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UCCtruths

Every denomination needs one of these...

UCC gets ripped

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

I don't make it a habit to post entire articles, but this article needs to be posted in it's entirety to be understood. From RealClearPolitics.com:
Examining the United Church of Christ

By Stephan Thernstrom and Abigail Thernstrom

In his recent incendiary remarks, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. claimed that criticism of his views is nothing less "an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition." Can it really be that millions of black Americans regularly choose to listen to viciously anti-white and anti-American rants on Sunday mornings?

Happily, Chicago's Trinity Church is an outlier in that regard. Most black churchgoers belong to congregations that are overwhelmingly African-American and are affiliated with one of the historically black religious denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) or the National Baptist Convention. Rev. Wright's Trinity Church, on the other hand, is a predominantly black branch of a white denomination that is not part of "the African-American religious tradition." The United Church of Christ (known until 1957 as the Congregational Church) has a little over a million members; a mere 4 percent of them are black. Fewer than 50,000 blacks in the entire nation worship at a UCC church.

In contrast, 98 percent of the National Baptist Convention's 4 million members are African Americans. Add in black Methodists and Pentecostals, as well as other black Baptists, and the total comes to more than 14 million members of an organized, predominantly African-American church. These churches include a substantial majority of all black adults today. In terms of sheer demographic weight, they clearly represent the "African-American religious tradition"-as Rev. Wright's branch of a overwhelmingly white denomination does not.

These churches vary in many respects. Some-by no means all-played a crucial role in the civil rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s. The civil rights movement, as the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "came not from secular forces but from the heart of the Negro church." The movement's glory days are long gone but black churches remain more politically engaged, on the average, than their white counterparts. A 1998 study found that 35 percent of them had projects to increase voter registration, five times the rate of white congregations. Almost half informed their congregants of opportunities for political activity, double the white rate. They were also far more likely to have had political candidates and elected officials as guest speakers.

Some of these churches are led by figures like Rev. Wright, an adherent of what is called black liberation theology, which rejects racial integration and stresses the experience of black bondage. But not many. C. Eric Lincoln's mid-1980s survey of the leaders of 2,150 black churches found that two-thirds of them said they had not been influenced by "any of the authors and thinkers of black liberation theology." Indeed, 63 percent did not believe that the black church had "a different mission from the white church." A third did not even think it was "important have black figures in [their] Sunday school literature."

This integrationist vision is at one with the values of most Americans. A glance at the National Baptist Convention and the AME web sites is revealing. They feature what one might expect of any religious denomination-a statement of their creeds, the tenets of the theology and worship practices that distinguish their faith from others. There is almost no indication that these churches are predominantly African American. The closest they come to mentioning race is the AME's statement that its basic beliefs do not "differ from what all Methodists believe." The church, we learn, separated from the main Methodist body two centuries ago because of "man's intolerance of his fellow man, based on the color of his skin."

The web sites of Rev. Wright's Trinity Church and the national body to which it belong stand in shocking contrast. Before the Trinity site was sanitized in early 2008, its material seethed with racial animus and hostility towards America. It described itself as "Afrocentric"; its motto was "Unashamedly Black, Unapologetically Christian." Its quasi-literate foundational document, "The Black Value System," devoted much more attention to blackness than to Christianity. It is the manifesto of a church for people of the black race, designed to be an "instrument of Black self-determination." Blacks were depicted as a race apart-the scurrilous perspective that pervaded Rev. Wright's April 27 Detroit speech, in which he contended that blacks and whites had completely different brain structures, one left-dominant, the other right-dominant. This is nothing more than an updated version of the pseudo-science once used to defend segregation in the Jim Crow South.

It is no accident that Rev. Wright's Trinity Church is affiliated with the highly progressive United Church of Christ. The UCC had its first Jeremiah Wright back in the 1960s, when it tolerated the activities of Rev. Albert Cleage of Detroit, a pioneer preacher of the gospel of Black Power. Cleage was determined to "dehonkify" Jesus. Jesus was black, he insisted, and a black revolutionary. He went on to form his own Black Christian Nationalist Church, later renamed the Pan-African Orthodox Church. This racist conception did not trouble the leadership of the United Church of Christ, which saw it as helping to "make the church more sensitive to and aware of its need to respond to the agenda of black people."

