NY Times UCC Ad is publicized
Monday, March 31, 2008
Much has been said about the United Church of Christ in recent weeks, much of it hurtful for many in our country, including members of Trinity UCC in Chicago. That is why we are eager to share the broad and diverse story of the United Church of Christ, one that we celebrate.
With all Christians, we rest in God’s amazing grace and hear God’s voice in the words of Scripture. Yet, the UCC is unique to some because we do not require uniformity of belief. We are a church of open ideas, extravagant welcome and evangelical courage. Our passion for democracy extends to both government and church, where decision-making rests within each congregation. We support liberty in our pulpits, just as we affirm the individual conscience of our 1.2-million members to agree, disagree and wrestle with life’s biggest questions in a spirit of love.
Our story is this nation’s story. We are the people of the Mayflower. More than 600 of our 5,700 congregations were formed before 1776. Eleven signers of the Declaration of Independence were members of UCC predecessor bodies. As early abolitionists, we came to the aid of the Amistad captives and founded hundreds of schools across the South after the Civil War. We were the first mainline church to ordain an African-American (1785), a woman (1853) and an openly gay pastor (1972). We were also the first to form a foreign mission society (1810). Our multi-ethnic membership includes persons from every immigrant group, as well as native peoples and descendants of freed slaves.
Our unity is not dependent upon uniform agreement, but in our shared allegiance to Jesus.
NY Times ad will tell the truth about UCC
Friday, March 28, 2008
Dear James,Here is my response back to JT:
We want to place a full-page ad in The New York Times - perhaps as early as next Wednesday - to proclaim the truth about who we are as the United Church of Christ. Will you help make this a reality?
One week ago, I received a call from the Rev. Tom Stiers of Riverside Church in Manhattan, who said his congregation was sending a check for $6,000 for the purpose of supporting the purchase of a prominent, full-page ad. He encouraged us to invite others to join this effort.
The vision for the ad is to speak proactively to the breadth and diversity of our denomination, while also acknowledging the hurt that many in our country have experienced in recent weeks, including the members of Trinity UCC in Chicago.
This will be an occasion to explain the uniqueness of our polity, to acknowledge the freedom of our pulpits, and to affirm the rights of our members to agree or disagree in love. The statement will speak to our oneness in Christ, who strengthens us to be agents of justice, peace and reconciliation.
Of course, the cost will be significant, perhaps in excess of $120,000. That's a lot of money. But the potential positive impact of such a statement is worth much, much more.
People are looking at the UCC like they never have before, and that's why it's critical that we respond proactively and tell our church's story. Otherwise, we will let others continue to define us in narrow and distorted ways.
We have a few days to raise a significant amount of money. Can we count on your support?
The Rev. John H. Thomas
General Minister and President
United Church of Christ
Thanks for the email - it's good to hear from you. I'm glad you haven't caved in and resigned, otherwise my blogging days would be over.
This advertising thing bugs me. Do you really think a one time, $120,000 ad is the magic pill to change the public perception of the United Church of Christ?
I have a better idea at a fraction of the cost. It's going to take a little backbone, but I have confidence you can do it. Since the UCC is getting buzz these days in the media, use it to the denomination's advantage and go right into the lion's den and speak truth to power... go on Bill O'Reilly and tell our story. Yes, Bill O'Reilly!
The key here is to be honest and talk straight with him. If you start spinning this whole "context" thing with Jeremiah Wright's sermons, you are going to get smoked. No one is buying that you need "context" to understand Wright's claim that the government created the AIDS virus. You can successfully affirm Wright and Trinity UCC and all the great things they have done without affirming every single word he speaks.
Also, I wouldn't refer to Wright as a "prophet"... that isn't working either and shooting yourself in the foot again is only going to make a bigger mess. Just speak honestly. Talk about the diversity in our churches and talk about the research that shows the political makeup of our denomination.
People inside and outside of the church want to hear someone who is plain spoken and honest. Sieze the moment and aspire to make us the church that we want to be.
One last thing... and this is important: If Ben Guess gives you a set of talking points, thank him, fold it up and slide it into your pocket until after the interview.
Good luck John. You can do this buddy.
Spies in the church
A member of Trinity United Church of Christ, the church once led by Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright and where Senator Obama is a member, told me there are “spies” among them in the pews, strangers who take notes during the service and try to record the message.Stop laughing, she's serious.
Check it out for yourself. Go to the Trinity UCC website, select "Why The Black Church Won't Shut Up!", and listen to Rev. Otis Moss politely ask that there be "no recording equipment." He repeats over and over, "We are in worship. We are in worship." When visitors are asked to stand, you can see those with paper and pencil in hand. Are these folks members of the press or political operatives? Impossible to know if they don't, as Rev. Moss requests, sign in.
Nevermind the media storm that was created by videos of Jeremiah Wright's rants which came from DVD's sold by Trinity UCC... no, according to Thistlethwaite... it could be political operatives! Spies!
According to Thistlethwaite, "this is what happens when politics intrudes into the sanctuary of the church, a sacred space."
Hmmmm.... ya think?
Thistlethwaite didn't seem to mind the political intrusion when it was Barack Obama that spoke at the UCC's General Synod last June at a time when Obama was desperately trying to prove to the voting public that he was in fact a Christian. She also didn't seem to mind when Obama used his UCC speech in his campaign literature in South Carolina later in the year.
Yet Thistlethwaite now says "our churches and our faith commitments are out of bounds in the tumult of political contests."
If this were a genuine statement, she would have objected to Obama speaking at the UCC's General Synod. Clearly Thistlethwaite isn't worried about church and politics mixing so long as the church can control the message. In the case of Obama's speech, which was heavily promoted by his campaign people, the United Church of Christ was all too eager to ride on Obama's coat tails. Throw in an an angry cussing pastor from a bygone generation and now the media attention isn't quite as welcome. The same media people at Obama's speech now show up at Trinity UCC with the same "paper and pencil in hand" and now she suspects they might be "spies".
For the United church of Christ, politics intruded into the sanctuary a long, long time ago. While I share Thistlethwaite's sudden concern about politics mixing in the sanctuary, we only have ourselves to blame.
Wright living large in retirement
Thursday, March 27, 2008
A two-week FOX News investigation, however, has uncovered where Wright will be spending a good deal of his time in retirement, and it is a far cry from the impoverished Chicago streets where the preacher led his ministry for 36 years.
