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Sen. Barack Obama sought in his speech Tuesday to answer critics who have called on the Democratic presidential candidate to account for his former pastor's anti-American sermons. Jeremiah Wright, longtime pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, is a leading proponent of black liberation theology. On the church's website, Wright says that Trinity's vision statement is based on the systematized liberation theology found in James Cone's 1969 book, Black Power and Black Theology. According to Cone, "The concept of liberation is not one among many themes in the biblical tradition; it is rather the essence of God's revelation in history, and other emphases should be interpreted in light of liberation."

CT editor-at-large Collin Hansen interviewed Thabiti Anyabwile, author of The Decline of African American Theology, about the appeal of black liberation theology.

What did you think when you first heard the sermons from Sen. Obama's former pastor. Jeremiah Wright?

Actually, I had two reactions. First, I thought they were fairly typical kinds of comments whenever African American pastors begin to whoop on political issues. One thing the viewer needs to keep in mind is that in terms of sermonic style, Wright appeared to be in the almost-always-dramatic climax of a typical African American sermon. Those parts of the sermon tend to have great emotional effect, as evidenced by the shouting crowd, but are very often not the main point of the sermon. Second, I reacted like most other people, thinking, Ouch. That's gonna leave a bruise for everybody concerned — Wright, Obama, Trinity, and most viewers.

Has anything surprised you about the wave of indignation that has followed news of these sermons?

I've been surprised that ...

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