The web site of the UCC currently features plans for a May 18 "sacred conversation on race" in which white participants will need to acknowledge "the sins" of their "ancestors" and their own "failures to confront racism." Non-whites who have "suffered the ravages of racism" will be expected only to keep their "rightful indignation" and their "temptation to despair" under control. The conversation is desperately needed, we are told, because "the quality of life for the majority of racial and ethnic people is worse today in many ways than it was during the 1960s"-a ludicrous claim.

Clearly, Rev. Wright does not speak for mainstream black churches-and he has done them a gross disservice by claiming to do so. He shares neither their vision nor their values. Why their relative silence in the face of Rev. Wright's rants? Perhaps they believe they are protecting Sen. Obama, but if Wright convinces white Americans that his hateful speeches reflect the ways African-American churchgoers think and worship, the quest for racial equality will be set back decades.

Stephan Thernstrom is Winthrop Professor History, Harvard University. Abigail Thernstrom is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, May 06, 2008

29 Comments:

A very enlightening history lesson. Is it time for JT to run more ads?
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 9:51 AM  
These people haven't really done their homework regarding the UCC. They don't fully know our history ("known until 1957 as the Congregational Church") or our polity, as they bring up the quickly-tiresome "point" that Trinity isn't "truly black" because most of the UCC is white. The UCC has churches that are predominantly black, Asian, Filipino, and so on...are these other churches "less Asian" and "less Filipino" too?

Disagreements with theology aside, why is it so hard to consider the individual church, Trinity UCC, part of the "black tradition?" Claiming that it isn't based on overall denominational demographics borders on the same kind of racism of which many have accused Rev. Wright.

To put it another way, should the UCC encourage Trinity to join a "truly black" denomination so it can be considered a good-and-proper black church? How is that not encouraging a form of segregation?
commented by Blogger Coffeepastor, 11:20 AM  
To Coffeepastor,
It doesn't matter that the writer of the article said the UCC was known as the Congregational Church before 1957, rather than also the Evangelical and Reformed Church. That has no consequence to the argument. The point is, the majority of African American Christians are in much more conservative denominations than the UCC, so that the UCC African American denominations are not typical samples of African American Christians. This statement of this fact has nothing to do with racism, as you imply. I find your argument to be typical of nonsensical left-wing reasoning.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2:37 PM  
Hey Coffee P. - I think you are missing the point. The authors are trying to protect the bulk of black churches from the hate based ideals of trinity - you know, the tradition of race baiting hatred that has carried over from the 60's. Trinity is the exception, not the rule. Personally I think we should stop with all the labeling - Christian Church is all I need to know.

No one is asking Trinity to change denominations. What they are suggesting is that maybe Trinity has strayed a bit from the path....

A "good and proper black church"? Do you think maybe that your perception of this issue is part of the problem?
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2:40 PM  
The sacred discussions that the UCC is calling for will take place in a predominantly white churches. It will be more navel gazing.
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 2:48 PM  
And all God's people said, "Amen!"
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 6:25 PM  
The web site of the UCC currently features plans for a May 18 "sacred conversation on race" in which white participants will need to acknowledge "the sins" of their "ancestors" and their own "failures to confront racism." Non-whites who have "suffered the ravages of racism" will be expected only to keep their "rightful indignation" and their "temptation to despair" under control. The conversation is desperately needed, we are told, because "the quality of life for the majority of racial and ethnic people is worse today in many ways than it was during the 1960s"-a ludicrous claim.

I can tell you that in my church this will not go over well at all. Enough. ENOUGH!
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 1:31 AM  
One more comment on this race apology thing - I accept full responsibility for my actions (as all should) but my ancestors weren't here, weren't racists, nor, I hope am I. Why do we need to apologize for anything? Why do all whites have to pay for all past white sins - isn't that redemption thing covered elsewhere?
commented by Anonymous Anonymous, 7:25 AM  
Anon[1] - I only pointed out the "Congregational Church" error to show that the authors of this article needed to delve a little more into our history. I didn't make it a part of the rest of my argument, so your little axe to grind against "nonsensical left-wing reasoning" doesn't apply.

