and What Makes You So Strong? Sermons of Joy and Strength from Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. According to Cleophus J. LaRue in The Heart of Black Preaching, Wright, in his title sermon of "What Makes You So Strong," "demonstrates the power of the mighty sovereign at work in the lives of black people in twentieth century America. This sermon focuses on the root of black strength and survivability. Wright makes it clear throughout the sermon that the source of all strength, and especially black strength, is none other than the Spirit of God." In his writing as in his preaching, Wright focuses on the dual issues of corporate concern and spiritual sustenance.

Garnered Accolades and Controversy

In recognition of his contributions, Wright has been awarded seven honorary doctoral degrees. He has also served on a number of boards and commissions, including serving on the board of trustees for Virginia Union University and Chicago Theological Seminary. He continues to be a highly sought after preacher, teacher, and lecturer.

As is the case with many high-profile personalities, media scrutiny is a way of life. In March of 2008 reporters covering the Democratic presidential race uncovered a number of controversial statements made by Wright, who had long been a close adviser to candidate Barack Obama. While many of the statements were taken out of context, there was a flurry of negative reaction to such comments as "God damn America," and the suggestion that the United States brought the 9/11 terrorist attacks upon itself through its actions around the world. For Obama, his relationship with Wright quickly became a major political headache. Initially Obama distanced himself from Wright's statements while standing by the man himself, and Wright stepped down from his role in the campaign. Eventually, however, Obama was forced to quit the church and disassociate himself from Wright almost entirely. The episode did, however, spark lively debate about the role of religion in politics and in black communities, including a major speech on the topic by Obama. Ultimately the affair did not sink Obama's quest for the Democratic nomination. In the wake of the controversy, Wright announced plans to retire from his post at Trinity later in the year. He did not, of course, announce any intention of removing himself from the forefront of social activism and community involvement.

Selected works

Books

What Makes You So Strong? Sermons of Joy and Strength from Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., edited by Jini Kilgore Ross, Judson Press, 1993.

Good News! Sermons of Hope for Today's Families, edited by Ross, Judson Press, 1995.

Africans Who Shaped Our Faith, edited by Colleen Birchett, Urban Ministries, 1995.

From One Brother to Another: Voices of African American Men, edited by William J. Key and Robert Johnson-Smith II, Judson Press, 1996.

(With Frank Madison Reid III and Colleen Birchett) When Black Men Stand Up for God: Reflections on the Million Man March, African American Images, 1996.

What Can Happen When We Pray: A Daily Devotional, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2002.

Editor, From One Brother to Another, Volume 2: Voices of African American Men, Judson Press, 2003.

Editor (with Iva E. Carruthers and Frederick D. Haynes III), Blow the Trumpet in Zion! Global Vision and Action for the 21st Century Black Church, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2005.

Author of foreword, Tempted to Leave the Cross: Renewing the Call to Discipleship, edited by Ernest R. Flores, Judson Press, 2007.

Recordings

Great Preachers: Jeremiah Wright (VHS), Odyssey Productions, 1998.

Let Your Will Be Done (with the Trinity United Church of Christ Sanctuary Choir), 2001.

Sources

Books

LaRue, Cleophus J., The Heart of Black Preaching, John Knox Press, 2000.

Sadler, Kim Martin, editor, Atonement: The Million Man March, Pilgrim Press, 1996.

Periodicals

Economist, March 22, 2008, p. 31.

Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI), June 22, 2002, p. B4.

U.S. News and World Report, May 12, 2008, p. 64.

Online

"Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Biography," Biography.com, http://www.biography.com/search/article.do?id=299586 (accessed July 11, 2008).

"Jeremiah Wright's Good News: God Triumph Overcomes Seas of Troubles," The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, http://www.ltsp.edu/news/2002-2003/0303power_wright.html (accessed July 3, 2008).

Johnson, Alex, "Controversial Minister Leaves Obama Campaign," MSNBC, March 14, 2008, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23634881/ (accessed July 3, 2008).

McLaughlin, Eliott C., "Rev. Wright More Than Sound Bite, Obama's Ex-Pastor," CNN, April 29, 2008, http://www.cnn.com/2008/POLITICS/04/29/wright.bio/index.html (accessed July 3, 2008).

"Pastor: Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.," Trinity United Church of Christ, http://www.tucc.org/pastor.htm (accessed July 3, 2008).

"Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Biography," The HistoryMakers: ReligionMakers, Jaunary 11, 2002, http://www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=331&category=religionMakers (accessed July 3, 2008).

"Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Senior Pastor," Corinthian Baptist Church (Philadelphia, PA), http://www.corinthianbaptistchurch.org/jeremiah_a_wright_jr.htm (accessed July 3, 2008).

