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Every denomination needs one of these...

Wright, racism and resignation: RNS interviews John Thomas

Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Religion News Service has an excellent interview with John Thomas posted on it's blog. If I were to interview the President of the United Church of Christ, these would the questions - cherry picked from the Religion News Service blog:
Q: What are people around the UCC saying about the controversy
surrounding Wright?

A: Some people are quite upset and outraged at what they heard on these brief little clips on the news. Others are angry because they feel Rev. Wright's views have been taken out of context -- it doesn't reflect the man who's so well known in the UCC. By and large, there's a lot of pain for what he's going through and anger that he's not being treated fairly.

Q: You've written that people are asking for your resignation over the Wright controversy. Is that something you'd consider?

A: It's never pleasant to here that kind of angry criticism. I understand people are upset, after eight years in office I'm quite used to people getting critical, some of it is honest criticism based on facts, some folks are not aware of context. I try not to simply take it in stride but to listen and to adjust.

Q: Do you think there are legitimate reasons to be concerned over some of his remarks and the fact that he's been a longtime spiritual leader to a major presidential candidate?

A: You have to assess the whole body of his preaching and not phrases here and there, like what you've heard on the television. You want to listen to the entire sermon and also look at the congregation he's shaped over the years. It's not shaped around hatred, it's been very supportive of a predominantly white denomination. It's fair game to assess the background of a candidate's spiritual life, but it needs to be a fair assessment.

Q: Do you agree with Rev. Wright's remarks about AIDS -- that it was invented by the U.S. government to oppress minorities?

A: While I'm reluctant to comment on any one sentence in a sermon lifted from its context, and particularly reluctant in light of the clear intent of many in recent days to attack the integrity of Dr. Wright using this kind of citation, if the question posed is "Do I think the U.S. government invented AIDS to oppress minorities?" my response would be "no."

Q: You've said it's not the UCC's place to censure its pastors. But are there occasions when you would step in and say something to a pastor who was using anti-gay language, for instance?

A: There are certain givens: We are not going to tolerate racist language from the pulpit. There are certainly diverse perspectives on human sexuality in our denomination, but we are not going to tolerate rhetoric about gays and lesbians that's demeaning or will incite prejudice and violence. If I heard a sermon from someone that was racist that would not be tolerated within the denomination. Clearly, that's not the case with Rev. Wright.

Q: Have you ever confronted a pastor over something like that?

A: No. I've never had occasion to do that. I've had lots of disagreements with pastors who disagree with me. It's not that we all have to have common agreement but there are certain boundaries that language or theology that's demeaning or racists is not to be tolerated.

The RNS blog doesn't mention who the interviewer is, but these are really good questions. Often times religion writers ask softball questions because, lets face it, 90% of the religion news out there isn't hard news. This was a good interview.

Thomas also deserves credit for answering the questions. I don't recall any other interview when he's been this candid.

That said, Thomas' judgement on this is terribly flawed. On one hand he concedes that Wright was not accurate but still compares him to Biblical prophets. Is it so difficult for Thomas to speak honestly?

What's wrong with a little straight talk: Thomas could have affirmed the gifts that Trinity United Church of Christ and Jeremiah Wright have brought to the denomination and to the south side of Chicago without defending his comments by claiming they require context - there is no context that justifies perpetuating a lie that the government created AIDS. Thomas may not care what I think, but he has to appreciate on some level that the folks in the pews aren't going to buy that story.

Thomas' refusal to address Wright's comments but then claim that "we are not going to tolerate racist language from the pulpit" is horribly inconsistent. It translates like this: If you are a local church that is on board with the national office on the social justice issues and give lots of money, you'll get a pass to do just about anything.

If this were an isolated case, I could give Thomas a pass and rationalize that he's like any other organization leader who is trying to cover for others on his team. But this isn't isolated. There's a pathology in the UCC that starts with John Thomas that says as as long as you are part of the team, it's ok to lie and to be dishonest - after all, the ends justify the means. It's this same mentality that gives certain conference ministers the freedom to run around the country spreading unfounded accusations of church stealing, that it's OK to honor convicted (and unrepentant) Puerto Rican terrorists and that it's OK to arbitraily change General Synod resolutions with which Thomas doesn't like. In each of of these, John Thomas has been personally and directly involved.