Anon[2] - "No one is asking Trinity to change denominations. What they are suggesting is that maybe Trinity has strayed a bit from the path...."

And that'd be fine if they want to argue that point, because it at least acknowledges that Trinity is still part of the black tradition. However, this is the second article that I've read suggesting that Trinity isn't a "truly black" church (my "good and proper" comment was made satirically in that vein) because it's part of a mostly white denomination. At the local level, Trinity is a part of the black tradition whether our national office and demographics reflects that or not. Surely those who advocate the strongest for local church autonomy would have no problem conceding this point.

The authors bring up several other "historically black" denominations and then suggest that "In terms of sheer demographic weight, they clearly represent the "African-American religious tradition"-as Rev. Wright's branch of a overwhelmingly white denomination does not." I'd have less of a problem with this article if the authors had stuck to arguing about how Trinity may differ from other churches within the black tradition based on theology, political views, etc. But they add this piece about the UCC's demographics, effectively stating that Trinity is less a part of the black tradition because they're part of a mostly white denomination.

In other words, the authors make Trinity's affiliation with the mostly white UCC--rather than one of these other denominations--part of the issue, implying that it wouldn't be an issue if Trinity were affiliated otherwise.
commented by Blogger Coffeepastor, 7:51 AM  
I guess I meant to reply to Anon[2] and Anon[3]. Maybe if people started registering or selecting names to differentiate themselves...
commented by Blogger Coffeepastor, 7:59 AM  
Not "hate-based". Anger does not equal hatred; criticism does not equal rejection. The tone of the article is familiar though I haven't heard its like for a while. It was the same tone in the responses of men when women were forming "consciousness-raising groups" and we weren't allowed in; the same tone among fellow white students at my college when the Black Student Organization was formed. It's the tone of someone speaking with their nose out of joint. It's the tone of the privileged when they perceive that there is somewhere in the universe where they might not be welcomed. An experience familiar to a good deal of humanity.

The conclusion that "if Wright convinces white Americans that his hateful speeches reflect the ways African-American churchgoers think and worship, the quest for racial equality will be set back decades." sounds as if they care about racial equality. Their inability to hear or accept Black Liberation Theology's expression of the pain, frustration and anger toward continued injustice belies their true feelings.
commented by Blogger Don Niederfrank, 8:12 AM  
Coffeepastor and others...

You are right about the anonymous posts getting confusing so I've eliminated them at least for the time being. I think the number of comments will drop but the quality will go up. Lets see.

-James
commented by Blogger UCCtruths, 9:43 AM  
The Thernstroms invoke the numbers regarding black demographics quite fairly. They aren’t pulling wool over readers’ eyes with a Disraelian manipulation of the stats. Their use of numbers is so modest as to elicit a yawn.

Their argument addresses a very narrow sliver of rebuttal to Wright’s exaggerated rhetoric, namely, rebutting Wright’s wild notion that Wright speaks for a larger black community. What very little rhetoric the article indulges binges on legitimate sarcasm about Wright’s own church having its own website “sanitized in early 2008.” That rhetoric is easily convertible to hard fact and sound logic by asking a simple question: whether it’s true or false that the church’s website was “sanitized in early 2008?” A no brainer.

The Thernstroms’ argument is so straightforward that only a perverse desire to quibble (over minor facts) remains to diffuse their argument, which is, “Clearly, Rev. Wright does not speak for mainstream black churches - and he has done them a gross disservice by claiming to do so. He shares neither their vision nor their values.”

The Thernstroms’ invocation of black demographics is so modest and mundane that any effective rebuttal ought include counter-factual metrics rather than inane quibbling over whether their trivial faux pas that the “Congregational Church” somehow exhausts the origins and etiology of UCC identity.

