Give Context A Chance

Jun 17, 2008 | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Editor's Note:

This is a transcript, prepared by GGHQ, of the full-length DVD recording of the Rev. Michael Pfleger's remarks at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago on May 25, 2008. The full sermon is 47 minutes long. Most of you have seen, heard or read only about two minute's worth. We've also included introductory and benedictory comments from the Rev. Otis Moss, Trinity UCC's new minister who took over for longtime pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, earlier this spring.

Some of the proper names are spelled phonetically. Please forgive any typos we didn't catch. At the end is a link to the Chicago Sun-Times Web site that has a 17-minute-long video clip from the same sermon. That's longer than you'll find anywhere on Fox News Channel, we assure you.

Please take the time to read Pfleger's full comments and judge for yourself.

This was originally posted at Cathleen Falsani's blog "The Dude Abides."


We are delighted. He needs no introduction. He is a friend of Trinity. He is a brother beloved. He is a preacher par excellence. He is a prophetic, powerful pulpiteer. He is our friend, he is our brother, he is none other than Father Michael Pfleger and we welcome him once again!


Oh bless the Lord, oh my soul, and all that is within me. Oh taste and see that the Lord is good! Oh come on and magnify the Lord. If he's done anything for you today, give Him some praise. Somebody scream!

Come on and bless him! Come on and give him the praise and theglory that he is worthy of, for he brought us a mighty long way! Some of us shouldn't have got this far. Some of us shouldn't be here tonite, but for the grace of God! If it had not been for the Lord on my side, where would we be?!

Now do me one favor, look at the person next to you and say, "Neighbor, I was just thanking God for all the things He's done, that you might know about. But there is some stuff the Lord has brought me out of, that thank God, don't nobody know about!! Let's praise God for the secret stuff!!"

Hallelujah. Hallelujah. We bless you, God. We bless your name, God. We bless your name, God.

Thank you, Reverend Moss. And First Lady Moss. I was with them last week and First Lady said she's gonna come visit some time at St. Sabina. And I said, 'When you come I'm gonna have a big First Lady hat waitin' for you.' You thought I was kiddin. I got it already.

Rev. Moss, you didn't know you were gonna get baptized by fire, but you have shown that you are more than able to weather the storm. And you are rooted in your faith, you are a man called by God and I thank you for standing up and showing just how strong a man of God you were.

Thank you. You've been a model, brother. Thank you. Thank you, thank you.

For Lady Raima, my heart. Love you.

And could you just join with me and give a shout out to a hero and a friend, my mentor, the one who I will never walk away from ... for Jeremiah Wright, will you just give a shout out to Jeremiah and let him know you love him?

I love you, Jer. I thank God for you. I thank God for you. I thank God for the day I walked in Delores' Barber Shop and met you. And for the mentoring he's given me, all these years. I wouldn't still be at St. Sabina if it wasn't for Jeremiah Wright. So I thank God for him.

If you would open your Bibles to John the 17th chapter, John the 17th chapter, and just follow me, beginning in verse 20:

"My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one. Father, just as you are in me and I in you, may they also be in us so that the world may believe that you sent me. I've given them the glory that you gave me, but that they may be one as we are one, I in them and you in me, may they be brought to complete unity so that the world may know you sent me and loved them even as you have loved me."

You may be seated.

I'm not gonna preach tonite.


This day is called a conversation.

And that's what I want to do this evening, just have a conversation about race.

If I had to title the conversation from that scripture in John, I would title it "the Unanswered Prayer of Jesus."

On Aug. 28, 1963 Martin Luther King Jr. stood at the Lincoln Memorial and he prayed for the day when his four little children would not be judged on the color of their skin but rather the content of their character.

Forty-five years later, that dream, like Jesus' prayer, is unanswered.

And the fact of the matter is, if we look at the real America, the reality is that that dream is not only not answered, but that dream has become a nightmare.

It is evident, as we look around and see the situation of education, we look at incarceration and who is incarcerated; we look at where the highest poverty is; we look at the lied stereotypes of who's on drugs; we look at the lied stereotypes in the newspapers every day. We look at a country where cougars are more important than humans, healthcare is for the rich and the famous, and politics is really business as usual.