FOX News has uncovered documents that indicate Wright is about to move to a 10,340-square-foot, four-bedroom home in suburban Chicago, currently under construction in a gated community.
While it is not uncommon for an accomplished clergyman to live in luxury, Wright’s retirement residence is raising some questions.
Public records of the sale show Trinity initially obtained a $10 million bank loan to purchase the property and build a new house on the land.
But further investigation with tax and real estate attorneys showed that the church had actually secured a $1.6 million mortgage for the home purchase, and attached a $10 million line of credit, for reasons unspecified in the paperwork.
Wright, racism and resignation: RNS interviews John Thomas
Q: What are people around the UCC saying about the controversy
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.
Maybe John Thomas is prophetic
Tuesday, March 25, 2008
In a society marked by deep political and ideological alienation, where the fabric of the commonwealth is frayed to the point of tearing, communities that find ways to tolerate difference and live creatively with diversity may be their own form of redemption not simply for themselves, but for all of us. But in order to be this redemptive community, we will need to resist the political interests who would use us for sectarian, partisan, and ultimately deeply dividing interests. Here the challenge is the same for progressive and conservative churches and their leaders. It is terribly seductive to have political leaders and interests approaching you for your blessing. But do pastors and church leaders really want to have politicians lining up at their door come election time? Do they really want to be welcomed into a world where support and influence are traded like futures on the commodity market? The Old Testament is clear in its distinction between the prophets of Yahweh and those court prophets who offered their blessing to the king in return for a comfortable place in the court. Right now, in our politically polarized landscape, the IRS may be the one institution challenging churches to ask the right questions about how best to engage the public square. How strange that even when churches and church leaders are tempted to succumb to such powerful political interests, it just may be the IRS that helps us keep our integrity and allow us to be the church we are called to be.
Written by John H. Thomas, President and General Minister, United Church of Christ March 12, 2006
Complaint filed with IRS against Trinity UCC
Saturday, March 22, 2008
From the letter in the new complaint against Trinity UCC:
According to a March 10, 2008 Wall Street Journal article titled “Obama Pastors' Sermons May Violate Tax Laws,” Trinity United Church of Christ’s current pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, and its former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., both made direct or indirect statements in support of Presidential candidate Barack Obama from the pulpit during a sermon.
According to The Wall Street Journal article:
On Christmas morning, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. compared presidential candidate Barack Obama's impoverished childhood to Jesus Christ's. "Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people," he then trumpeted. "Hillary [Clinton] can never know that."
Also according to The Wall Street Journal article:
In some instances, the church's ministers alluded to Sen. Obama without naming him.During a Trinity sermon observed by a Journal reporter on March 2, the Rev. Otis Moss III, the pastor, preached, "There was a non-Babylonian, a young man who heard the word of God and said, 'I have the audacity to hope!' Now the whole nation says, 'Yes, we can! Yes, we can! Yes, we can!'" [This is a reference to Sen. Obama’s campaign slogan]
In addition, the Trinity United Church of Christ web site (http://www.tucc.org/about.htm) includes campaign videos from Sen. Obama’s Presidential campaign. The video includes a URL to the official campaign web site.
The complaint includes a copy of the Wall Street Journal article and a print copy of the Trinity UCC web page with the videos.
The full complaint will be posted on http://www.UCCtruths.com/ shortly.
UPDATE - Documents now online:
TRINITY UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST COMPLAINT
Wright flap not "much to do with faith"
Friday, March 21, 2008
Much has been said, in an effort to excuse the toxic content of Pastor Wright's sermons, about the ways in which his speeches are part of the "black tradition." But most black churches are Baptist, Methodist or independent. They have religious doctrines with a long history. Trinity, on the other hand, belongs to the United Church of Christ, a mostly white denomination defined almost entirely by its social-justice agenda.
This is how the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's (white) general minister and president, recently defended Pastor Wright: "Many of us would prefer to avoid the stark and startling language Pastor Wright used in these clips. But what was his real crime? He is condemned for using a mild 'obscenity' in reference to the United States. This week we mark the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, a war conceived in deception and prosecuted in foolish arrogance. Nearly 4,000 cherished Americans have been killed, countless more wounded, and tens of thousands of Iraqis slaughtered. Where is the real obscenity here?" It's easy to see Mr. Obama's attraction to the UCC, and it doesn't have much to do with faith.
Thomas acknowledges "bitter calls for resignation"
Thursday, March 20, 2008
This year, politics and controversy have forced their way into Holy Week. For many members of the United Church of Christ these have been unwelcome guests, disturbing and alienating. My own Palm Sunday celebration in a wonderful renewing congregation in West Virginia felt wedged into a media storm that was relentlessly portraying our church in distorted and damaging ways. Response to my own reflections on these events ranged from deep gratitude to bitter calls for resignation. Interviews have disrupted schedules, and countless UCC folk have kept the phone ringing to offer help and to urge their own recipe for responding to all of this. The IRS inquiry lurks in the back corners of my mind and, like most of our pastors, various administrative challenges that can't be deferred demand attention, crowding out time set aside to ponder the mysteries of the Cross and the Empty Tomb.This is classic Thomas portraying himself as a martyr. I guess this insulates him from criticism. Still, it's better than his 2003 Easter message when he stated that "photographs of soldiers receiving Holy Communion before going into battle make me more than a little uneasy."
Thomas confesses "some" members disturbed by Wright comments
Wednesday, March 19, 2008
The UCC General Minister and President, Rev. John Thomas says some members found language Wright used, as highlighted in recent news accounts -- disturbing. But in context, Thomas says Wright was "very much in the tradition of biblical prophets challenging the nation to greater faithfulness."The word "some" should be "most". Except for the die hard UCC cheerleaders, it's tough to find someone that will stand by Wright's comments. Conference Ministers across the UCC compounded the problem by scrambling to get the talking points out to local ministers so they would be prepared for questions about Wright this past Sunday. At least "some" saw through the spin.
He says it's not up to a central administration to censure the pastor but totally up to a pastor's individual congregation if members feel it's warranted. A regional church body comprised of ministers and lay activists can become involved in cases of misconduct or illegal activities.
It is a little surprising that Thomas would fall back on denominational polity to try and keep his hands clean of Wright, especially after his strong words of support just a few days ago. As I mentioned last week, Thomas has not had a problem chastizing other churches in the UCC that haven't marched in step with the national office.
