March 21st, 2008
06:33 PM ET

The full story behind Wright’s “God Damn America” sermon

Editor's note: CNN Contributor Roland Martin has listened to several of the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Portions of the sermons have been excerpted in recent stories. Martin says listening to the full sermons help put the excerpts in context.

I just finished listening to the nearly 40-minute sermon Rev. Jeremiah Wright gave on April 13, 2003, titled, “Confusing God and Government.”


For those of us watching and listening to the media in the last week, it is better known as the “God Damn America” sermon.

Wright’s scriptural focus was Luke 19:37-44 (reading from the New Revised Standard Version).

In this sermon, Wright spoke about the military rule during biblical days, led by Pontius Pilate. It was clear, through his language, such as “occupying military brigade” that he was making an analogy to the war in Iraq.

“War does not make for peace,” he said. “Fighting for peace is like raping for virginity."

“War does not make for peace. War only makes for escalating violence and a mindset to pay the enemy back by any means necessary,” he said.

He then gets to the thesis of his sermon, saying, “y’all looking to the government for only what God can give. A lot of people confuse God with their government.”

Wright criticizes the Bush administration and its supporters for using Godly language to justify the war in Iraq. He equates using God in America as condoning the war in Iraq to the same perspective of Islamic fundamentalists.

“We can see clearly the confusion in the mind of a few Muslims, and please notice I did not say all Muslims, I said a few Muslims, who see Allah as condoning killing and killing any and all who don’t believe what they don’t believe. They call it jihad. We can see clearly the confusion in their minds, but we cannot see clearly what it is that we do. We call it crusade when we turn right around and say that our God condones the killing of innocent civilians as a necessary means to an end. WE say that God understand collateral damage. We say that God knows how to forgive friendly fire."

“We say that God will bless the shock and awe as we take over unilaterally another country, calling it a coalition because we’ve got three guys from Australia, going against the United Nations, going against the majority of Christians, Muslims and Jews throughout the world, making a pre-emptive strike in the name of God. We cannot see how what we are doing is the same thing that Al-Qaeda is doing under a different color flag – calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem.”

He continues on his thesis of equating government with our God, saying that God sent the early settlers to America to take the country from Native Americans; ordained slavery; and that “we believe that God approves of 6 percent of the people on the face of this earth controlling all of the wealth on the face of this earth while the other 94 percent live in poverty and squalor while we give millions of tax breaks to the white rich.”

He also criticizes the “lily white” G-7 nations for controlling the world’s capital.

Then Wright speaks to:

1. Governments lie.

“This government lied about their belief that all men were created equal. The truth is they believed that all white men were created equal. The truth is they did not even believe that white women were created equal, in creation nor civilization. The government had to pass an amendment to the Constitution to get white women the vote. Then the government had to pass an equal rights amendment to get equal protection under the law for women. The government still thinks a woman has no rights over her own body, and between Uncle Clarence (Thomas), who sexually harassed Anita Hill, and a closeted Klan court, that is a throwback to the 19th century, handpicked by Daddy Bush, Ronald Reagan, Gerald Ford, between Clarence and that stacked court, they are about to un-do Roe vs. Wade, just like they are about to un-do affirmative action. The government lied in its founding documents and the government is still lying today. Governments lie.”

“The government lied about Pearl Harbor. They knew the Japanese were going to attack. Governments lie. The government lied about the Gulf of Tonkin. They wanted that resolution to get us in the Vietnam War. Governments lie. The government lied about Nelson Mandela and our CIA helped put him in prison and keep him there for 27 years. The South African government lied on Nelson Mandela. Governments lie."

“The government lied about the Tuskegee experiment. They purposely infected African American men with syphilis. Governments lie. The government lied about bombing Cambodia and Richard Nixon stood in front of the camera, ‘Let me make myself perfectly clear…' Governments lie. The government lied about the drugs for arms Contra scheme orchestrated by Oliver North, and then the government pardoned all the perpetrators so they could get better jobs in the government. Governments lie."

“The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. Governments lie. The government lied about a connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam Hussein and a connection between 9.11.01 and Operation Iraqi Freedom. Governments lie."

“The government lied about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq being a threat to the United States peace. And guess what else? If they don’t find them some weapons of mass destruction, they gonna do just like the LAPD, and plant the some weapons of mass destruction. Governments lie."