That Wright’s voice may qualify as prophetic doesn’t reduce its sheer anecdotal and isolated value. And if the Thernstroms’ extremely modest use of the demographics is true – (true that: “Clearly, Rev. Wright does not speak for mainstream black churches .... He shares neither their vision nor their values”) – then most black believers covered under these demographics already know this is true. They likely care less about internal quibbles over UCC origins and denominational demographics. The fact is that if the Thernstroms erred in pinning the “congregational” tail on the UCC donkey (by neglecting mention of other streams in the UCC merger), then they erred in exactly the right direction because thoughtful readers (black or white) will isolate Wrigth’s voice down to a local “congregation” giving Wright a voice at a single location in “congregational” time and space rather than aggrandizing Wright’s vision as representative of something more.

Cheers,

Jim
commented by Blogger jprapp, 12:25 PM  
Anonymous says:
The point is, the majority of African American Christians are in much more conservative denominations than the UCC, so that the UCC African American denominations are not typical samples of African American Christians.

Truth says:
The majority of predominately white Christians are much more conservative than the predominant white Christians in the UCC so what's your point? That's one of the reason's I joined the church. Every Sunday at Trinity UCC I ALWAYS saw progressive white worshipers from all over the UCC. I found that quite impressive.
personally...

It seems to me a lot of the people on this site would like the UCC to look more like the Southern Baptist....
commented by Blogger truthToPower, 12:29 PM  
Anon says :
you know, the tradition of race baiting hatred that has carried over from the 60's.

Truth says:
This speaks volumes....
Are you suggesting that the fight for equal justice and rights AND the fight to define ourselves and embrace our heritage == RACE BAITING???
Are you suggesting that racism is dead in America today???
commented by Blogger truthToPower, 12:32 PM  
The very fact that Trinity is a part of the UCC and very much proud of that should speak volumes about the myth that we HATE WHITES..
Hell we're not even angry at white people..
We have MANY ISSUES WITH GOVERNment positions and i think alot of white people share that sentiment with us
We have many issues with the general philosophy of white supremacy which is still very much alive today
We DO address black pathology. Alot of people have judged our entire ministry based on less than a minute clips

And many of the conservative white preachers have said similar things about the government damnation and racial genocide (to justify their own positions like anti abortion)
commented by Blogger truthToPower, 12:37 PM  
Gee Jim, if I had known that you and others would get so hung up on my minor correction of the Thernstroms' historical error, I wouldn't have bothered. The fact is, however, that you and Anon#3975 made even a bigger deal out of it than I did. Since apparently it bears repeating, it had little bearing on the rest of my post. Your use of the word "perverse" in relation to my correction calls for justification, unless being proud of my denomination's history and wanting it to be accurately represented in the media is now to be considered perverse.

Furthermore, I don't question the demographic numbers themselves. If you think that I do, you'll have to point out where. I do, however, question their use in making the point that Trinity is somehow outside the black tradition due to being a part of a predominantly white denomination.

To attempt to put it more succinctly, the Thernstroms could have made their argument solely on theological or political lines, i.e., "Wright is not part of the mainstream black tradition because most black churches are theologically or politically conservative." They do this, but they also feel the need to say, "Wright is not part of the mainstream black tradition because the UCC is mostly white." At this point, Trinity and Wright are no longer judged as an individual congregation but according to needless racially constructed denominational categories.

You and your anonymous buddies need to understand something here: I'm not a Wright apologist. In fact, I cringed at many of the same things that most people here have and see no justification for them. I simply find the part of the Thernstroms' article based on UCC demographics to be uncalled for. Comparing Trinity's theological and political leanings with what is typical in the black tradition would have been, I think, sufficient.
commented by Blogger Coffeepastor, 4:41 PM  
Maybe it would help if you just reviewed your points in light of what was said in the article, rather than what you presume it to mean.

"Disagreements with theology aside, why is it so hard to consider the individual church, Trinity UCC, part of the "black tradition?" Claiming that it isn't based on overall denominational demographics borders on the same kind of racism of which many have accused Rev. Wright."


I don't see anywhere that the claim is made that Wright or Trinity are not part of the Black Church Tradition. This isn't so much an issue of racism here, as one of simply paying attention and being careful before making accusations- which is the same kind of criticism being made of Wright.


Rev. Wright's Trinity Church, on the other hand, is a predominantly black branch of a white denomination that is not part of "the African-American religious tradition."

It is the UCC, as a denomination that said not to be part of it.