It's quite possible that Thomas is realizing that the folks in the pews are finally taking notice to what our national leaders are doing and saying. With an ego the size of Ohio and an arrogance to match, Thomas likes to paint himself as both prophet and martyr. Genuine prophets and martyrs usually don't claim such status for themselves, it is placed on them by their followers. In the last couple of weeks, Thomas has proved to the members of the UCC and the public that he is neither... and no amount of talking points will fix that.
Obama gives amazing, historic speech on race
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren't simply controversial. They weren't simply a religious leader's effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.I have no doubt that this speech will go down in history as one of the great speeches and that Obama's hands are now clean of Wright's hateful sermons. It's no longer a problem for Obama but it is a huge problem for the United Church of Christ and John Thomas.
Obama Speaks Out On Wright
This morning the Drudge Report has the entire speech that Barack Obama makes in Philadelphia today about race and more specifically, his response to remarks by his pastor, Dr. Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.
Obama strongly condemns Rev. Wright in ways that UCC President John Thomas and others will not:
I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy. For some, nagging questions remain. Did I know him to be an occasionally fierce critic of American domestic and foreign policy? Of course. Did I ever hear him make remarks that could be considered controversial while I sat in church? Yes. Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely – just as I’m sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed.But Obama also makes it clear he's not tossing aside his pastor:
But the remarks that have caused this recent firestorm weren’t simply controversial. They weren’t simply a religious leader’s effort to speak out against perceived injustice. Instead, they expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country – a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America; a view that sees the conflicts in the Middle East as rooted primarily in the actions of stalwart allies like Israel, instead of emanating from the perverse and hateful ideologies of radical Islam.
As such, Reverend Wright’s comments were not only wrong but divisive, divisive at a time when we need unity; racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems – two wars, a terrorist threat, a falling economy, a chronic health care crisis and potentially devastating climate change; problems that are neither black or white or Latino or Asian, but rather problems that confront us all.
...The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s sermons is not that he spoke about racism in our society. It’s that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country – a country that has made it possible for one of his own members to run for the highest office in the land and build a coalition of white and black; Latino and Asian, rich and poor, young and old -- is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past. But what we know -- what we have seen – is that America can change. That is true genius of this nation. What we have already achieved gives us hope – the audacity to hope – for what we can and must achieve tomorrow.
As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptized my children. Not once in my conversations with him have I heard him talk about any ethnic group in derogatory terms, or treat whites with whom he interacted with anything but courtesy and respect. He contains within him the contradictions – the good and the bad – of the community that he has served diligently for so many years.The entire speech is available (temporarily) at Drudge and also on the UCCTruths discussion board.
I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother – a woman who helped raise me, a woman who sacrificed again and again for me, a woman who loves me as much as she loves anything in this world, but a woman who once confessed her fear of black men who passed by her on the street, and who on more than one occasion has uttered racial or ethnic stereotypes that made me cringe.
These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love.
Thomas: "...Wished He'd Edited Out"
Speaking to World Magazine about recent news that has the United Church of Christ in the headlines, General Minister and President John Thomas expressed regret over Barack Obama telling a General Synod audience this past June that he was running for President.
In it's March 22/29, 2008 issue, page 43, and also reported on its website:
UCC president John Thomas told WORLD he had personally invited Obama to speak about the relationship between personal faith and public life long before the senator was a presidential candidate: "We took great care to make sure we stayed within the legal boundaries, and I believe we did." Thomas said that although there was one point in Obama's speech that "I would have wished he'd edited out"-- a brief reference to the Obama presidential campaign-- "otherwise he spoke about the topic we'd asked him to speak about. Any campaign activity took place outside on public property where we have no control."Obama spoke of his candidacy twice. Once at the beginning of his speech and later in the middle, in the form of a campaign promise. Unfortunately, those couple of seconds turned the entire address into a presidential candidate speech.
The United Church of Christ and the FALN terrorists
This is of particular interest in this election season since many suspect that the UCC will again try again to secure clemency for the two remaining terrorists, Carlos Alberto Torres and Oscar López Rivera, who refused to renounce violence and to sever ties with FALN as a condition for clemency. While Lord's article focuses on Obama, the question of clemency for the remaining FALN members is also relevant to Hillary Clinton.
Throughout the 1990's, United Church of Christ leaders including President Paul Sherry, Rev. Thomas Dipko, then Executive Vice President of the United Church Board for Homeland Ministries and Rev. Nozomi Ikuta of the United Church Board of Homeland Ministries actively lobbied and consulted with President Clinton, the Department of Justice and Congress on releasing the FALN terrorists from prison. On August 11, 1999 President Clinton offered clemency to the FALN terrorists and on September 7, 1999, 12 of the terrorists accepted the terms of the clemency which included renouncing violence.
During his testimony to Congress following the negative public reaction to Clinton's clemency, Dipko was specifically questioned about one of the terrorists, Alejandrina Torres (the wife of a UCC minister), and seemed to justify the UCC's defense of Torres because "she had convictions about the self-determination of the peoples of Puerto Rico". Dipko was then shown a surveilence video of Torres building a bomb. After viewing it, Dipko claimed "If that is an accurate record of the happening and that is in fact what she was doing, the church would wish to, of course, disassociate from it." Our church didn't "disassociate from it" and in fact has further embraced the terrorists.
Unfazed by the video and public backlash, leaders in the United Church of Christ have continued to promote the FALN terrorists as freedom fighters. In November of 2006, the national office of the United Church of Christ hosted an art exhibit of work done by by Torres and Rivera. At the opening reception for the exhibit, Alejandrina Torres was the honored speaker and was praised by UCC President John Thomas and Linda Jaramillo, the UCC's executive minister of the Justice and Witness Ministries. Jaramillo went so far as to call Alejandrina Torres a "role-model". Torres has never cooperated in the investigation of the bombings, has never apologized for her crimes and has never apologized to the victims of her crimes. Adding insult to injury, Thomas and Jarmillo continue to falsely claim that Torres "has been fully exonerated by law enforcement agencies, the courts and the federal government". Torres has never been exonerated by any agency, court or the federal government.