We only had to look back on this past week. On Tuesday, we heard the front page of the Tribune showed this magnificent picture - I'm sure you saw it, it was awesome -- front page of the Tribune with 75,000 people! In OREGON! (laughter)

At a rally for Barack Obama!

Now, you would look at that and say 'See - it's a different day. Everything's alright.' But if you read on to page 6, there's a whole page on page 6 where there's a story from Munfordville, Ky. I think I said it right, I don't know. Where residents said in unison, 'We will not vote for Obama,' and then said, blatantly, 'It's his color.'

See you can get fooled by the picture, if you don't read on to the story.

The truth is greater than crack or cocaine, racism is still America's greatest addiction. I also believe that America is the greatest sin against God. *


Whoah, whoah , whoah. If the greatest command is to love, then the sin against love must be the greatest sin against God who is love and who calls us to love one another!

So then this greatest sin against God - racism - it's as natural ... as the air we breathe.

Oh we might have taken down some of the signs for 'colored only.' There might be a right to vote. You can sit at any lunch counter, you can sit on any seat on the bus, but beyond the window dressing, if you look into the heart of America and you look into the heart of America you understand that racism is not just alive and well, but it looks like it got a second breath.

It is in the very fabric of our lives. It is personal. And it is institutional. It's in the brick and the mortar of this country. It's in the DNA of America. We live in America where it is affirmed and supported day in and day out. It is the architect that has made America where it's crooked and rough and got mountains and valleys.

We live in a country that is built on that old E.T. philosophy. I've told you this before. Remember that movie 'E.T.' The government looked at this E.T. creature and said, 'It's different. And because it's different we must either control it or destroy it.'

Control or destroy. And that simple, cute movie we all watched, just ridin' on a bike in the air, was a very powerful American philosophy. If something is different we must control it, or we must destroy it.

We are taught consciously, and unconsciously, and subconsciously, that we are a society of tops and bottoms. And that in order for some to have, some have to do without, which keeps some scrambling to do whatever they have to do to hold on to stop of the top of the mountain. And others that seek to scramble to get out of the bottom and get to the top of the mountain. It's something that's normal. It's in all of us and it's affected all of us. And I've said I think for you before, but it's like that ATM machine. When you run up to it and you're late and you want to get in line and there's 10 people in line and you're mad because there's 10 people ahead of you but if you just wait a few minutes, and now there's 10 people behind you and you don't care who's in front of you anymore, you just know, 'You're behind me.'

And that's the kind of mentality that in America has gotten into our spirit, that as long as there's somebody behind me ... So we have to keep somebody down so that somebody can feel alright about themselves.

We've been taught that difference is something to fear. We've been wrongly taught and told that America is a melting pot.

Well, I don't know a whole lot about cookin'. My wife isn't a very good cook.


Actually, she ain't good at nothin'. I can't even find her.

But I do know that in a melting pot, the strongest ingredient you put in flavors the whole pot. And they say what's at the bottom gets burned, and scum rises to the top. Well, we have created a melting pot in the country, because we see a whole lotta scum that's runnin' stuff in America today.

Rather than say, 'Let's try to be grown up and mature enough to create that salad bowl, where everything retains its identity, where everything can keep its own stature and who it is and what it is and its uniqueness and it's beautifully and wonderfully made, and acknowledge it and embrace it for who it is - but we've never grown up that much in America.

Robert Frost penned the great poem, 'The Mending Wall,' that begins with the words, 'Something there is that does not love a wall, that wants it down.'

It is written about two neighbors who have a wall between them. And the wall provides kind of a picture of the kinds of walls that divide and separate us.

But the writer notices something strange; that every spring when they come back out to check the wall, that there seem to be bricks that have fallen out, and there seem to be large gaps between it, and the wall seems to be deteriorating from the last year. And one of the neighbors says that it seems almost as if there's a mysterious force at work in the universe that does not like a wall. And the one neighbor suggests to the other, Maybe we should take the wall down. But the other refuses and prefers to live life behind the wall. And yet spring after spring they come back to see bricks and gaps fallen out.

