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Every denomination needs one of these...

Jeremiah Wright for UCC President

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

I'm guessing that about half the people viewing that headline just had a stroke and fell over. For the rest of you still reading, stick with me here.

John Thomas' tenure as the President and General Minister of the United Church of Christ will end next year when a new President will be elected at General Synod. The search committee is already beginning the process and they've already asked for names of potential candidates (just email gmpsearch@aol.com). I'd like to be the first to kick off the "Wright for UCC President" campaign and I hope you will join me by emailing gmpsearch@aol.com with a strong recommendation that Wright be considered.

Why should Wright be the next United Church of Christ President?

1) Wright epitomizes the leadership of the UCC and the transition to President will be a smooth one. His "God Damn America" sermon wasn't all that different from John Thomas' claim that the Axis of Evil “runs the length and breadth of Pennsylvania Avenue.”

2) Wright already has the full support of the United Church of Christ executive council. This is a big step to getting elected as President.

3) The United Church of Christ would save at least $2-3 million in advertising costs - Wright is a walking, talking publicity machine! He literally pays his own salary for 10 years on the first day.

4) John Thomas has already destroyed our interfaith relationship with the Jewish community, Wright can only be seen as an improvement.

5) Sales of United Church of Christ merchandise and DVD's of Wright's speeches would explode based on what the news media would purchase and profits could fund new church starts all over the country

That's enough reasons for now, I'm sure people will chime in with more ideas.

Forward this to as many friends as you can and be sure to suggest Wright for President of the United Church of Christ by emailing gmpsearch@aol.com today!

posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, April 30, 2008 | link | 12 comments |

Report: Wright Feels Betrayed

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

After the controversial remarks made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. during the Q & A at Monday's National Press Club meeting, many pundits think Wright is intentionally seeking to bring down Barack Obama's presidential hopes.


An unnamed source tells the New York Post:
"After 20 years of loving Barack like he was a member of his own family, for Jeremiah to see Barack saying over and over that he didn't know about Jeremiah's views during those years, that he wasn't familiar with what Jeremiah had said, that he may have missed church on this day or that and didn't hear what Jeremiah said, this is seen by Jeremiah as nonsense and betrayal," said the source, who has deep roots in Wright's Chicago community and is familiar with his thinking on the matter. "Jeremiah is trying to defend his congregation and the work of his ministry by saying what he is saying now," the source added. "Jeremiah doesn't care if he derails Obama's candidacy or not... He knows what he's doing. Obviously, he's not a dumb man. He knows he's not helping."
Ironically, in Wright's address before the National Press Club-- that is, his speech before the Q & A time, remarks that didn't make the sound clip bites-- Wright spoke eloquently about race and black church history, suggesting:
Maybe this dialogue on race, an honest dialogue that does not engage in denial or superficial platitudes, maybe this dialogue on race can move the people of faith in this country from various stages of alienation and marginalization to the exciting possibility of reconciliation.
I know a good place to start.
posted by Living the Biblios, Wednesday, April 30, 2008 | link | 1 comments |

Obama Finally Condemns Rev. Wright

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

Injuring. Sad. Angry. Disrespect. Shocked. Not grounded in truth. Insult. Contradiction. Objectionable. Inexcusable. Betrayed. He didn't show much concern for me. Offensive. That's enough. Great damage. Won't be the same anymore.

At a press conference this afternoon (transcript here), Presidential democratic candidate Barack Obama used all the above words to condemn and disassociate himself from his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.

"He made a caricature out of himself," Obama said to summarize Rev. Wright's "performance" over the weekend and on Monday at the National Press Club (transcript here).

Obama was somber throughout and was clearly heart broken about his 20 year relationship with Wright publicly going up in flames, and maybe his campaign too.
"It's a fiasco," said Michael A. Genovese, chairman of the Institute for Leadership Studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. "With friends like these, who needs enemies?"
In parting ways with Wright, Obama's relationship to Chicago Trinity UCC is now strained and his rapport with the United Church of Christ suffers a severe blow, especially since the national office has nary said one critical word of Wright.

What's especially ridiculous about this whole controversy-- as it relates to the United Church of Christ-- is this has little to do with theology and everything to do with left-wing kook politics.