Poll: 8% Have Favorable Opinion of Jeremiah Wright
Monday, March 17, 2008
Pastor Jeremiah Wright, who has become part of the national political dialogue in recent days, is viewed favorably by 8% of voters nationwide. A Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey found that 58% have an unfavorable view of the Pastor whose controversial comments have created new challenges for Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign.I think the poll is important only for this reason: How does Wright's comments reflect on the United Church of Christ as a whole? Combined with the national office affirmation of Wright, this is a PR disaster for the United Church of Christ. Now, we could have a good debate on the value of PR as it relates to churches, but no one can deny that the UCC has been trying to play a PR game for a long time and the national office certainly tried to milk as much publicity as it possible could from Obama's speech at the General Synod last June.
New church/state conflict involving Illinois Conference Minister and Trinity UCC surfaces
IRS regulations do not permit tax-exempt religious institutions to promote a candidate on their web site or in any publication. Last Monday, a Wall Street Journal article questioned whether endorsements from the pulpit by Trinity ministers Jeremiah Wright and Otis Moss III also violated IRS regulations. The national office of the United Church of Christ is currently under investigation by the IRS forexclusively promoting Barack Obama as a candidate for President.
Trinity, Wright, and Context
Trinity United Church of Christ, the home church of Presidential candidate Barack Obama, vigorously defended itself and its past minister Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. on Sunday, accusing its critics of character assassination.
According to the Politico, Trinity's new pastor Rev. Otis Moss III:
...delivered a fiery sermon Sunday, defending the African-American church’s right to speak out about social issues. He stressed Trinity's work in its still-impoverished community, mentioning the church's scholarship programs, drug counseling, SAT prep classes, and missions to Africa.The church also issued a statement (scroll to bottom) with the heading, "An Attack on Our Senior Pastor and the History of the African American Church":
"Our very sanity is connected to the church. If it hadn't been for the church we would have lost our minds in the insanity of racism," he said, in a sermon titled, "Why the Black Church Won't Shut Up."
Nearly three weeks before the 40th commemorative anniversary of the murder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe.Obviously, Trinity isn't apologizing for anything-- about itself or Rev. Wright's over-the-top pulpit words.
“Dr. Wright has preached 207,792 minutes on Sunday for the past 36 years at Trinity United Church of Christ. This does not include weekday worship services, revivals and preaching engagements across America and around the globe, to ecumenical and interfaith communities. It is an indictment on Dr. Wright’s ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30-second sound bite,” said the Reverend Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ...
...Trinity United Church of Christ’s ministry is inclusive and global. The following ministries have been developed under Dr. Wright’s ministerial tutelage for social justice: assisted living facilities for senior citizens, day care for children, pastoral care and counseling, health care, ministries for persons living with HIV/AIDS, hospice training, prison ministry, scholarships for thousands of students to attend historically black colleges, youth ministries, tutorial and computer programs, a church library, domestic violence programs and scholarships and fellowships for women and men attending seminary...
...Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached the Christian tenet, “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Before Dr. King was murdered on April 4, 1968, he preached, “The 11 o’clock hour is the most segregated hour in America.” Forty years later, the African American Church community continues to face bomb threats, death threats, and their ministers’ characters are assassinated because they teach and preach prophetic social concerns for social justice. Sunday is still the most segregated hour in America.
Their response also seeks to explain itself in broader context.
The church-- and our denominational leaders-- put into context Rev. Wright's strengths: 36 years of preaching, a vibrant church, and dozens of social service programs. Yet none of these good works excuse Rev. Wright's now famous remarks. In fact, spotlighting the good works makes one wonder even more why Pastor Wright spoke so inflammatory.
The church is also putting its situation in the broader context of American black history, as seen in the church's press release. 40 years ago, it says, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered. Now, they say, Rev. Wright's "character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel..."
When you put something into broader context, the goal is to bring something into greater clarity. But when the church press release brings up Dr. King's death and associates that event with Dr. Wright's character assassination by the media, that's not contextual clarity, that's contextual confusion. Dr. Wright isn't suffering because he, like Dr. King preached a social gospel. Dr. Wright is suffering because he's uttered ridiculous remarks.
Context, particularly the failure to put things in proper context, is the reason why Rev. Wright is under so much criticism. For example, his assertion that America got what it deserved on 9/11-- because of what our country did to the Japanese, Palestinians, and black South Africans-- is contextualizing that most people don't buy, and for good reason.
Meanwhile, as the church unapologetically stands behind Rev. Wright, the context that Senator Obama will face is this: He'll remain under pressure to keep emphasizing that he condemns Wright's remarks. And the church's stance may force Obama to distance himself even further from a congregation and minister that he obviously loves.
Media pounces on Obama, Trinity UCC
Obama, who claims the title of his second book, “The Audacity of Hope,” was inspired by Wright, is now audaciously hoping to defuse the latter’s inflammatory rhetoric by suggesting his comments were “part of his social gospel.”Andrew Sullivan on Obama renouncing Wright's comments:
It’s not going to fly. Even a smooth talker can’t get away with that.
It’s true, Christianity does have a social gospel as well as a saving gospel, and no one personified the former more passionately or effectively than Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who gave his life for it 40 years ago next month.
To his everlasting credit, King called black extremism exactly what it is, which is every bit as evil and dangerous as white extremism, because neither side of that lunatic fringe moves us any closer to the common ground he died believing we could all attain.
Listening to Wright’s racially polarizing polemics is to realize Obama’s rationalization is ridiculous. Social gospel? Please. George Wallace, Lester Maddox and Orval Faubus all thought they had a social gospel, too.
Black or white, a nut is a nut.
This won't end the debate, and shouldn't. But it's a classy move. You don't disown a man this close to Obama's spiritual development over the years for political reasons. Obama's not a Clinton. But a more forceful explanation of why and how Obama rejects Wright's most inflammatory sound-bites would be helpful at some point. A bigger speech reiterating his own rejection of racial resentment would be even better - soon. Why not in a black church? [Sure, as long as it is not a campaign speech]From the Augusta Chronicle Editorial Staff:
Obama must not be given a pass on this. Any white candidate who clung to a warm relationship with a racist hate-monger would be put out of business by the media.William Kristol in The New York Times:
It certainly could be the case that Obama personally didn’t hear Wright’s 2003 sermon when he proclaimed: “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, not God bless America, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. ... God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human.”From USATODAY:
But Ronald Kessler, a journalist who has written about Wright’s ministry, claims that Obama was in fact in the pews at Trinity last July 22. That’s when Wright blamed the “arrogance” of the “United States of White America” for much of the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks. In any case, given the apparent frequency of such statements in Wright’s preaching and their centrality to his worldview, the pretense that over all these years Obama had no idea that Wright was saying such things is hard to sustain.