Other

Interview with Jeremiah Wright by Bill Moyers, Bill Moyers Journal, PBS, April 25, 2008, http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04252008/profile.html (accessed July 11, 2008).

—Kari Bethel and Bob Jacobson

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Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr. 1941–

Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. 1941

Minister

At a Glance

Selected works

Sources

Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. is one of the most widely acclaimed black preachers in the United States. Combining social concern, spiritual growth, and political activism, Wright, who preaches in a black traditional style, brings a message of hope, redemption, and renewal. In 1972 he became pastor of a small United Church of Christ congregation in the inner city of Chicago. After over 30 years in the pulpit, his congregation has grown to 10,000 and is the largest United Church of Christ congregation in the United States.

Wright was born on September 22, 1941, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Sr. and Dr. Mary Henderson Wright. His parents were his earliest influences, instilling in him a deep religious faith and a strong, positive image of his African-American culture. His father, who served as the pastor of Grace Baptist Church for 62 years was one of the first African Americans to receive a degree from the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, earning a master of sacred theology degree in 1949. Wright was educated in the public schools of Philadelphia.

In 1959 Wright enrolled at Virginia Union University, in Richmond, where he remained until 1961. That year he left school to join the military. He served in the Second Marine Division of the U.S. Marine Corps from 1961 to 1963, achieving the rank of private first class. In 1963 he graduated as valedictorian from the Great Lakes Naval Training Center, and from 1964 to 1967, he served as a cardio pulmonary technician at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Bethesda, Maryland. During 1965 and 1966, he was awarded with three Presidential Commendations from President Lyndon B. Johnson.

After his discharge from the military, Wright continued his education. He enrolled at Howard University in Washington, D.C., in 1967, and was awarded a bachelors degree in 1968 and a masters degree in 1969. He then entered the University of Chicago Divinity School, receiving a master of arts degree in 1975. He ended his formal education in 1990 when he earned a Doctor of Ministry degree in black sacred music from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.

While continuing his studies, Wright also began making forays into a career in the ministry. Between 1968 and 1971 he served short-term stints first as interim pastor and then as an associate pastor. From 1970 to 1972 he was a researcher for the American Association of Theological Schools. He was also a columnist for Chicagos Independent Bulletin during 1972. Then, on March 1,1972, 31-year-old Wright was hired as the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, a position he continues to hold.

When Wright joined the staff of Trinity United Church of Christ as senior pastor, the inner city church boasted just 87 active members, most of whom came from the neighborhood surrounding the church. Wright embraced his new congregation and took up the phrase coined by his predecessor Rev. Dr. Reuben Sheares, Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian. Within months the church had adopted the phrase as its motto and vision. Under Wrights leadership, fueled by his passion, and motivated by his preaching, the congregation began to grow by leaps and bounds. By 2004 there were over 10,000 members, with people coming from across the metro area. The congregation,

At a Glance

Born on September 22, 1941, in Philadelphia, PA; son of Rev, Jeremiah Wright, Sr. and Dr. Mary Henderson Wright; married Ramah Reed; children: Janet Marie, Jeri Lynne, Nikol, Nathan, Jámila. Education: Virginia Union University, 1959-61; Howard University, BA, 1968, MA, 1969; University of Chicago School of Divinity, MA, 1975; United Theological Seminary, DMin, Black Sacred music, 1990. Military service: U.S. Marine Corps, private first class, 1961-63; U.S. Navy, hospital corpsman third class, 1964-67. Religion: United Church of Christ.

Career: Zion Church, interim pastor, 1968-69; Beth Eden Church, assistant pastor, 1969-1971; American Association of Theological Schools, researcher, 1970-72; Trinity United Church of Christ. pastor 1972. Chicago Center for Black Religious Studies, executive director, 1974-75; Chicago Cluster of Theological Schools, lecturer, 1975-77; United Theological Seminary, professor, 1991-97; Chicago Theological Seminary, professor, 1998; Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary, professor, 1999.

Selected memberships: Ministers for Racial and Social Justice, United Church of Christ, 1972; Black Theology Project, Board of Directors, 1975-95; Evangelical Health Systems, Board of Directors, 1986-89; Chicago Theological Seminary, Board of Trustees, 1999-2000; Virginia Union University, Board of Trustees, 2001.

Selected awards: Howard University, Deans List, 1968; The Fund for Theological Education, Rockefeller Fellowship, 1970-75; three Presidential Commendations from L.B, Johnson, 1965-66.

Addresses: Office Trinity United Church of Christ, 400 West 95th Street, Chicago, IL 60628; Home 9167 S. Pleasant Avenue, Chicago, IL 60620.

which proudly notes its diverse socio-economic mix, dedicated a new 2,700 worship center in 1997.