The point of the article is not a claim that Wright is not "part" of the tradition, but rather "what part"- large, small, typical, atypical-- a point of great relevance in light of the denomination's call for a "sacred conversation on race"-- a call that came directly out of a series of public defenses of Wright, published on the denomination's news site, coupled with a rather blinkered assesment of Wrights teaching and preaching and any criticism of it. Wright's claim that "attacks" on him are realy attacks on the Black Church (on top of al the claims that disagreement and questioning oif him consitutes an attack - or even crucifixion- of Trinity

That Wright and his congregation are "outliers" in that regard- a sort of statistical anomaly that makes the connection of his teaching to "the Black Church" or the Black Church tradition one that may be legitimately examined and questioned.
commented by OpenID revlittlebopeep, 10:21 PM  
This comment has been removed by the author.
commented by Blogger jprapp, 3:16 AM  
And for what it's worth, here are two press releases from the National Baptist Convention and from the AME Church in support of Wright. And here's an article quoting a black pastor who, while disagreeing with some of Wright's decisions, calls him a friend and has invited him to preach at his own church.

So Wright is much more embraced by "mainstream" black denominations and a part of the black tradition than the Thernstroms' argument about demographics would have you believe.
commented by Blogger Coffeepastor, 8:01 AM  
Coffeepastor,

You say – “I don't question the demographic numbers themselves.” Then why insinuate a link to “racism?” (“Claiming that it [Trinity] isn't [part of black tradition] based on overall denominational demographics borders on the same kind of racism of which many have accused Rev. Wright”). You’re saying demographics as applied borders on racism. Aristotle: say what you mean, mean what you say.

Let’s break this down.

The concept of “perversity” is well known and is non-controversial in statistical methods. And in every other science with standards for hypothesis rejection (see e.g., Ash, The Perverse Logic of Reverse Regression, in Statistical Methods in Discrimination Litigation 85 (David H.Kaye & Mikel Aickin eds., 1986)). The concept of perversity frequently crosses the border from serving as a scientific term to become a part of everyday reasoning as when ordinary jurors and public opinion test for things like racial discrimination using agreed norms. You could make perversity generically denote any community criteria identifying the limits of “truth” (say at a website named “UCCTruths”).

When you claim that – “Claiming that it [“Trinity UCC”] isn't [“part of the black tradition”] based on overall denominational demographics borders on the same kind of racism of which many have accused Rev. Wright” – then the perversity of your claim has nothing to with personal nor subjective perversity attributed to you as an individual, but instead, perversity is an objective test for whether “denominational demographics” is a proper measure for the Thernstroms to invoke in their community of discipline (objective/inter-subjective community) for the very limited purpose of showing that Wright isn’t representative of some larger demographic pool of blacks. If the Thernstroms wanted to test demographic respect commanded by Martin Luther King, then they could use the same measures for starters. There’s nothing selective nor bordering on “racism” in applying these measures to Wright.

You raised several beefs with this.

First, you say the study argues by implication: “ ... white UCC--rather than one of these other denominations--part of the issue, implying that it wouldn't be an issue if Trinity were affiliated otherwise.” Nonsense. There’s no “implying.” It’s a direct, in-your-face, argument. No smoke and mirrors. No implications. Direct. Clean. Elegant. If Trinity held affiliations in a predominately black denomination, then the demographics would be different. It’s a demographic fact that Trinity is a part of the UCC . Not even a thomistic theological list could be blind to this. It’s perverse to require a demographic study not to note this.

As an individual, you’re free to suggest that applications of demographic measures qualify as a form of “racism.” As an individual, you’re free to say that Wright and Trinity are a “part” of black representation. As an individual, you're free to define that “part” however you want. The meaning of perversity for rejecting or accepting truth-claims inside your own larger community of the UCC at a website named “UCCTruths” is between you and your community.

None of this has anything to do with perversity as a non-controversial label used among communities that agree to inter-subjective norms for hypothesis testing, acceptance, and rejection.