Critics say Obama may not have ended the controversy because he has had a relationship with Wright for nearly two decades. Obama had described Wright as his spiritual mentor. He was married in the church, and Wright was a member of Obama's African American Religious Leadership Committee.And from Politico...
"This is a man who he chose to be associated with. It's not a family member," said Juan Williams, a Fox News analyst and National Public Radio correspondent. "It could be a big problem."
He said Obama's relationship with Wright "speaks to his character, and it speaks to the judgment which is the basis on which Barack Obama has been running."
The church attended by Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) fought back Sunday against mounting criticism of its pastor, accusing the media of character assassination and “crucifixion.”
Otis Moss III, the current pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, used his pulpit to defend his congregation and its past minister, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., from a wave of controversy stemming from inflammatory statements made by Wright.
"We have listened and watched as the wonderful work of our church has been vilified this week," he told about 3,000 congregants on Palm Sunday morning. "This week should be special for us because I guess we know a little something about crucifixion."
Obama on Wright sermons: "If I had heard them repeated, I would’ve quit"
Saturday, March 15, 2008
And it's having an effect: According to the latest Rasmussen polls, Obama has dropped 8 points in one day to pull up near even with Clinton.
Update: The net swing between Obama and Clinton was 7 points between 3/14 and 3/15, not 8 (-4 for Obama, +3 for Clinton).
UCC leaders serve up lame cover for Wright, Trinity
"Trinity United Church of Christ is a great gift to our wider church family and to its own community in Chicago," says UCC General Minister and President John H. Thomas. "At a time when it is being subjected to caricature and attack in the media, it is critical that all of us express our gratitude and support to this remarkable congregation, to Jeremiah A. Wright for his leadership over 36 years, and to Pastor Otis Moss III, as he assumes leadership at Trinity."In typical UCC style, the national office huffs and puffs that it won't let the attacks go "unchallenged" but does nothing to actually challenge or put into context the outrageous statements that have come from Wright which have been widely publicized by the networks.
Thomas says he has been saddened by news reports that "present such a caricature of a congregation that been such a great blessing."
"These attacks, many of them motivated by their own partisan agenda, cannot go unchallenged," Thomas emphasizes. "It's time for all of us to say 'No' to these attacks and to declare that we will not allow anyone to undermine or destroy the ministries of any of our congregations in order to serve their own narrow political or ideological ends."
This is a big mistake and it will reflect poorly on the whole United Church of Christ, not just Trinity, Wright or Thomas.
Some UCC insiders might say that the national office is no position to challenge Wright or Trinity since each local church has a level of autonomy. However, UCC leaders have never had a problem chastising other local churches and their leaders when it suited them - particularly conservative churches that considered affiliation with the Evangfelical Association (see September 15, 2005 archive). We also cannot forget Thomas' angry Gettysburg College speech and other repeated calls to "distinguish loving critics from hurtful ones". Without doubt, the national office would quickly chastize any local UCC church that would say anything on par of what Jeremiah Wright said if it were directed towards gays and lesbians (as they should). The hypocrisy here is that UCC leaders are not only silent on the actual comments Wright made, they plainly support him and Trinity UCC.
99 percent of UCC ministers would never come close to saying the things that Wright said. This weekend when UCC'ers meet for coffee in their fellowship halls, the topic of Wright and Trinity UCC will come up and most pastors will distance themselves and deflect by claiming that each UCC church is autonomous. This is where the gap between the national office and the pews will be at its greatest.
UCC leaders could have affirmed Trinity UCC but made it clear that Wright's opinions were not widely held across the UCC. This would have been a unifying statement that could have been broadly supported by most people in the UCC. Instead, the national office and our leaders have plainly demonstrated just how disconnected they are from the rank and file of the UCC.
DoC Minister: Wright sermons "waaaay over the top"
Friday, March 14, 2008
Most African American preachers will inject social concerns into their sermons. Because of our experience with slavery, and later segregation, we tend to see Christianity in a more prophetic role, where God is on the side of the downtrodden. While I mostly preach in predominately white churches (and I tend to have a more subdude style than most black preachers) I do tend to talk about care for the poor and about the fact that God loves and accepts all regardless of color or sexual orientation. I believe that as Christians we are called to strive for justice and I do try to make that point in my sermons.
That said, the sermons by Rev. Wright are go waaaay over the top. He paints an America that I don’t recognized and throws in falsehoods and a tinge of anti-Semitism that I believe shames all African American preachers.
There is no way you can explain away Wright’s belief that 9/11 was basically “just desserts” on America, especially a few days after the event. Then there is his giving into dark conspiracy theories such as the one where the government gives black people the drugs. Or, his talk of Zionism as white racism.
There is just something wrong about what Rev. Wright is doing. It’s not that he isn’t patriotic enough as some on the right as yelping: it’s that this man seems an inverse of the late Jerry Fawell: a mean spirited preacher that uses the Bible to further his agenda.
Jeremiah Wright under fire
Thursday, March 13, 2008
An ABC News review of dozens of Rev. Wright's sermons, offered for sale by the church, found repeated denunciations of the U.S. based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans.In January, United church of Christ leaders were quick to defend Wright and Trinity UCC:
"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," he said in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."
In addition to damning America, he told his congregation on the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001 that the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism. "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.
"Trinity UCC is rooted in and proud of its Afrocentric heritage," [UCC President John] Thomas said. "This is no different than the hundreds of UCC churches from the German Evangelical and Reformed stream that continue to own and celebrate their German heritage, insisting on annual sausage and sauerkraut dinners and singing Stille Nacht on Christmas Eve. Recognizing and celebrating our distinctive racial-ethnic heritages, cultures, languages and customs are what make us unique as a united and uniting denomination."The national offices, however, have been completely silent on Trinity's pattern of appearing to endorse Obama from the pulpit, the impact that it might have on it's own IRS investigation and the new details on Wright's anti-American sermons.
A "trickledown of unease" and other spin on the IRS investigation
Wednesday, March 12, 2008
At a talk on aging at Community United Church of Christ recently, the host prefaced her introduction by saying that the event was not political and that the discussion would pertain solely to the issues.How does a talk on aging turn political? This stuff really isn't all that complicated... don't prop up a candidate and the IRS will leave you alone. Why are folks in the pews scared?