As pundits ask
whether Wright deliberately sabotaged Obama's campaign, what will the national office say now? That'll be an interesting press release. "All this underscores the need for a sacred conversation?" "Sometimes we disagree among ourselves in the UCC?"

Wright isn't someone to disagree over. His arrogance and politics need to be firmly rebuked.

Obama finally gets it. Will Cleveland?
posted by Living the Biblios, Tuesday, April 29, 2008 | link | 12 comments |

The Wright Way

Great commentary from Eugene Robinson:
We all have our crosses to bear. The Rev. Jeremiah Wright has become Barack Obama's.

I'm sorry, but I've had it with Wright. I would never try to diminish the service he performed as pastor of his Chicago megachurch, and it's obvious that he's a man of great charisma and faith. But this media tour he's conducting is doing a disservice that goes beyond any impact it might have on Obama's presidential campaign.

The problem is that Wright insists on being seen as something he's not: an archetypal representative of the African American church. In fact, he represents one twig of one branch of a very large tree.
And despite how hard the UCC's national office tries to support Wright, I suspect that most UCC members are rightfully embarrassed by him. His antics at the Press Club made him look like the court jester, not a prophet "speaking truth to power".
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, April 29, 2008 | link | 3 comments |

Washington Post editorial: It's about Wright, not black churches

From the Washington Post editorial page:
THE REV. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose incendiary and controversial sound bites have knocked the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) off balance, strutted to the microphone of the National Press Club and made an audacious claim: "This is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright. It is an attack on the black church." No. The harsh spotlight under which the Chicago pastor finds himself is exactly where it belongs.

As pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago for 36 years (he recently retired), the Rev. Wright has a record of good works. From services for the homeless and the elderly to the poor and those in prison, his church has practiced the most giving and generous teachings of Christianity. But with the good came charged rhetoric that has come back to haunt him and Mr. Obama. Most famously, in a 2003 sermon, the Rev. Wright said, "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."

Yesterday, the Rev. Wright was unrepentant. He refused to disavow his oft-repeated belief in the sinister myth that the AIDS epidemic is a genocidal government plot to exterminate African Americans. He stood by his blame-America-for-Sept. 11 stance, saying, "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back to you."
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, April 29, 2008 | link | 3 comments |

Wright lights the fuse

Monday, April 28, 2008

Trinity United Church of Christ's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, gave an indignant speech this morning before the National Press Club and African-American church leaders. The speech and Wright's response to questions afterwards will undoubtedly reignite the controversy around his sermons.

In his speech, Wright disowned the controversy by claiming that the media reporting and the public response was not about him, it was about the black church as a whole. Wright also mentioned the call to have a national conversation on race which was first raised by presidential candidate Barack Obama and formalized by the United Church of Christ's national office.

Throughout the question and answer period of his speech, Wright continually deflected questions about his sermons often answering a question with another question. When asked about his "God damn America" sermon, he asked "Did you hear the sermon?" When asked about his allegation that the U.S. governemnt created the AIDS virus to commit genocide on African-Americans, Wright asked if the questioner had read Horowitz's book and then claimed that he believed the government was capable of it. When asked about his controversial sermon that appeared to blame the U.S. for 9/11, Wright claimed to be quoting an ambassador although Wright clearly subscribed to the belief in the sermon.

On any level, the speech was a trainwreck. Wright didn't accept responsibility for his sermons or take ownership of his own words. By deflecting the controversy as commentary against the black church, Wright has also ignited a completely manufactured racial conflict and has unfairly cast a negative view of the black church and the United Church of Christ. Wright has effectively sabatoged the black church, the United Church of Christ and Obama's candidacy to protect his own ego.

While I personally agree with the spirit of Obama's call for a national conversation on race, it can not and should not be orchestrated as a defense of Wright's sermons. The controversy is not about race, it is about Jeremiah Wright. If we are going to have a real national conversation on race, it should be done in the spirit Obama's unifying optimism that we can overcome our shameful history.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, April 28, 2008 | link | 9 comments |

The Wright Context

Saturday, April 26, 2008

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in an interview with PBS newsman Bill Moyers broadcast Friday, says his fiery comments, including his controversial “God Damn America” proclamation, have been taken out of context by the news media.