2. Governments change. He said long before the United States colonized the world, so did Egypt.

“All colonizers are not white. Turn to your neighbors and say that oppressors come in all colors.”

He then went back to the Bible and spoke about the changing of kings in Babylonia.

“Prior to Abraham Lincoln, the government in this country said it was legal to hold African in slavery in perpetuity...when Lincoln got in office, the government changed. Prior to the passing of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution, government defined African as slaves, as property. Property, people with no rights to be respected by any whites anywhere. The Supreme Court of the government, same court, granddaddy of the court that stole the 2000 election. Supreme court said in it’s Dred Scott decision in the 1850s, no African anywhere in this country has any rights that any white person has to respect at any place, any time. That was the government’s official position backed up by the Supreme Court – that’s the judiciary; backed up by the executive branch – that’s the president; backed up by the legislative branch and enforced by the military of the government. But I stop by to tell you tonight that government’s change."

“Prior to Harry Truman’s government, the military was segregated. But governments change."

“Prior to the Civil Rights and equal accommodation laws of the government in this country, there was backed segregation by the country, legal discrimination by the government, prohibited blacks from voting by the government, you had to eat and sit in separate places by the government, you had sit in different places from white folks because the government said so, and you had to buried in a separate cemetery. It was apartheid, American style, from the cradle to the grave, all because the government backed it up."

“But guess what? Governments change. Under Bill Clinton, we got a messed up welfare to work bill, but under Clinton blacks had an intelligent friend in the Oval Office. Oh, but governments change."

“The election was stolen. We went from an intelligent friend to a dumb Dixiecrat. A rich Republican who has never held a job in his life; is against affirmative action (and) against education – I guess he is; against healthcare, against benefits for his own military, and gives tax breaks to the wealthiest contributors to his campaign. Governments change. Sometimes for the good, and sometimes for the bad.”

“Where governments change, God does not change. God is the same yesterday, today and forever more. That’s what his name I Am means. He does not change."

"God was against slavery on yesterday, and God, who does not change, is still against slavery today. God was a God of love yesterday, and God who does not change, is still a God of love today. God was a God of justice on yesterday, and God who does not change, is still a God of justice today."

“God does not change.”

3. He then speaks of the government in his Bible text and said the Romans failed. Then he said the British government failed even after it colonized the world. He said the Russian government failed. The Japanese government failed. The German government failed.

“And the United States of America government, when it came to treating her citizens of Indian descent, she failed. She put them on reservations."

“When it came to putting her citizens of Japanese descent fairly, she failed. She put them in interment prison camps."

“When it came to putting the citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains. The government put them on slave quarters. Put them on auction blocks. Put them in cotton fields. Put them in inferior schools. Put them in substandard housing. Put them scientific experiments. Put them in the lower paying jobs. Put them outside the equal protection of the law. Kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education, and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness."

“The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three strike law and then wants us to sing God Bless America. Naw, naw, naw. Not God Bless America. God Damn America! That’s in the Bible. For killing innocent people. God Damn America for treating us citizens as less than human. God Damn America as long as she tries to act like she is God and she is Supreme."

“The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent. Think about this. Think about this. For every one Oprah, a billionaire, you’ve got 5 million blacks that are out of work. For every one Colin Powell, a millionaire, you’ve got 10 million blacks who cannot read. For every one Condi-Skeezer Rice, you’ve got 1 million in prison. For every one Tiger Woods, who needs to get beat at the Masters, with his Cablanasian hips, playing on a course that discriminates against women, God has this way of brining you up short when you get to big for your Cablanasian britches. For every one Tiger Woods, we’ve got 10,000 black kids who will never see a golf course. The United States government has failed the vast majority of her citizens of African descent.”

“Tell your neighbor he’s (going to) help us one last time. Turn back and say forgive him for the God Damn, that’s in the Bible though. Blessings and curses is in the Bible. It’s in the Bible.

"Where government fail, God never fails. When God says it, it’s done. God never fails. When God wills it, you better get out the way, cause God never fails. When God fixes it, oh believe me it’s fixed. God never fails. Somebody right now, you think you can’t make it, but I want you to know that you are more than a conqueror through Christ. You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.”

He then went on to talk about the salvation of Christians through the death of Jesus Christ. The sermon ended with a song proclaiming, “God never fails.”