The tragedy and the scandal of our human race is that although we pride ourselves on being so smart, although we have some powerful military, and although we have accomplished some wonderful things in the universe, we still have not learned how to get along with each other.

WE have more churches and more synagogues and more mosques than ever in human history, but we still don't know how to get along with each other. We have built sky scrapers that can touch the heavens, but we won't let Heaven touch us, and allow God's hands to get inside of us and fix us from our brokenness!

We've gone to the bottom of the seas, the galaxy of the stars, but we still have not sensitized ourselves to be sisters and brothers. We save the whales, we save the birds, we save the polar bears, we save the elephants and now we're all traumatized about Michael Vick and we're traumatized about a cougar -- somebody's so mad they're ready to burn down the mayor's house over a cougar. A cougar!

But we ain't mad. The fact that we can't treat each other with respect. We ain't mad, the fact that we still call each other divided by name, we ain't mad about the fact that we treat each other worse than the animals around us! We spend more money on our dogs than we do on our children, but we ain't mad about that!!

We still don't know how to reverence each other and respect each other and love each other. Yet the God that we say we serve all over this country today ... people walked up in churches, went to communion, prayed -- some with rosaries, some in prayer books. All over this country people ran into churches today and prayed but seemed to have no understanding that the God we pray to said, 'How dare you think you can love me, whom you do not see, but you cannot see your brother and your sister? Your prayers mean NOTHING to me!'


The God we serve gave a command, not a suggestion, a command. To love one another. It is He who is in fact is committed to tearing down walls that we keep building up and allow to stand in our presence.

So Jesus' last prayer to his father, and that's so interesting to me, because one of the things the disciples did when he said ask me for something, they didn't ask him to teach them how to preach, although he was the greatest preacher. They didn't say, Teach us to teach. HE was the teacher. They didn't say teach us to do miracles, they said teach us to ... PRAY.

Why? Because every time he prayed to the Father, he got what he asked for. So they said, 'I've got to get that thing.' Cuz everything you asked of the Father, he gave you. But this one thing he asked, when he turned to the Father and said, 'That they may be one,' this is still an unanswered prayer! Jesus still weeps from the throne because we still don't answer the prayer to become one in him.

And still unanswered today.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing that Jesus ever did on this earth, perhaps his greatest miracle was not feeding some 5,000 on a mountainside. Perhaps his greatest miracle was not even raising Lazarus from the dead. Perhaps it was not walking on water or calming a storm. But rather that he created a new community that had been bitter enemies - Jew and gentile, rich and poor, men and women - yet they all stood on equal ground at the cross of Calvary.

Because when you're standing at the cross at Calvary, everybody looks up.

Nobody's higher. Nobody's lower. Nobody's better, nobody's worse. There are none that are righteous.

Perhaps Galatians 3:28 best describes God's heart and his passion for tearing down walls, when he says, 'There is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or freeman, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.' You are all one in Christ Jesus. He tells us that when we truly discover Jesus, he makes us one.

So I guess the understanding must be that we have discovered church. But we still haven't discovered Jesus.

We've discovered Catholicism and Protestantism. We've discovered Church of God in Christ and Methodist. We've discovered a whole lot of stuff but we still haven't discovered Jesus, because when we discover Jesus! ... HE MAKES US ONE!

Somebody shout 'JESUS!' JESUS!

When we truly discover Jesus, walls come down.

The failure then is an issue of the heart. We can pass all kind of laws. We can have all kinds of ordinances. But you can't regulate the heart with the law. It's gonna take Jesus.

Jesus said, 'Love one another.' So our issues of racism and division and sexism and classism flow from our inability to love.

Ezekiel 37 sees the valley of dry bones. And they're asking for the spirit to come upon the valley, and let that spirit come and blow upon the dry bone. But Ezekiel tells us something very important. He says the spirit cannot blow upon the bones until the bones come together.

See God is never going to give the fullness of His spirit to us while we're still separated and dysfunctional and dismembered from each other in the body of Christ. God is not going to blow upon our division. God is not going to let his anointing fall on our separateness. God is not going to allow his anointing to be put on something that is ugly and against everything he stands for.