The comment was not just throat-clearing. Members of the Raleigh congregation are especially skittish these days about mixing church and state concerns since it was disclosed that the Internal Revenue Service is investigating their denomination. At issue is a speech presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama gave to 10,000 people at a church conference in Hartford, Conn.
The IRS wants to know whether UCC jeopardized its tax-exempt status by
having Obama speak to its members in June. The IRS tax code prohibits churches
and other tax-exempt institutions from participating or intervening in a
political campaign on behalf of a candidate.
The investigation has caused a trickledown of unease, so that speakers
at local churches are warned about being "political."
"There's probably a heightened sensitivity that churches need to be careful in how they handle the exuberance of this political season," said Stephen Camp, the conference minister for the 225 United Church of Christ congregations in North Carolina and Eastern Virginia.
Camp sent a letter to all members of the Southern Conference explaining that the 1.2 million-member denomination invited Obama before he was a presidential candidate. The Illinois senator, a 20-year member of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, was asked to address the intersection of public service and personal faith.
In my mind, Camp has always been a parrot for the denomination hierarchy and is always reliable to carry the water for Cleveland without thinking much about what he says (remember Camp telling autonomous local churches who they could and could not affiliate with?). So what is Camp doing that would have folks at a talk on aging concerned about the IRS? Again, the IRS rules are not difficult to understand.
It's also kind of amusing to see who is reading the talking points from the national office. Like robots, each of the conference ministers recite that "Obama was invited before he was a candidate"... as if the date you invite a candidate matters to the IRS. When I hear this, my stupid detector goes off. The IRS guidelines do not differentiate an offense based on when a candidate is invited and it has nothing to do at all with Obama's status when he did speak.
Pundits Post Positions
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
Anytime you see a letter in your mailbox with the words "IRS" on the return address, that'll get your attention pretty fast. In like fashion, four influential pundits are weighing in on the question of whether the United Church of Christ violated IRS regulations because of Barack Obama's General Synod speech.
The Hartford Courant, the Connecticut newspaper that provided good coverage of Synod events, makes a pretty passionate statement, evident in its editorial by-line: "IRS Goes Overboard":
The IRS is out of line. It is investigating the tax-exempt status of the United Church of Christ solely because its most famous member, Sen. Barack Obama, spoke at the church's annual conference last summer.Seems like what really bothers the Courant is the strict line that prohibits politicians from making candidate speeches before church groups. Instead of railing against the IRS, they need to direct their wrath at Americans United or changing IRS tax code.
Tax laws bar nonprofits from supporting candidates, but not from listening to them. That right is protected by the same First Amendment that forbids government sponsorship of a religion...
(Obama's) few "my first term as president"-type slips were not great enough to warrant the IRS threat that followed eight months later...
(The IRS letter) to the church questioned whether "political activities" at the conference "could jeopardize" the UCC's tax exemption. Isn't that a bit excessive? The IRS should be policing nonprofits suspected of funneling money from donors skirting contribution limits, not stifling speech at houses of worship.
Raising suspicions too of IRS motives is Rev. Susan Thistlethwaite, President of Chicago Theological Seminary. Writing at the Washington Post's "On Faith" site, she charges the IRS is investigating the UCC simply because Obama gave a speech to them:
The IRS is accusing the UCC of engaging in "political activities." I believe the "political activities" are on the other foot. The UCC General Synod was in June of 2007... It is only now fully nine months later, when Senator Obama has become the front-runner in the race for President, that this investigation is launched.Thistlethwaite dismisses the IRS charge because the heart of Obama's speech was one man's view of how faith works in the public square. Her speech analysis is technically correct. But with Obama mentioning his presidential candidacy--not once, but twice-- Thistlethwaite overlooks where the pinnacle of that "narrative arc" ultimately leads: straight to the Oval Office.
I was present when Senator Obama gave this speech at General Synod... It was an extraordinary speech... The narrative structure of the speech was to take the audience with him as he went from his conversion to a personal faith in Jesus Christ to the broad theme of meaning and purpose in human life... If anyone could think that’s engaging in "political activities" than I have a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you...
Read the full text of the speech and all the relevant documents by going to the UCC website and judge for yourself.
The "narrative arc" of this speech tracks the "narrative arc" of how we as Americans respect our Constitution and also passionately engage in public service as a higher calling.
Being involved in the public arena is part of the UCC's DNA, so writes Rev. Davida Foy Crabtree, Conference Minister for Connecticut, in a Hartford Courant guest column. She says the denomination went to great lengths to insure everything was done properly. In lieu of this, she worries about the chilling effect the IRS' actions might have on people of faith:
Our members are expected to apply the faith to their work and daily life and are encouraged to enter the public arena as civil servants, political leaders and government officials. So our inviting a prominent UCC senator to speak about how his faith informs his public responsibility is in keeping with a long tradition of engaging personal faith and public life.Rev. Crabtree is muddying the issue. This isn't about the "free practice of religion," or whether people of faith can engage in politics, or even who a denomination can invite to its meetings. The question is specifically: Did the United Church of Christ illegally promote the candidacy of Barack Obama and did Obama illegally give a candidate speech to a religious body?
Any attempt by government through the IRS and other agencies to define what is appropriate religious practice must be resisted. For the United Church of Christ and similar denominations, our work on universal health care, the elimination of poverty and numerous other social justice issues is absolutely intrinsic to our faith practice. So we have to talk to political figures and we need them to talk to us, especially when they are members of our denomination.
The Internal Revenue Service has normatively been even-handed in its enforcement of these regulations. I believe the agency needs to revisit its process. A simple dialogue with our leaders would have established that the facts contradict the complaint. Instead, given the facts in this case, by issuing this letter the agency risks encumbering the free practice of religion.
Jeffrey Lord, writing at the American Spectator, gives some interesting background on why we have the strict IRS rules currently in place. Then, he lays blame for the UCC's mess squarely in the lap of the one who stood before the General Synod and said he's running for President:
Dear Senator Obama: Our common denomination, the United Church of Christ, has a suddenly serious legal and financial problem with the Internal Revenue Service. You, personally, are the cause of this problem. Candidly? I think you owe it to those of us who are your fellow congregants to help repair the damage that you have done...Mr. Lord, a former official in the Reagan administration, goes a bit overboard with fears that Obama's actions could result in his small Pennsylvania church losing its tax-exempt status. And apparently, he wrote his piece before it was announced that the UCC secured free legal representation.