– Roland S. Martin, CNN Contributor

Filed under: Barack Obama • Roland S. Martin
soundoff (163 Responses)
  1. Robbie O'Rourke

    For every Tiger Woods there are 10,000 blacks who don't see a golf course? I guess we need taxpayer funded midnight pitch and putt?

    For every famous and wealthy white guy, there are 10,000 white guys driving trucks, digging coal or pumping out septic tanks. Does this mean the American government has failed her citizens of Euro-American descent?

    The "context" here is 99% what a soulless fictitious business entity called government "owes" people. About 1% about God.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:52 am |
  2. Dawn Garcia

    dissent has become unpatriotic.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:52 am |
  3. Jack

    Thank you, Roland Martin, for putting this brouhaha into perspective.

    And let me offer some perspective of my own. I've not read all of the comments due to their quantity but let me say that unless you have personally experienced discrimination then you cannot even begin to offer a reasonable or rational comment about Reverend Wright.

    Even though I was a non-Jewish, white male at the time, I was once married to a Jewish woman. And the amount of blatant discrimination that I encountered on numerous occasions while accompanying my wife was completely unexpected and astounding to me. I was completely unaware that such attitudes still existed in this day and age. I can't even begin to understand how an African-American might feel since they have surely experienced much greater discrimination than I have.

    Let me tell all readers one thing: even though I was mainly surprised and perplexed at the time, I now feel very angry about the discrimination that I experienced because there was no rational reason for it. Consequently, I can't even imagine the amount of anger that African-Americans must feel. I had thought that virtually all of the citizens of the USA had moved past such petty divisiveness but was I ever wrong.

    Our country has a long way to go to move beyond discrimination of every kind. Everyone reading these comments or posting to them would do well to listen to Senator Obama's recent speech in Philadelphia in its entirety which directly addresses these issues.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:51 am |
  4. David Bruce Gross

    I'm a white American who thinks most christians are spiritually blinded ,,cruel and just plain mean,,,,but I love this guy,( Obamas Pastor ) He made a silly remark about HIV ,,,but he is a righteous and beautiful man who is definitly NOT politically blind,,,I have lived in subconcious fear of this government since viewing the films on Hiroshima ( A-BOMB ) as a fourth grader,,,,it doesn't take a guiniess to see that there are things we as a country have done that are EVIL on a massive level,,,,,we can't even give a baby medicine without breaking his poor mothers back. I live in TAIWAN,,,and am always so home sick,,,I love America and am in heaven when I go home,,,just because I can talk to people,,,and can relate to just about EVERYONE , when I travel I want to say I'm Canadian because of the mass murder commited by our NATION,,,,,what happened to compassion ??? and common sense,,,!??? This pastor is calm compared to what I would have said,,,,how could that woman on your panel say this guy was full of hate for whites !!! Is she actually that blind or is it just some dumb media show,,,, I personally find it quite hard to believe 360 would have someone of that intellegence on national television,,,,

    March 22, 2008 at 12:51 am |
  5. Lee from Virginia

    Obama, honest? Where was his honesty when he first denied being in the pews the doing an about face and admitting that he was, in fact, sitting there. This is honesty? I'm a black man with a white great grandfather. Does this make it ok for me to use the term, typical white woman? Does this make me both black and white? Wake up people! Obama is NOT the answer for America.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:51 am |
  6. Phoebe

