Rights activist mixes politics with religion


May 24, 1994|By Frank P.L. Somerville | Frank P.L. Somerville,Sun Staff Writer

The Rev. John L. Wright, who steps down Saturday after seven years as president of Maryland's 24-branch NAACP, says he will remain active politically, addressing social issues from a religious platform in his new role as head of a state Baptist organization.

Dr. Wright, 57, was elected president of the United Baptist Missionary Convention and Auxiliaries last Tuesday. Claiming 100,000 church members in about 100 congregations, the Maryland convention is one of several statewide associations of clergy and laity with ties to various Baptist denominations.

He is also president of another group with combined political and religious goals, the Baptist Ministers' Conference of Baltimore and Vicinity. It includes United Methodist and African Methodist Episcopal associate members along with Baptists.

A doctrinally conservative evangelical Protestant, the civil rights activist received his theological training at Lynchburg Seminary and College in Virginia and at National Theological Seminary and College in Atlanta. He has been pastor since 1972 of First Baptist Church of Guilford in Howard County.

He helped found the Alliance of Citizens for Responsive Leadership in Howard, and his political organizing has reached into other counties and Baltimore. He was a leader of the ministers' coalition that campaigned successfully this month to defeat the domestic partnership bill in the City Council.

Q: Why were you so opposed to the domestic partnership bill that would have legally recognized homosexual couples?

A: It was special rights and special laws for people who are in opposition to the God-given family life system of husband, wife and children. We believe it's a moral and ethical issue, a matter of principle. We support a biblical point of view.

Q: Were you influenced by the gay activists' support of the bill?

A: Yes. They are hostile to the basic family structure. They would create another dynasty that is totally against the principles of God.

The traditional family center is not harmful at all. It's wholesome. It's healthful. I mean, it's peace and tranquillity in God's program. Anything that's opposite to God's program is certainly immoral.

Q: Why did you decide not to run again for state president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People?

A: Seven years is long enough.

And there was the strong possibility I'd be elected president of the United Baptist convention. I'm real comfortable serving and attacking issues in the religious community at this point.

Q: Have blacks strengthened their political position in Maryland during the last decade?

A: It has improved to some extent in Howard and Anne Arundel. But when you look at African-Americans in the House of Delegates and Senate, there's no power outside of Baltimore City and Prince George's County. There's no improvement in Baltimore County or the Eastern Shore or Western Maryland.

Q: As state NAACP president, what do you think of the decision of national executive director Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. to include the Nation of Islam and its controversial leader, Louis Farrakhan, in meetings of black leaders?

A: The [NAACP] director at this point is in a Catch-22. If he backs down, folks are going to criticize him. If he goes forward, they're going to criticize him.

The NAACP national office cannot depend on its membership, so that means you go out into the corporate structure and bring funds in from other organizations, grants and foundations.

If [Dr. Chavis] goes with Farrakhan, he'll get a lot of criticism. If he doesn't, you have another community, the Muslim, to contend with.

Q: Is the Nation of Islam growing?

A: I don't know, but I'll tell you this: They get a lot of respect. They are a force to be reckoned with. Since we don't know their membership, it's hard for me to say whether they're growing or not, but I'm quite sure they have a lot of followers. And in addition to followers, a lot of people who respect what they're doing.

Q: What is your response to people who liken them to the Ku Klux Klan and say that the Nation of Islam security force should not be given contracts to guard public housing projects because of its leaders' anti-Semitic and anti-Catholic statements?

A: It's just verbal. I don't see the Nation of Islam folks using terrorism. Where have we seen them lynching anybody? Or setting somebody's house on fire, bombing some house?

Have you seen the Ku Klux Klan going into prisons and having inmates converted, changed over, and having them walking out in tuxedos, in black suits and bow ties, selling pies and newspapers and making something of themselves, cleaning themselves up, getting off of drugs, getting off of pork?

Q: You don't think people should eat pork?

A: I don't eat it. It's a health issue. And it's religious in the sense that religion is a way of life.

Q: In discussing the need for welfare reform, you have expressed concern about bureaucratic approaches to helping the poor. Would you comment?

A: Back when we didn't have all these social programs, we had a human face. In the days that I can recall back in 1948, many, many adult leaders -- scoutmasters and even teachers -- would go into their pockets to help some child. There were many children who did not attend school because they did not have shoes, and some of them were bright students.

Now, you have all this other money floating around -- these grants and foundations, nonprofit organizations and programs from the government -- but it doesn't always come with a human face.

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