Frankly, Senator, this is shameful. You are a United States Senator. A potential President of the United States. You are conducting a campaign making judgment an issue -- and this was exactly an issue of judgment and understanding. You of all people should have understood that your appearance in Hartford once you were an announced candidate for president would cause the UCC severe problems with the IRS.
However, Lord is the only commentator who understands that Obama crossed the legal line. And, he's the only one looking squarely at the UCC's questionable actions, like the press release quoting an Obama official saying that the speech was a "major address on faith and politics as a presidential candidate."
As these four illustrate, whenever you get a letter from the IRS, you're right to be afraid.
Meantime, I'd be glad to see IRS rules relaxed, so churches and candidates need not fear one another, nor the IRS.
Not a campaign speech? Obama's UCC speech used in campaign literature
It should be clear now that the speech given by Barack Obama before the United Church of Christ General Synod in June was a campaign speech. An edited version of the speech was included in campaign literature titled "Answering the call" for the South Carolina primary. From the campaign brochure:
It’s 1985, and I’m in Chicago, and I’m working with these churches and with lots of laypeople who are much older than I am. They saw that I knew the Scriptures and that many of the values I held... were values they shared. But I think they also sensed that a part of me remained removed and detached – that I was an observer in their midst.
It’s around this time that some pastors I was working with came up to me and asked if I was a member of a church. “If you’re organizing churches,” they said, “it might be helpful if you went to church once in a while.” And I thought, “Well, I guess that makes sense.”
So one Sunday, I put on one of the few clean jackets I had, and went over to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street on the South Side of Chicago. And I heard Reverend Jeremiah A. Wright deliver a sermon called “The Audacity of Hope.” And during the course of that sermon, he introduced me to someone named Jesus Christ. I learned that my sins could be redeemed. I learned that those things I was too weak to accomplish myself, He would accomplish with me if I placed my trust in Him. ...
It was because of these newfound understandings that I was finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity one day and affirm my Christian faith. ...(K)neeling beneath that cross on the South Side, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth and carrying out His works.
June 23, 2007
Not again! WSJ: Trinity may have also violated IRS rules
Monday, March 10, 2008
On Christmas morning, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. compared presidential candidate Barack Obama's impoverished childhood to Jesus Christ's. "Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a ountry and a culture that is controlled by rich white people," he then trumpeted. "Hillary [Clinton] can never know that."And it looks like the allegations might have legs:
Mr. Wright wasn't at a convention or a campaign stop. He was standing at the pulpit before the mostly African-American congregation of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, where Sen. Obama has worshiped for more than 20 years.
Mr. Wright, who will be ending his 36-year tenure as the church's senior pastor in June, has previously been criticized for comments deriding President George Bush and lauding Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam. Now Mr. Wright's and his successor's repeated enthusiastic promotion of their famous parishioner may be running afoul of federal tax law, which says churches can endanger their tax-exempt status by endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.
Ellen Aprill, an associate dean at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles and a former adviser to the Treasury Department on matters including nonprofit tax law, says she believes those sermons are "clearly a violation. They're naming names.''Anyone have any predictions what the spin from Trinity UCC, the national office and UCC Conferences will be on this?
Donald Tobin, an associate dean at Ohio State University law school, who formerly worked for the Justice Department on nonprofit tax matters, adds that nonprofits cannot make endorsements or engage in a "pattern and practice that is designed to support one candidate over another." After being read sections of the Trinity sermons by the Journal, he said, "There does seem to be a pattern of attempting to tip the scales in a way for Barack Obama. And churches shouldn't be doing that."
It will also be interesting to see how Americans United will react. After missing the boat on the current IRS investigation of the UCC, Barry Lynn and team will either have to make up new interpretations of IRS rules or they will have to concede that Trinity crossed the line.
Says the Zen Master: We'll see
Tuesday, March 04, 2008
In context to what became of Afghanistan, the Zen master's lesson should be obvious but the same lesson could now be applied to the IRS investigation of the United Church of Christ. Those of us who have watched the UCC dance on the line that separates church and state certainly took interest when the UCC announced it was being investigated and I'm sure many thought "finally, the UCC will be held accountable for its actions".
To quote the Zen Master, "we'll see".
The UCC, to its credit, jumped out in front of the issue and helped shape public opinion by releasing a carefully worded statement that didn't really address the core issue of the UCC's promotion of Obama's visit as a Presidential candidate on the its web site or release the list of questions from the IRS. The quick response from the UCC gave it instant publicity it could have never paid for and UCC President John Thomas proudly claimed that "We are confident that the IRS investigation will confirm that no laws were violated."
To quote the Zen Master, "we'll see".
There are a number of different outcomes that could result from the investigation. The obvious ones are that the IRS will either do nothing, find that the UCC violated the rules or that the UCC did nothing wrong (or a mix of all three). One thing is certain, in the "worse case scenario", the UCC will not lose its tax exempt status on a first violation and the harshest possible penalty will be a warning. Even though there is very little risk that the UCC will lose its tax exempt status, they do not under any circumstances want a cloud of guilt to follow them on their political involvement and will use every resource possible to make sure they do not receive even a slap on the wrist.
Still, I don't see a scenario that will fully satisfy denomination leaders.
The initial reaction is to make this a free speech issue. The problem is that there are already restrictions on free speech on non-profits because they cannot endorse candidates today. If we accept that standard of restriction, how can we then argue that promoting a presidential candidate as a featured speaker should be allowed? If accepted, churches could easily use it to indirectly endorse a candidate without expressly stating their support.
To win, the UCC will have to challenge the rules themselves since elements of the allegation are factually true: The UCC did promote Obama as a Presidential candidate on its web site, Obama made references to it in his speech and there was clear political activity outside the Hartford Civic Center. They could argue that the spirit of the IRS rules are to prohibit churches from endorsing a candidate and the UCC went to great lengths not to endorse a candidate.
They could also argue that there are degrees of guilt that should be considered: Obama was not a candidate for office when invited, Obama only slipped twice in his speech in reference to his candidacy and that volunteers were campaigning outside the Civic Center and could not be controlled by the UCC.
If the UCC is successful, an important precedent would be set which would allow candidates to give speeches as promoted candidates in churches with campaigners just outside the door. While this would be an immediate victory for the UCC, it would also be a victory for conservative churches that have made a science out of campaign intervention - a prospect that would not be welcome by UCC leaders. Anybody want to take bets on how long it will take conservative churches to back the UCC?