Second, it’s certainly possible to mock up other measures teasing out whether and how Wright commands respect among blacks beyond the UCC. A single study can’t frame all issues. But, even if Wright commands broader allegiances outside the UCC, then it’s still perverse not to note Trinity’s membership in the UCC unless you make the argument that UCC affiliation is itself irrelevant. If Trinity remains in the UCC on purpose, without a gun held to its head, or because some mid-west tornado slammed a UCC logo on its door, then you’re arguing it both ways to say that you’re proud of denominational history (“of unless being proud of my denomination's history and wanting it to be accurately represented in the media is now to be considered perverse”) while simultaneously insinuating “racism” lurks behind a clean and plain vanilla demographic study that notes the UCC isn’t predominantly black. If it suits you, then there’s nothing wrong with a Whitman-esque embrace of all contradictions. But, it’s perverse to require a demographic study not to note denominational composition. Your real beef seems elsewhere.

For instance.

Your say that – “the Thernstroms could have made their argument solely on theological or political lines.”

This isn’t responsive. It’s a smokescreen. It’s not responsive to the value of any facts no less demographic measures – unless – you want to argue and show reasons why your special brand of UCC “theological” reasoning requires obliviousness to facts. If you want to make the case that theology is this special, then it’s a case to be argued. Not assumed. There is no way that the Thernstroms could possibly have a psychic crystal ball in advance to know just which one among unlimited numbers of special “theological” pleadings trump demographics. That’s the kind of claim they test: when they take on the question of Wright’s real influence. And even if you argued a case for why special “theological” pleadings should be blind or oblivious to facts like demographics, then still, “solely .. theological” analyses aren’t the Thernstroms’ burden. Not at a time when religious special pleadings will continue to be studied with greater quantitative rigor than ever. The Thernstroms have absolutely no burden to enter the rabbit hole of “solely .. theological” wonderlands. Seems to me like that’s someone else’s homework. The “anonymous” posters here seem to characterize Wright as wayward. I could care less. To quote Austin Powers, “UCCTruths” just “ain’t my bag, baby.” I’m not a card carrying member. I do judge the Thernstroms use of facts fit to their modest propositions. Again, the theological wonderland of “solely .. theological” pleading is somebody else’s rabbit hole. See below on Eienstein.

In short, the burden is your’s and not theirs to explain how and why a special brand of “solely .. theological” pleading requires obliviousness to facts.

Simply to tumble terminological containers so theology trumps simple facts like demography by ipse dixit won’t make facts go away. No more than invoking “solely..theological” pleadings will make Eienstein’s epitaph go away – “religion without science is lame.”


Cheers,


Jim
commented by Blogger jprapp, 3:33 PM  
Thanks, BoPeep and Jim, for your replies. I've been helped a little to see how and why the point of demographics was brought up. However...

BoPeep wrote: "The point of the article is not a claim that Wright is not "part" of the tradition, but rather "what part"- large, small, typical, atypical--" In the very next paragraph after what you quote, there is the mention of other historically black denominations, and then this: "In terms of sheer demographic weight, they clearly represent the "African-American religious tradition"-as Rev. Wright's branch of a overwhelmingly white denomination does not." At first, yes, the article focuses on the UCC and its obviously not being a part of the black tradition. However, by the end of the next paragraph, Trinity's part in the black tradition is called into question, in part by virtue of its UCC ties rather than its specific traditions, theology, worship, preaching style, etc.

And that's what I mean, Jim, when I raise the question about demographics over and against theology and politics. You suggest, "The demographic fact is that Trinity is a part of the UCC. What kind of demographic would not note Trinity’s membership in the UCC contrasted against alternative demographic benchmarks?" No one obviously would dispute that demographic fact. To merely point out that Trinity is an anamoly in an otherwise white denomination is one thing, but to say, as they do, that "In terms of sheer demographic weight, [these historically black denominations] clearly represent the "African-American religious tradition"-as Rev. Wright's branch of a overwhelmingly white denomination does not," first focuses on "Rev. Wright's branch" (Trinity) and second states that that specific branch does not represent the black church because it is part of a white denomination.

And of course an 8000-member individual church isn't going to be called representative of the black church over and against a 4-million-member denomination. If that's all that they're trying to say, then I can finally leave this topic alone.