God said when you get yourself together then you'll see my real anointing! Then the days of the latter day shall take place in the churches and in the land, but you're not gonna get from me until you give me something to blow my breath on!!!


We can spend all our time in churches talking in tongues and rolling around and spittin' and fallin' out and things, and God says, 'When you finish all that stuff, you still won't be together. And until you come together, I can't breathe my spirit on you.'

So the beginning of the conversation then, that we must have, is how do we break down these walls that for hundreds of years have been reinforced. We got tuck-pointers all over the place. In every color and in every creed.

See cuz see some people want the body to be divided, because they can pimp a broken body. So as long as we are divided perpetrators and pimp artists can get up and do all that they can. But the body needs to come together and Jesus is the only one who can do it. So how do we bring the walls down?

And let me before I say this, share this with you: Between now and November, I believe that race is going to rise to the head of the human family that called America. And they ain't gonna be able to blame Jeremiah Wright for this one.

They ain't gonna be able to say, 'Look what Wright did.' No. This is gonna be the hearts saying, 'No no no we can't do this. We can't allow this. Oh, I like him, but he's a black man! It's gonna be like them people in Kentucky who say, 'It's his color!'

Oh yeah, racism is about to rise.

And either America is going to deal with her sin, or America is going to prove Governor Rendell true. And America is gonna show her real flag. And it ain't red-white-and-blue, and it ain't got no stars on it.

America is either gonna come under the destruction of its sin, or America is gonna have to wrestle with the willingness to take the venom of racism that has been put into the blood of this country -- the venom is in the blood. It's not in the lunch counters, it's not at the bus stops, it's not in the hotels, it's in the blood of this country. And America is either going to have to be willing to suck it out of her blood, or watch herself die.

Cuz it will kill this country and the possibilities of our future!

The conversation must be honest enough to deal and to demand that we acknowledge first the sin. You can't repent from a sin you have not had the guts to acknowledge.


You can't turn to something you ain't identified!

When we acknowledge the necessity to clean our hearts as a country, to purify ourselves, to purge ourselves. We should be out all over America at state houses and city halls and ask God's forgiveness. If you want to change America, start calling out people to come out and say, 'I'm sorry God. We apologize, God; we crawl on our knees and say forgive us, God, wash us, purge us, clean us from our sin!'

Purge us from the stereotypes and the ignorances and the half truths and the outright lies that separate and divide and destroy us.

It will demand us as a country to be willing to suspend first judgments. Until we gather all the information. But we've never really been a country that was concerned with information, just what got passed down around living rooms and kitchen tables and backyard fences.

We must come to that reality that Dr. King spoke about when he said any individual that does not rise above the narrow confines of their own individualistic concern to the broader consensus of humanity has not even begun to live.

America hasn't even begun to live yet. America has been on a ventilator since she came in and killed the indigenous people and stole their land. America wasn't founded. Some people were lost and bumped in and stole it from people, and then stole people to build it up, and then came and said how can we make people work for it. America has to understand that she hasn't even begun to live yet.

We must have the courage to acknowledge the scars of racism. The scars that are deep and long-lasting. I watched my sons grow up under the scars of racism. What does it do to a child to grow up in a white-controlled society. Oh, we get excited about a Barack in the Senate.


What are we excited about?

I've told you there are more people of color and women at NASA studying to go to the moon then there are in the Senate and Fortune 500 companies. What the hell kind of a country is it where it's easier to go to the moon than ... to the senate or the White house.

What's wrong with us?

What does it do to a child to everyday see this white-controlled society and to daily see the effects and the results of double standards? Of unequal playing fields where there's glass ceilings and closed doors to stop you all along the way? And people have always told you to just go to school, study hard and get a good education. And then you do all that and still the door is all shut in your face because it says, 'You're black!' and you forgot that. Somewhere along the way your education isn't good enough for this company! And if you do get a job we'll give you a desk, we'll give you a room, we'll give you a title but you won't have no power in this boardroom!!


'We'll put you over human resources.'


