Wright's style confuses some observers

"Black liberation theology, at its root, was an attempt to bring a Christian answer forward with intellectual force and coherence," says Carter. "This theology says Jesus, as God's representative in the world, was about deliverance, uplift and liberation of the downtrodden. God is working out the uplift of his people and freeing the captors as well as the captives from the structures of oppression."

But even as he made note of this liberation theology, Wright set himself apart from it and claimed he spoke more directly from "the prophetic theology of the black church."

At the National Press Club, Wright pointed to Isaiah, "where God says the prophet is to preach the gospel to the poor and to set at liberty those who are held captive. Liberating the captives also liberates those who are holding them captive."

Says Carter: "He is harkening back to the prophets of ancient Israel, charged by God to call Israel back to its mission, identity and purpose. They often had to use such harsh words that Jeremiah was thrown in a dungeon for his gloom-and-doom declarations. The prophet's job is speaking truth to power, not on their own authority but on God's."

Teresa Fry Brown, associate professor of homiletics and director of the Black Church Studies program at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, says, "Prophets don't make it up as they go along. They're really affirming what the people already know and don't want to do. It's not something you volunteer for. Prophets get ostracized, attacked, even killed."

Fry Brown, who did her doctoral dissertation on religion and social transformation, says, "Wright touches on the yearning people have to be free, to be the full person they were meant to be outside of personal and societal bondage. But we can't have social change without pain, and we can't leave people wounded and bleeding on all sides. That's why Wright is calling for reconciliation, forgiveness and healing."

Black people hear Wright saying this, and they don't hear it as being only about and for black people, Carter says. Like the Bible, it unites both black and white by transforming and reconciling all, he says.

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