One final thing: I posted my above note about the press releases before I saw the replies to my other note. Regardless of whether the Thernstroms meant what I say in the previous paragraph, it seems to me that Wright and Trinity do have much greater ties to both the black church and the tradition, moreso than the Thernstroms see when only reading demographics. And I guess all I've been trying to say is that it doesn't matter whether they're a part of the white UCC for that to be so.
commented by Blogger Coffeepastor, 4:15 PM  
One of the two press releases is a direct defense of Wright.

The AME statement is the product of a commission. It makes a very valid point: “To ask black clergy, and laity, to remain silent in the face of a continuing racist reality is no different than Pharaoh demanding that Moses and Aaron be quiet in the face of Egyptian cruelty.”

This problem of “remain[ing] silent” is solved by having Wright and others speak up. A demographic study might still measure the degree of inhibition of speech by this constituency. The Moses symbolism applied to demographics would call the question of what number of this constituency feels the same way as did some of the company of Moses who asked Moses from within the camp, “who made you judge over us?”

This question -- who made you judge over us? -- goes to the second press release. President Shaw (NBC) says “I am Pained” in major part because: “Second, Senator Obama as a parishioner should not have been called upon to publicly judge the prophetic word of Reverend Wright. He does not have to like them. They were not spoken to/ or about him. They were spoken to/or about government. Should he be called upon to reject the words and dimensions, the messages of ministry that have been of comfort and affirmation to people? These are a part of the whole.”

Shaw here makes the inverse claim for Obama compared to the constituents of Moses who challenged Moses’ authority to judge them. Shaw says Obama shouldn’t have been required to judge Wright. The language is very confused because it notes Obama as “Senator Obama,” but then plays on Obama “as a parishioner.” It says that Obama should not have to judge Wright as Wright’s “parishioner.” First, if the entry level admission requirement for joining the NBC is for parishioners not to judge their prophetic types, then just say so. And demographic studies will come directly to the fore to test just how well this goes over. Lobotomies free at the door. But, that’s not what Shaw really means. Because Obama is not just a parishioner. Obama is “Senator Obama.” And (soon) a candidate for President. Obama judged Wright because Obama is a candidate. And Obama judged Wright’s prophetic words as inconsistent with Obama’s platform. I think what “pains” Shaw is a house divided: with Obama judging Wright. Shaw lauds the prophetic voice of Wright as entailing divisive controversy. Then laments judgment on that same divisive prophetic voice. That is painful. Like Kennedy distancing himself from Catholicism. No free hall passes for Pope or Prophet.

Now here’s a litany of demographic questions in the making.

Is Obama telling the truth in judging Wright's prophetic words? –Obama’s truth? – or truth for the better of the whole nation? -- is Obama incompotent as a prospective president (more below) in judging Wright's prophetic words? -- if Obama agrees with Wright's words, then why not speak up and say so? -- let the chips fall where they may?


Or, is Obama’s condemnation of Wright more Machiavellian?

Or, is Obama’s dissing of Wright just plain honesty in terms of how easily pastors and prophets are discounted by most parishioners anyway, as revealed by empirical studies in attribution theory showing the near irrelevance of theology and preaching?

Or, is Wright a real prophet gone wrong, gone too far, like the true court prophet Nathan who went too far in telling David to build a Temple, for which the true prophet Nathan merited rebuke? – what’s the standard for rebuking a genuine prophet? – who says prophetic status amounts to diplomatic immunity?

If Obama (David) is correct to reject Wright’s (Nathan’s) prophetic foundations for building the temple of our body politic, then why isn’t Wright as subject to calls for public repentance as Nathan was subject to repentance for his error?

If Wright is a real prophet, and the demography of the vote for Obama is racism, then why doesn't the real prophet, Wright, denounce Obama for making racism worse?

The real irony here is that if Obama is telling the truth as he honestly sees it (rather than a Machiavellian convenient lie) in straightforwardly condemning some of Wright’s prophetic voice as bad medicine for the country, then what we really have here is not one -- but, two prophets in competition for demographic affections.