What does it do to a child to be told consciously and subconsciously that you're second rate? We have to have the courage, we have to have the courage to acknowledge the scars done against self-esteem and self-confidence and self-love and self-worth?

In America, you have to understand that to say to people of color, 'Well, you gotta get over it' ... or 'It's time to move on,' it's like saying to a woman who has been repeatedly raped over and over and over and over and over, 'You need to get over it.'

The HELL I do! Get the sucker who's been rapin' me and make him pay!

America has been raping people of color and America has to pay the price for the rape!!!!

How dare you say, 'Get over it'!

We must be free enough, free enough as a country to deal with the anger and the rage of people who have been oppressed and hurt.

Bernard LaFayette says that violence is the outward sign of ... inarticulate rage.

So we want to stop the violence but we don't want to deal with the thing inside that causes the outward expression of the violence.

Have you ever been so mad sometime that you couldn't say what you really wanted to say? You're just rrrrrrrr..rrrrrr...rrrrrr... rrrrrr!(shaking his fists)

Well that's the anger and the rage that so many people are feeling because they're so hurt and they're so mad and they're so angry they can't even articulate what they want to articulate because it's so painful! And we have to be free enough as a country to understand that. And accept that.

The conversation about rage must be honest enough to address the one who says, mmm, 'Don't hold me responsible for what my ancestors did.'

But you have enjoyed the benefits of what your ancestors did. And unless you are ready to give away the benefits, throw away your 401 fund, throw away your trust fund, throw away all the money in the company that you walked into because your Daddy and your Grand-Daddy and your Great-Grand Daddy ... unless you are willing to give up the benefits then you must be responsible for what was done in your generation!!! Cuz you are the beneficiaries of this insurance policy!!

It must be honest enough to expose white entitlement and supremacy wherever it raises its head. I said this before, and I really don't want to make this political because you know I'm not very political.


But, Rev. Morris, when Hillary was crying, people said that was put on. I really don't believe that it was put on. I really believe she just always thought, This is mine.'


'I'm Bill's wife, I'm white, and this is mine. I just gotta get up and step into the plate.' And then from out of nowhere came, 'Hey, I'm Barack Obama.'




(pantomimes her weeping)

(laughter and applause)

She wasn't the only one crying. There was a whole lot of white people crying!

I'm sorry. I don't want to get you in trouble. The live streaming just went out again.

We, if we're gonna have a conversation ...

(laughter and cheering)

I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. The following message does not represent our church and does not represent this station, it is purely on the host of the show.

Oh God, I gotta get outta here. Ya'll are way past your hour of power. We're gonna get into the all-night wailing here in a minute.

We've got to be honest enough to check the liberal and to check that Fantasy Island person who seeks to be dismissed simply by saying, 'I don't see color.' What the hell you mean you don't see color? Yes you do see color. We want you to see color. We want you to respect color. WE want you reverence color, every shade, every hue. We want you to see every person, furiously and wonderfully made, beautiful unique by the hand of God!!!

The conversation must be willing to come to the equal ground of Calvary.

And the church must be the one to say, 'We have failed.' Because people can come to church every Sunday and still hate. People can come to church every Sunday and still be racist. And sexist and classist. We have failed! That's my conversation on race: THE CHURCH HAS FAILED!

We must come to that equal ground of Calvary, that sees and identifies every person as a gift to enrich my life.

Mahatma Gandhi when asked, 'Why do you reverence people?' said: 'I recognize the God in them. And I remind myself, God's in them.'

When we really begin to identify the God-ness of each other we'll take off our shoes, because this is holy ground. Where you are, God is and it's holy ground.

Our conversation must move to action to create ways to be free enough to take this disconnected, dismembered, dysfunctional society and teach it to celebrate difference, not fear it. To take the time to learn and to know and to understand each other. To begin to teach everybody's history, not just European history. And don't just teach about up from slavery, but down from kings and queens. Teach that history in every grammar school, high school and college!

Our conversation demands that we must expose and eradicate racism, sexism, classism wherever it shows itself. Whether it's in thoughts or words or actions. Whether it's in the marketplace, the workplace, the government or the church.

It demands the courage to recognize that we must be willing to get to the root and that's why the church and the synagogue and the mosque must admit failure and begin to teach the real God we've ignored.

