This is simply must-reading for any fair-minded person interested in the full Jeremiah Wright story. There are very, very few people in American religious life as respected as Martin Marty, few scholars as learned, few Christians as sincere. He has been a professor of religious history at the University of Chicago for 35 years, one of the greatest universities in the world. If you do not know of him, here his is Wikipedia page and his own home-page. More here. I have never met the man but I have read a fraction of his over 5,000 articles, was deeply informed by his masterful Fundamentalism Project (co-edited with Scott Appleby) for The Conservative Soul, and know of few more distinguished, principled or decent public figures. Along with Barack Obama, he will not disown Jeremiah Wright, or Trinity United Church of Christ, where he attended services and listened to many Wright sermons.

Read his full defense of Wright in the Chronicle of Higher Education. You will learn this:

In the early 1960s, at a time when many young people were being radicalized by the Vietnam War, Wright left college and volunteered to join the United States Marine Corps. After three years as a marine, he chose to serve three more as a naval medical technician, during which time he received several White House commendations. He came to Chicago to study not long after Martin Luther King Jr.'s murder in 1968, the U.S. bombing campaign in Cambodia in 1969, and the shooting of students at Kent State University in 1970.

This is a man the Fox News right calls an anti-American, a former marine who volunteered to serve his country in a war he opposed. Marty does not excuse some of the indefensible comments of Wright that have now been bludgeoned into our consciousness to the exclusion of all else. And those comments should not be excused. And they have not been excused by Obama. But Marty does say this:

The four S's charged against Wright segregation, separatism, sectarianism, and superiority don't stand up, as countless visitors can attest. I wish those whose vision has been distorted by sermon clips could have experienced what we and our white guests did when we worshiped there: feeling instantly at home.

Yes, while Trinity is "unapologetically Christian," as the second clause in its motto affirms, it is also, as the other clause announces, "unashamedly black." From its beginning, the church has made strenuous efforts to help black Christians overcome the shame they had so long been conditioned to experience. That its members and pastor are, in their own term, "Africentric" should not be more offensive than that synagogues should be "Judeocentric" or that Chicago's Irish parishes be "Celtic-centric." Wright and colleagues insist that no hierarchy of races is involved. People do not leave Trinity ready to beat up on white people; they are charged to make peace.

Read the whole thing. It matters. Because the truth matters. Because in these complex, volatile areas, Martin Marty is a far more reliable guide to it than Sean Hannity.