The Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., the fiery preacher who became a controversial figure during Barack Obama's first run for president, is coming back to Columbus to speak at an "Empower Me" revival at St. John AME Church.
Wright will speak at 7 p.m. tonight and Friday and he will conduct a leadership summit from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturday at the church on 3980 Steam Mill Road. He has been coming to the city annually since 2003 at the invitation of the Rev. Debora Grant, who described him as a Christian brother and friend.
In an interview with the Ledger-Enquirer on Wednesday, Wright said he's coming to talk about Christ, not politics. When questioned about the negative publicity he received during the 2008 presidential election, he said: "This has nothing to do with the revival, and I don't come to talk about what happened in 2008. I come to talk about what happened 2,000 years ago when Jesus came and God gave his son, which is all I've talked about for 36 years as a pastor."
Wright is the pastor emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where Obama and his family were once members. He was thrust into the national spotlight when the media released inflammatory comments he made about American foreign policy, implying that the United States had brought the Sept. 11 attacks upon itself. His comments became a political liability for Obama, who eventually delivered a speech entitled "A More Perfect Union" in which he condemned the remarks while at the same time placing them in the historical context of racial tensions in America.
"The media took five-year-old and eight-year-old sermons and tried to make me the boogie bear to scare voters away from Obama," he said Wednesday. "Once the narrative is spun, people want to talk about the narrative. They know nothing about my 36 years of ministry. They know nothing about the 8,000 members of the congregation who volunteer in prison ministry, hospice care and higher education. They know nothing about the millions of dollars in scholarships that the church has given to graduating seniors. They only know about the narrative spun by the media. That is unfortunate."
Wright, 72, retired before the 2008 controversy, but he is still a practicing theologian with teaching positions at the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at the Virginia Union University, Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, the Drew Theological Seminary in New Jersey and the Chicago Theological Seminary. He has also led several study tours to African countries and Brazil, he said.
Grant said she and Wright were friends before she moved to Columbus from Atlanta in 2002. He has been conducting annual revivals in the city since then and only skipped two years -- one during the national controversy and another due to poor health.
She said the church received backlash locally because of her close association with Wright, but she was encouraged by blacks and whites who treated him with respect when he returned in 2009. Grant said she and Wright were sitting at a restaurant in Phenix City when two white Columbus attorneys approached Wright, extended their hands, and said he was welcome in the city. She believes many will be blessed by his visit to Columbus this weekend.
"He is a great man of wisdom and his preaching ability is so phenomenal that you learn so much from him and I consider him to be one of our great religious leaders," she said. "People come from Atlanta, whenever they know he's nearby. They come from Albany, Auburn, Tuskegee and Macon. They come, not just African-Americans, but a diverse population."