Barack Obama’s former pastor says people should listen to his entire sermon to have a complete understanding of his message.

FOXNews.com has compiled video from the full sermon delivered by Wright on April. 13, 2003, from the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Was criticism of Wright’s fiery sermons “unfair” and “devious,” as he argued in the PBS interview?

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

posted by UCCtruths, Saturday, April 26, 2008 | link | 4 comments |

Wright on Moyers

Friday, April 25, 2008

You couldn't have watched Bill Moyers interview with Jeremiah Wright and not come away with a greater respect for Wright, where he's come from and where Trinity United Church of Christ has come from. I was particularly impressed with his knowledge and study of the Old Testament and how he brings it into context for today's world. That said, it was not much of a journalistic interview with challenging questions. Not surprisingly, it was clear Moyers came into the interview as an advocate and not as a journalist. As Moyers questioned Wright about Louis Farrakhan, I thought he might actually examine Wright's more controversial comments, but he didn't take it that far.

The two biggest concerns about Wright's sermons -his blaming America for 9/11 and his claim that America created AIDS- were not sufficiently addressed at all. Although Moyers referenced Wright's "canard" about the origination of AIDS in the introduction of the show, it never came up in the interview.

Moyers did spend a fair amount of time trying to apply context to Wright's post 9/11 sermon, but all it really did is confirm that Wright connects many of the historically bad things the U.S. has done to 9/11 in a biblical context. The irony is that Moyers back in 2002 was furious when Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell suggested that what happened on 9/11 was God’s judgment on a decadent America:
Repugnant? Of course, but under that Bill of Rights they so detest they are entitled to their repugnant opinions. But such rights cannot mask their repulsiveness as human beings – piously spreading their virus of holy hate from the safety of plush studios and stately pulpits where they are isolated from the consequences of their malevolence. Let God do the dirty work – while they rake in the takings of bigotry and bile. We must say to these people – over and over again – what Mohammed Ali said to bin Laden: God is not an assassin.
There isn't a whole lot of difference between what Robertson and Falwell did to Wright claiming that "America's chickens are coming home to roost". They may use different examples to make their point, but they all came to the same conclusion. Moyer's disdain is clearly reserved only for those he simply doesn't like. Hardly respectable. For Wright's part, he's entitled to an opinion like everyone else is... no matter how assinine it is.

In the end, the interview isn't going to change many opinions... those who were outraged by his comments are still going to be outraged and those who weren't alarmed probably found the interview affirming. For me, there are many elements of truth to what Wright says, particularly as he discerns the difference between allegiance to our country and our allegiance to God. While some pundits might confuse this as being unpatriotic, it is not. In spite of the many elements I might agree with Wright on, I simply can not accept that a pastor -any pastor, not just Wright- would blatently lie from the pulpit and not feel some obligation to clarify or apologize for it. In this specific case, it was a particularly egregious lie that is perpetuating a myth held about the origin of AIDS.

For our denomination, it's particularly disappointing that in light of the attention that Wright has brought us, none of our leaders can muster the honesty or the courage to embrace Wright as a brother in Christ while making it clear that we do not embrace everything he says.
posted by UCCtruths, Friday, April 25, 2008 | link | 15 comments |

Adding "context" to Wright's sermons

Defenders of Rev. Jeremiah Wright from Trinity United Church of Christ have used terms like "soundbite" and "context" to suggest that the public can't interpret what they are hearing without more information... but then come up pretty shallow on just exactly what everyone is missing.

Theology elites like Walter Brueggemann condescendingly insist that the general public is too stupid to interpret what Wright is really saying. Brueggemann claims that "righteous indignation" over Wright "smacks of embarrassing ignorance" without really pealing back what people are missing.