    It is so sad that Rev. Jeremiah Wright preached such harsh and hateful sermons. However, there is one thing most of the Evengelical preachers have in common all over the world. They have no soft tone when it comes to preaching. It is not a surprise in this case of Rev. Wright's. I understand he said many bad things, but one similar condemnation I have heard from different preachers both whites and blacks is about 911. Now coming to the question of Barack's refusal to leave the church. This is a son of white and black parents. He is connected to both race. Each day listening to differences from both sides must have torn him apart. Each day he listened to the harsh words towards his mother's side and also the daily conflicts and reaction towards his fathers side; all these gave him a stand and motivation to look for solution and a way of reconciliation and bringing the two sides together so that there could be harmony. I do not say that Rev. was right. We have all heard many words that we do not agree with our pastors. While the pastor was wrong, we have not shown him that we are far beyond what he thinks we are. Our comments and reaction towards Barack who after hearing all those words came out with a positive message is unfair. Had Sen. Obama started his compaign with a negative message or same attititude like his pastor or a message that promotes revenge then, we would know that he believes in his pastor. Leaving the church is not the solution because it could not have stopped the pastor from saying what he said or what he thinks. Sen. Obama did the right thing by deciding to stand up against him in action rather than leaving the church. The church itself has no problem. The Pastor is one person who comes and leaves the church as he did. It is not his personal church. Let us be honest, in this matter. Let us all examine deep down into our hearts. Without hypocricy we know that racism is still real in our midst. Differences are still real. We see it daily in many ways. If God would open each one's heart then we would all know our true color regarding race. Many people are wondering why Sen. Obama raised the issue of race in his speech, because he knows that it is the root cause of all these problems. You cannot cure any disease without takling its root cause first. It does not matter who wins in November, the so-called universal health care, better education etc. won' t work until there is harmony and reconciliation. Unless our focus is to see Barack's defeat,ed, I believe it is time to stop blaming him but rather embrace him for the right decision he took instead of running away from the church and do nothing about it and then, continue to hear the same story year after year. The message he started with is the same even after this horrible time. Should we continue to hear what that pastor said, or pay attention to what the candidates are promising to do for our country. Rev. Jeremiah is not our God. Our God knows what is good for our country. Please stop this obssesion of Rev. Jeremiah and talk about what is good for our future. For the fact that Barack is from both sides, he is the right candidate when it comes to national union.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:51 am |
  7. Gordon Cogburn

    Rev Wright seems full of hate , just like the KKK. I never owned a slave, and I would not mind being baried next to a black man. I never stole a Indians land, I worked and bought mine. I am just a typical 48 year old white man. It amases me that so many people want to blame me for something that happened 150 years ago. I can not believe that Obahma listened to this man for 20 years. Rev Wrright get over it.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:51 am |
  8. Bill Keehn

    I'm a white retired serviceman who thinks the Rev. made very good points. A person who actually believes that we, as Americans, have always been "right" is blind. Ask the Hungarians who revolted when we promised them aid and then backed out. Ask the Cubans who waited and waited for air support at the Bay of Pigs. Ask the 1000's who died in the Shaw of Iran's jails while the US supported him. No wonder we are one of the most despised powers on Earth. Our actions are not congruent with our words. Are you honestly shocked to find that brotherly love for us whites is not at the top of their agenda? Wake up. I was going to vote for Hillary but after seeing O'bama calmly handle the pressure to diss his longtime pastor, he has now earned my vote. I think blacks and women should both have their turn in the White House; they sure cant be any worse than the Bush gang.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:49 am |
  9. Mary Ellen

    It's about time that someone went a little further than a sound bite on such a critical issue, CNN and all of the major networks should make it their business to give the whole story. Whether that changes anyone's mind is up to them but at least it will be a decision based on a more complete understanding of the complex issues involved.

    If we are going to base our decisions about our democracy on what religious leaders say, then why have the big networks all but ignored Pastor John Hagee, whose endorsement John McCain was "honored" and "proud" to receive. Hagee says Katrina was God's punishment for homosexuality, Jews are to blame for anti-Semitism, and Catholicism is the "Whore of Babylon" and "a cult."2

    Why ignore Rick Parsley, a televangelist who McCain called his "spiritual guide" when accepting his endorsement last month. Parsley has said:

    I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam. I know that this statement sounds extreme, but I do not shrink from its implications. The fact is that America was founded, in part, with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed...3

    Why ignore McCain's spiritual advisers while going after Obama's?

    It is time for us to get back to the urgent issues at hand and not fall into the trap of allowing any religious leader to define our politics, Isn't that why our forefathers separated religion and state ?

    God bless all of our citizens and their freedom of speech!