So what will happen?
To quote the Zen Master, "we'll see".
UCC will be represented by top lawyer to respond to IRS
Monday, March 03, 2008
In a bit of irony, Waxman was hired by Disney in 2005 to oppose FCC advertising restrictions on childrens television shows which were broadly supported by the UCC's Office of Communication.
Obama's "Candidate" Speech--the Evidence
Sunday, March 02, 2008
An earlier post at UCCtruths said that Barack Obama's speech at General Synod 26 was no doubt a political speech.
So what is the evidence? Did Obama present himself as a candidate or a non-candidate? Go back and re-read Obama's speech.
First, Obama wasted no time telling the audience that he was running for President. In the first sentence of his second paragraph, Obama received cheers from the crowd when he declared:
It's been several months now since I announced I was running for president.And in the 20th paragraph, Obama promised:
I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president...So right at the start, and in the middle of his speech, Obama makes it clear: He's not a non-candidate. He's a candidate.
One could argue that Obama spoke of his work as a US Senator, not as a candidate. But in declaring himself a candidate, how does one deny that his take on the issues doesn't represent his presidential values? When Obama said he was a candidate, his whole speech became a candidate speech.
So how many issues did candidate Obama touch on? No less than 12. From the speech, "A Politics of Conscience":
Iraq War--Health Care Crisis--School Systems
It's that folks are hungry for change – they're hungry for something new. They're ready to turn the page on the old politics and the old policies – whether it's the war in Iraq or the health care crisis we're in, or a school system that's leaving too many kids behind despite the slogans.Poverty--Earned Income Tax Credit--Minimum wage
That's why I've been fighting to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the minimum wage. If you're working forty hours a week, you shouldn't be living in poverty.Health Care
Our conscience cannot rest so long as nearly 45 million Americans don't have health insurance and the millions more who do are going bankrupt trying to pay for it. I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family's premiums by up to $2500 a year. That's not simply a matter of policy or ideology – it's a moral commitment.Genocide in Darfur
And until we stop the genocide that's being carried out in Darfur as I speak, our conscience cannot rest. This is a problem that's brought together churches and synagogues and mosques and people of all faiths as part of a grassroots movement. Universities and states, including Illinois, are taking part in a divestment campaign to pressure the Sudanese government to stop the killings. It's not enough, but it's helping. And it's a testament to what we can achieve when good people with strong convictions stand up for their beliefs.Guantanamo Bay--Torture of Enemies
And we should close Guantanamo Bay and stop tolerating the torture of our enemies. Because it's not who we are. It's not consistent with our traditions of justice and fairness. And it offends our conscience.Iraq War
But we also know our conscience cannot rest so long as the war goes on in Iraq. It's a war I'm proud I opposed from the start – a war that should never have been authorized and never been waged. I have a plan that would have already begun redeploying our troops with the goal of bringing all our combat brigades home by March 31st of next year. The President vetoed a similar plan, but he doesn't have the last word, and we're going to keep at it, until we bring this war to an end. Because the Iraq war is not just a security problem, it's a moral problem.Undocumented immigrants
Today there are 12 million undocumented immigrants in America, most of them working in our communities, attending our churches, and contributing to our country.Poverty--Racism--Environment--Life Issues
Now, as children of God, we believe in the worth and dignity of every human being; it doesn't matter where that person came from or what documents they have. We believe that everyone, everywhere should be loved, and given the chance to work, and raise a family.
But as Americans, we also know that this is a nation of laws, and we cannot have those laws broken when more than 2,000 people cross our borders illegally every day. We cannot ignore that we have a right and a duty to protect our borders. And we cannot ignore the very real concerns of Americans who are not worried about illegal immigration because they are racist or xenophobic, but because they fear it will result in lower wages when they're already struggling to raise their families.
I'm hearing from evangelicals who may not agree with progressives on every issue but agree that poverty has no place in a world of plenty; that hate has no place in the hearts of believers; and that we all have to be good stewards of God's creations... God is still speaking... to our Catholic friends – who are holding up a consistent ethic of life that goes beyond abortion – one that includes a respect for life and dignity whether it's in Iraq, in poor neighborhoods, in African villages or even on death row.Then, there's the ethos part of the speech-- where listeners hear and decide if the values and decision making process of the candidate matches their expectations. About half of the speech could be described as this. Obama's stirring conclusion provides an example:
We can affirm our faith without endangering the separation of church and state, as long as we understand that when we're in the public square, we have to speak in universal terms that everyone can understand. And if we can do that – if we can embrace a common destiny – then I believe we'll not just help bring about a more hopeful day in America, we'll not just be caring for our own souls, we'll be doing God's work here on Earth.Americans United Executive Director Barry Lynn warns that church organizations take great risks whenever they invite politicians to speak. Candidates can say whatever they want and churches face all the consequences.
The evidence shows that Obama certainly did his part to create the mess facing the UCC.
But the UCC didn't do itself any favors either.
It promoted Obama's speech as the "first major address on faith and politics as presidential candidate." UCC.org still has up the video and text of the speech. And, not shooing off Obama's campaign workers from the civic hall didn't help matters.
Hartford talk show host and Courant columnist Colin McEnroe claims:
The UCC was... carefully monitoring Obama's speech and was prepared, according to a UCC official on my show this week, to cut his sound if he got too political or broke any other rules.Too bad they didn't pull the plug.
Fair minded but boring
Actually, the complaint was most likely filed by the guy who runs "UCC Truths," an organization and website for lapsed UCCers, heretics who dissent from the church's leadership and publish items such as "UCC Hierarchy Uses Neurosurgically Altered Monkeys to Make Cheap Sensible Shoes." Actually, no, they don't. UCC Truths is easily the most fair-minded and polite and boring apostate group in the history of religious dissent. It says on the website: "Any employee of the UCC national office or leaders of any of the UCC Conferences are welcome to submit their own commentary which will be posted, unedited, at the top of the site, at any time." If Martin Luther had been a Congregationalist, he would have nailed the "95 Other Possible Ways of Looking at Things" to the church door in Wittenberg.That's actually pretty funny. Boring? Yes, but I really don't know how I could make this stuff any more exciting.
And before anyone gets carried away, I didn't file the complaint but this site has certainly been the most visable on raising the issue.