But better: if both Wright and Obama are telling the truth as they see it, then we couldn’t be more blessed to have the cases cleanly put. There is a text about prophets judging prophets; (1 Cor 14:29, “Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment”). So, if we have two prophets, and we’re called to “pass judgment,” then we couldn’t be more blessed.


Unless the homogeneity of prophetic voice is taken as the norm (ah, demographically speaking), and anything else is cause for being pained.


Cheers,


Jim
commented by Blogger jprapp, 5:21 PM  
Jim, to reply to your accusations/inquiries about theology, you actually make it more complicated than it needs to be. All I'd suggest along these lines is to poll the members of Trinity as to their theological and political leanings, then poll a representative sample of AME and/or NBC members, and then compare the results. Not so oblivious, not a smokescreen. I should have explained what I meant sooner to save you all that typing.

And because I've found yet one more way to put what I'm trying to get at: a person walks into Trinity on a Sunday morning and experiences their service. They experience Trinity's music, preaching, and a dose of their theology. That person attends an AME church the next week. What's going to be tremendously different besides the denominational logo?

Are they to look up denominational demographics in order to determine which service and church was truly more representative of the black tradition? If so, at this point, is the person supposed to conclude that the AME church was more representative of the black tradition because its denomination boasts more black members, even if there weren't many noticeable differences otherwise? How important do you think denominational demographics are to someone who looks for a church in the black tradition and finds it at Trinity? Are they wrong because the UCC is otherwise so white?

I now regret my "borders on racism" comment. And again, I don't question the demographics themselves. I do question an interpretation of the demographics to mean that Trinity as a local church is not representative of the black tradition in the same way as a local AME church, because the UCC doesn't have the overall numbers to match the AME's black membership.
commented by Blogger Coffeepastor, 5:18 AM  
Though I believe it still to be a ludicrous claim in 1991 (my own opinion) it should be stated that the following quote is from a 1991 "Pastoral Letter on Racism":

--------
The conversation is desperately needed, we are told, because "the quality of life for the majority of racial and ethnic people is worse today in many ways than it was during the 1960s"-a ludicrous claim.
--------

I would expect a little better research from two supposedly "distinguished" authors.

Dan Hazard as himself
Dan:

And I would have thought that your reading skills matched your web skills. If you had read the next paragraph of the current pastoral letter on race, you would have seen that it affirms those 1991 comments:

"Seventeen years later, in 2008, we might wish to believe that we have made significant progress in
addressing and reversing those alarming trends. Lamentably, that claim cannot be substantiated."
commented by Blogger UCCtruths, 4:37 PM  
But that paragraph is not included in the article by the Thernstroms, and that is what I was addressing.
Coffeepastor,

A dint and then likely gone.

I think your far better case (with possibly some truth-value to a charge of racism too) is indeed attacking “interpretations” of demographics.

The problem with measures of loyalty in any complex system (life is an open system) is bound to be that any measure (as a formal metric: not a feeling) is un-stable even if true as a simple product-moment. “Interpretation” risks covering future cases. Prediction is always in crises.

My take is that Wrigth is indeed prophetic. Any country hailing to tea-party roots needs more not fewer Wrights. But, that’s my bias. It’s not a quantitative measure of how many troops will follow Washington across the Delaware. Generals take their own risks. Snowstorms produce pressures that test allegiance even for the best prophets who commander respect.

That said – if all kinds of future environmental pressures combined together to form another movement (say ala Martin Luther King), then yes: all kinds of latent or fearfully-repressed affections for Wright could come bursting to the fore.

And should.

Something about Jefferson’s bill for education - education to recognize tyranny in all its forms.

For those who don’t consider Wright is a prophet (like I do) – then see Wright as a Jeffersonian educator.

And if Wrigth asked my educated Jeffersonian opinion about the depth and quality of his following at this product-moment in time – then I’d say the demographics don’t look good right now for Wright to marshal many forces across the Delaware in the snow.

That has nothing to do with whether Wright’s a prophet. While Gideon was busy counting numbers in demographics, God was busy saying back, “as by one man I will save Israel.”


My bias.

Cheers,
commented by Blogger jprapp, 6:01 PM  
Dan: That is a distinction without a difference - it's the same exact point.
commented by Blogger UCCtruths, 7:06 AM  

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