It will demand personal cleansing and it will demand the guts to do institutional dismantling until every child feels accepted. Every child feels reverenced. Until every child feels respected and valued and appreciated and honored and loved. And justice prevails and love walks up and down our streets.


I'm through. I'm through. It's not 10 minutes yet, is it?

Like life, racial equality is not something we find. Like life, racial equality is not something we find, it's something we must be courageous enough to create.

By daring to not only point out where it exists, but daring to pull the bricks out one by one, wherever we see it. Wherever it stands. Wherever it divides. Wherever it threatens. No matter the cost. And no matter the sacrifice.

I say to you in closing, before we say, 'YES!' Before we say, Amen! Before we say, 'Yes, I wanna do that!' Remember Jeremiah Wright. And remember the wounds he bleeds from right now because he had the courage to pull out some bricks. He had the courage to tear down some walls. He had the courage to say, 'That ain't right. And THAT ain't right. And that ain't right!' He had the COURAGE!


Before we say, 'Yes, that's what I'm gonna do,' remember the Lorraine Hotel. Remember the Audubon Ballroom. Remember Emit Till! Remember Medgar Evers. Remember every mother, sister, grandma that stood up to racism! And the price they paid!

Remember Freedom Riders! We were told before we got on the bus, 'Don't get on the bus if you're not willing to die!'


That's my charge to you. Don't enter this conversation unless you're willing to bleed. And not be mad about it.

Unless you're willing to suffer and you're willing to struggle.

See, eradicating racism demands a willingness to sacrifice, because when you seek to suck the blood of venom, people are going to come after you.

I've taken on billboard companies and tobacco, I've taken on all kinds of plagues and drugs and drug paraphernalia over the years, but it wasn't until I stand up for race that I've been kicked and beat up and spit at and threatened!

Because race is in the blood.

Ellen Bosick said, 'We will come before God and God will say, "Where are your wounds?" And most of us will say, 'I have no wounds.' And I believe God will say to you and I, "Did you not try to answer my prayer? I prayed 2,000 years ago and I still weep. And now I'm praying for some people who have the courage to seek to answer the unanswered prayer of God.'

I pray on this conversation day, Rev. Moss, that we have the faith to fight for justice.

I pray that we will have the love to endure when we're getting smacked and we're getting beaten and we're getting' lied on, I pray that we have the love to say, 'I still love you! Because the love of God in me is greater than the hate of the Devil in you. And I love you in spite of yourself! I'll love the hell out of you! I'll love you until you see me for who I am, until you love me for who I am, until you respect me for who I am! I pray we'll have the willingness to bear the wounds.

I know, Rev. Moss, this was called a "conversation.' But let me just tell you where I'm at: I pray we have the faith, courage and strength and guts to force the conversation. Cuz America still doesn't want to have it. America is still saying, 'Away from me!' America is still saying, 'Shut up!'

America is saying, 'It's your problem, it's your anger, it's your rage.' Cuz America doesn't want to deal with the reality.

But America, I need you to know that as long as I'm alive, I'm will to continue to call for love! I will continue to call for justice! I will continue to call for righteousness! I will continue to call for the Love of God to overpower the hate of this country.

I say to you today, Trinity, do you have the faith to demand the conversation that America has ignored all of its history! This day and this time you will ignore it no more, America, BECAUSE THE CHURCH IS BEGINNING TO SPEAK UP!


Thank God for the message and thank God for the messenger.

We thank God for Father Michael Pfleger. We thank God for Father Mike.

The door is open right now for anyone who wants to make the commitment to answer the call that has gone out. The one prayer that was not answered by Christ, that we might all be one. This is your moment to answer a call that has gone out, a prophetic word that has gone out. Will we answer this call?

This is the moment that you can transform not only your life, but tear down some walls in the process.

The door is open to you.


"Father, help your children and don't let them for by the side of the road. Teach them, to love one another, that heaven might find a place in their heart...."

* Pfleger has said he misspoke when he said "America is the greatest sin against God." He meant to say, he said in a released statement, "Racism is the greatest sin against God."