To compound the problem, when Thomas is questioned about these decisions, critics are called "unloving" and he insulates himself by claiming that the criticism is the "cost of discipleship". Disagreement, no matter how gentle, simply is not accepted by the national office.

As tempting as it is to call for Thomas to resign, I think it would be letting him off easy. I believe Thomas is the single most responsible person for the divisveness within our denomination today and his failure at even attempting to build unity within the denomaintion has resulted in a dramatic decline in membership and churches. Thomas should stay and his legacy should serve as a silent reminder to future UCC Presidents on how not to run a denomination.
posted by UCCtruths, Thursday, March 27, 2008


I agree this was a good interview. I have noticed in some of the other UCC pastor blogs, a closing of the ranks supporting Rev. Wright. They seem to have so much invested the culture of black victimhood that anything is acceptable and excused.

Although the UCC is nondoctrinal, it's ancestry is in the Reformed Tradition. Trinity UCC clearly makes the point that the long tradition of the UCC churches is worth zip, while the current political cause is everything.

(By the way does anyone know the history of the original Trinity Church? I assume it was an old E&R church that was fading away in the city before Rev. Wright came along)
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 1:52 PM  
I greatly appreciate the UCCtruths blog for its honesty and integrity in telling uncomfortable truths. It is amazing to me that so many of you have stuck with the UCC despite all of this dishonest and repugnant leadership by Rev. Thomas. I have quit the UCC twice, once when I was gone away at college in the late 1960's, and again a couple years ago, because, having been exposed to denominations that were much more like the UCC used to be, I realized that I didn't want to be part of a denomination espousing left-wing politics but lacking any significant doctrine. Those remaining, and with the opinions and convictions of the writer of this blog and some of the responders have terrific, admirable courage. The old UCC churches have already been "stolen" by these left-wing social activists, gradually since the 1960's. And no one is attempting to "steal" them back, but just to expose the church robbers for who they really are.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 9:11 PM  
First, it is truly unfortunate and extremely distressing that 1 in 3 Americans of African descent actually believe the rhetoric postulated by Rev. Wright and others of his stature within the American African community.

It is these leaders, such as Rev. Wright, that are like pirana. Their message is aimed at the exploition and mind control of their audience all-the-while encouraging & supporting the audience's continued emotional view of themselves as victims. It does not matter whether the message is a constant barrage or just the occasional message. It still serves the same purpose, Explotation and control. The message does not uplift the spirit but rather keeps it down because it offers no balm for healing.

Regarding Mr. Thomas ~ He speaks with two tongues and certainly has allowed or directed certain controversial decisions that have caused even more divisveness and unrest in our denomination. It's too bad that Mr. Thomas does not heed the call of God instead of his own.

To say that "Thomas is the SINGLE MOST responsible person for the divisveness within our denomination today..." is a bit of a stretch, imho, because the UCC has been on the slippery slope of apostasy for more than 40 years now.

The UCC currently teaches that the Bible is not the inerrant word of God. For example, on one UCC State Conference site under the "Our Church's Wider Mission" section... apparentlyone of our Church's Wider Missions is: "...Christians who take the Bible seriously but not literally." I ask, "Should we take Jesus' words seriously or should be take them literally?" I say both! Think about what the UCC is saying here!

Mr. Thomas should not be standing beside Rev. Wright defending him. Rev. Wright's words have not been taken out of context. If you remember, Imus lost his job for much less.

The UCC should not tolerate such venom from it's pastors no matter how big or small the church. Mr. Thomas should resign and we should be very aware of who is slated to take his place.

Many folks in the UCC want renewal. They want a return to the Biblical truths that were the foundation or better put, underpinnings of the UCC.

RENEWAL WILL NOT COME FROM THE PULPITS OR CHURCH PLANTING. RENEWAL WILL COME FROM THE REMNANT WITHIN THE SEPARATE CONGRGATIONS [caps for emphasis only] Preachers and new churches are important and should be targeted for growth but they will not be needed until the remnant rises up and demands a return to Biblical values and traditions that made our denomination. We can no longer tolerate blasphemy, heresy, affirmation of sin or leftist politics, which removes empowerment from the people, from our leadership.
commented by Anonymous omd, 1:42 PM  

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