According to Wright, the Christian call extends in two directions: upward to God and outward to the community. As a result, Wright takes seriously the need to reach out to others, especially Chicagos inner-city residents. Trinity has 70 ministry programs, 22 of which target youth. Half of the programs target the community, including adult education, literacy, computer, child care, and education for unemployed or low-income families. For Wright, religion, social outreach, and political activism go hand in hand. He vocally opposed the U.S. involvement in Iraq beginning in 2003 and has tackled such previously taboo issues such as AIDS from the pulpit.

As Wrights reputation grew as a powerful and dynamic preacher in the black sermonic tradition who incorporated music, politics, and social issues into his sermons, he became a sought-after lecturer and preacher. In 1993 he was named second on Ebonys list of the top black preachers in North America. Once admitting that he had considered a career as a seminary professor, Wright satisfied his desire to teach by accepting invitations to lecture and teach at numerous universities and seminaries. He first stepped in front of a classroom in 1974 as an adjunct professor at Chicago Theological Seminary. In 1975 he was an adjunct professor at the Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, and from 1976 to 1992 he served as an adjunct professor for the Seminary Consortium for Urban Pastoral Education. He has also taught courses at United Theological Seminary, North Park Theological Seminary, and Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary in Chicago.

Wright has authored several books, including Africans Who Shaped Our Faith, Good News! Sermons of Hope for Todays Families, and What Makes You So Strong? Sermons of Joy and Strength from Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. According to Cleophus J. LaRue in The Heart of Black Preaching, in his title sermon of What Makes You So Strong, Wright demonstrates the power of the mighty sovereign at work in the lives of black people in twentieth century America. This sermon focuses on the root of black strength and survivability. Wright makes it clear throughout the sermon that the source of all strength, and especially black strength, is none other than the Spirit of God. As in his preaching, in his writing Wright focuses on the dual issues of corporate concern and spiritual sustenance. His latest publication, What Can Happen When We Pray: A Daily Devotional, was published in 2002.

In recognition of his contributions, Wright has been awarded seven honorary doctoral degrees. He has also served on a number of boards and commissions, including serving on the board of trustees for Virginia Union University and Chicago Theological Seminary. He continues to be a highly sought after preacher, teacher, and lecturer.

Selected works

What Makes You So Strong? Sermons of Joy and Strength from Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. (ed. by Jini Kilgore Ross), Judson Press, 1993.

Good News! Sermons of Hope for Todays Families (ed. by Jini Kilgore Ross), Judson Press, 1995.

(With Colleen Birchett) Africans Who Shaped Our Faith, Urban Ministries, 1995.

From One Brother to Another: Voices of African American Men (ed. by William J. Key and Robert Johnson-Smith II), Judson Press, 1996.

(With Frank Madison Reid III and Colleen Birchett) When Black Men Stand Up for God: Reflections on the Million Man March, African American Images, 1996.

Great Preachers: Jeremiah Wright (VHS recording), Odyssey Productions, 1998.

Let Your Will Be Done (sound recording, with the Trinity United Church of Christ Sanctuary Choir), 2001.

What Can Happen When We Pray: A Daily Devotional, Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2002.

Sources

Books

LaRue, Cleophus J., The Heart of Black Preaching, John Knox Press, 2000.

Sadler, Kim Martin, ed. Atonement: The Million Man March, The Pilgrim Press, 1996.

Whos Who Among African Americans, 16th ed., Gale Group, 2003.

Periodicals

The Grand Rapids Press (Grand Rapids, MI), June 22, 2002, p. B4.

On-line

Jeremiah Wrights Good News: God Triumph Overcomes Seas of Troubles, The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, www.ltsp.edu/news/2002-2003/0303power_wright.htm (April 6, 2004).

Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. The History Makers: ReligionMakers, www.thehistorymakers.com/biography/biography.asp?bioindex=33l&category=religionMakers (April 6, 2004).

Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Corinthian Baptist Church (Philadelphia, PA), www.corinthianbaptistchurch.org/jeremiah_a_wrightjr.htm (April 26, 2004).

Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Trinity United Church of Christ, www.tucc.org/pastor.htm (April 6, 2004).

Seven Last Words, Faith Community of Saint Sabina, www.saintsabina.org/spotlight/wright2004.htm (April 6, 2004).

Kari Bethel

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

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"Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr. 1941–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. 21 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr. 1941–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 21, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wright-jeremiah-jr-1941

"Wright, Jeremiah A. Jr. 1941–." Contemporary Black Biography. . Retrieved August 21, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/wright-jeremiah-jr-1941