    March 22, 2008 at 12:49 am |
  10. Sabrina


    I am so happy that the news keeps us informed however I have to say as an American Citizen and voter I am so sickened that the media has gone so far as to dig into Obama's religous life. What a disappointment to a fellow christian. I am proud to be a youth leader in a fire and brimstone church that is mainly all white. I know that canidates get all the aspects of their lives review but WOW! I think it is sad that he cant even attend a church without the media crucifying him for the views of a pastor that he has said so many times he dont agree with. I wonder why the media dont go after Hillary or John's religous beliefs, why do you single him out? Dont the public deserve to see you treat them the same or is it because he is doing so well that he is being so delicately critiqued? The reason that I support Senator Obama is because he has explained the policies and I trust his words.He is the person I see as composed enough to handle the harsh comments and messed up media that is constantly on his coat tails. With what I have seen of HIllary I dont want my daughter to even see her on TV since she is very rude to the commentators during the debates and just as nasty in trying to destroy a man that so far has prooven to lead her for this position. As for John McCain he has said he is so expierenced then we see his talk shown last week of him overseas you will see he had to be told what he said was not accurate which leads me to believe he is not as expierenced as he professes to be.I say that because there are going to be times where you can not say the wrong thing and it just be overlooked. I am young but these things matter to me. I have to say that I am really proud to live here in the United States but as I see it if Obama dont win the nomination I will probably not vote again, simply because I will know that until this country and the media convicted him on his religious choices he was widely loved. I dont go to church for any other reason but to worship God. I have sat in a church that said things I didnt agree with however, I knew the truth and know that they will face their own convictions for what they said wrong. It tells you in the Bible to read The Word of God since there are so many false witnesses. I believe as a white women that Rev. Wright said what he did due to the frusterations that so many people where hurting a man he knew as an honorable and great Commander In Cheif canidate..I dont agree fully with what he said but as others have mentioned we have to be able to see some of it is right. Many people live in fear of what they dont know and things their families racially believed. I know my grandfather was hugely racial and I feel that everyone should be treated equal and have set out to teach my child that we are all the same in God's eyes therefore we should be the same here. I know that Obama has the best intentions for our nation and if he fufills half of them we will be a whole lot better then we are now. I just dont trust Hillary, she wont release her tax returns because she knows that she did wrong and she cant take the heat if you call her out like she does Obama. Also dont you ever question why she knows so much about all these people she accuses Obama of being close to? Her husband was associated with Rezko and also Rev.Wright so why dont she have to take the same heat. Her husband brought Rev. Wright to the White House. Dont you think she was there? Obama and HIllary have history with Rev. Wright so what is the real reason why Obama is taking all the heat? Sounds Quite Racial to me!

    March 22, 2008 at 12:48 am |
  11. Calvin E. Williams

    Hi Roland

    Thank you and CNN for putting these sermons in perspective. You have done more to help this country and the world to understand the full meaning of what Rev. Wright said. THE CLIPS NEED TO BE STOPPED IMMEDIATELY and viewers referred to this full text.This context contradicts all the negative, unpatriotic, hateful comments that have been said about the sermons. When people see the two words, God and Damn, not the one word, God... that makes a big difference about Anti-American.These sermons should stay on line for months, maybe forever, so that the American public can judge for themselves regarding this very serious divisive issue. It should be required reading for all talk show hosts.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:48 am |
  12. jayjayaye

    Who was it that said something to the effect of, "I disagree with everything you say, but I will defend to my death your right to say it."? Isn't that what America is supposed to be all about? Does not every American have the "inalienable right" to call on God to damn whom- or whatever he or she pleases? And who has the right to claim certain knowledge of what and whom God blesses or damns? To my way of thinking, such a claim is nothing short of outright blasphemy.

    Like all human beings, we Americans are imperfect mortals, none of whom should have the temerity - nay, arrogance –to "cast the first stone." When it comes to what Rev. Wright had to say, then - well, I just wish I could remember the exact words and name of the person who uttered the words I paraphrased in my first sentence. To utter them with sincerety is what being an American SHOULD be all about.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:48 am |
  13. Mike

    I think at least part of the reason the controversy erupted as much as it did is because a lot of white people would much rather forget that racism happened and still happens. I think we all might be a little too ashamed of ourselves for all that happened and continues to happen. It is, unfortunately, our legacy. We're taught in schools that racism was a bad thing that happened but it's over now. It's not over. Sticking our heads in the sand won't change things and it certainly won't make us feel better.

    But it is also important to remember what Obama said in his speech on race: that not every white person feels terribly privileged by the color of his or her skin. It makes sense that when a lot of people who work themselves to death to support their family, only to see someone else get what looks like unfair treatment through affirmative action, this breeds resentment. So we should do something to address those concerns, too.

    After reading his speech in its entirety and in its proper context, it certainly doesn't seem quite as bad as it does in the 30-second crazy pastor version. It actually seems to make a lot of sense where he's coming from, even though I don't think he's really addressing the problem in a terribly helpful way.

    March 22, 2008 at 12:48 am |
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