In tonight's interview with Bill Moyers on PBS, Wright plays the same card:

“The persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly. When something is taken like a soundbite for a political purpose and put constantly over and over again, looped in the face of the public, that’s not a failure to communicate. Those who are doing that are communicating exactly what they want to do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic or, as the learned journalist from the New York Times called me, a ‘wackadoodle.’"
No one is claiming that there is a "failure to communicate"... this is just more spin. Yesterday ABC News posted a partial transcript to Wright's post-9/11 sermon and if you read it, the context doesn't change anything. In fact, the context of the sermon validates the concerns that many people are echoing about Wright. This also explains the lack of depth in using "context" as a defense for Wright's sermons.
posted by UCCtruths, Friday, April 25, 2008 | link | 5 comments |

Be careful what you wish for

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

If nothing else is certain in the Jeremiah Wright controversy, the United Church of Christ's relentless defense of his hate filled sermons demonstrates a level of concern not seen before in the history of our denomination. There are two main targets for the UCC's self defense campaign: the general public and the members of the United Church of Christ.

Polls taken after the surge in media coverage made it pretty clear that an overwhelming majority did not view Wright favorably. A March 17th Rasmussen poll demonstrated that only 8% view Wright favorably while 58% have an unfavorable view of Wright which wasn't far off from the 55% that were disturbed by Wright’s statements according to a March 25th NBC/Wall Street Journal poll.

You can pretend that polls don't matter but the reaction from the national office makes it clear that the public response to the Wright controversy justified full page newspaper advertising and a call for "a sacred conversation about race" as part of a broader defense campaign.

To be candid, I'm glad that the controversy has caused people outside and inside our denomination to question our values and our beliefs. Since the formation of the United Church of Christ over 50 years ago, most of our churches have existed in relative obscurity in the broader religious landscape. Insulated by the unique autonomy empowered to our local churches and a discretionary covenant shared with our associations, conferences and national office, local churches have never had a publicly recognizable identity as a denomination - until now.

The consequences of this new attention rightly scares our national leaders. UCC President John Thomas was so concerned that late last month he alerted Conference Ministers to anticipated attacks on "some of our justice commitments". After decades of maintaining a low level of visibility from the local church, Thomas is rightly concerned that the national office, like Wright, will be questioned and publicly castigated for pushing a bizarre political agenda that includes supporting Puerto Rican terrorists and promoting anti-Israel positions that some view as bordering on anti-Semitism.

At one time, the national office was all too eager to ride on fellow UCCer Barack Obama's coattails to generate attention for the denomination... but as the ancient proverb suggests, "be careful what you wish for".
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, April 23, 2008 | link | 0 comments |

Thomas Hears Pope's Rebuke

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

UCC President Rev. John Thomas and Ecumenical Officer Lydia Veliko were among an ecumenical contingency of 200 Christian leaders who gathered in New York City to hear Pope Benedict XVI at an evening ecumenical prayer service on April 18.

In a press release leading up to the meeting, Thomas expressed optimism about what the Pope might say:
"As participants in many rounds of theological dialogue between Reformed Christians and Roman Catholics in the United States, we are committed to a vision of unity that can overcome the many differences that still inhibit a fully shared participation in God's mission here and throughout the world. I look forward to hearing a word of ecumenical hope from Pope Benedict that can be lived out between UCC churches and Catholic parishes around the country."
While it's nice that Rev. Thomas offered polite words about going to hear to the Pope, Thomas is no fan of Benedict XVI, an opinion he made quite clear in 2005:
"Today as the conclave announces its decision, the offering of prayers for this new pontificate is the most appropriate response from other Christian leaders," the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, said in a written statement to United Church News. "Nevertheless, I acknowledge that I personally greet Cardinal Ratzinger's selection with profound disappointment. Cardinal Ratzinger's long tenure in the Vatican has been marked by a theological tone that is rigid, conservative and confrontational."
With this in mind, I'm sure that Rev. Thomas didn't enjoy hearing this veiled, but clear rebuke:
"Too often those who are not Christians, as they observe the splintering of Christian communities, are understandably confused about the Gospel message itself. Fundamental Christian beliefs and practices are sometimes changed within communities by so-called "prophetic actions" that are based on a hermeneutic not always consonant with the datum of Scripture and Tradition. Communities consequently give up the attempt to act as a unified body, choosing instead to function according to the idea of "local options". Somewhere in this process the need for diachronic koinonia – communion with the Church in every age – is lost, just at the time when the world is losing its bearings and needs a persuasive common witness to the saving power of the Gospel (cf. Rom 1:18-23)."
Translation: That's not an endorsement of the "God Is Still Speaking" campaign.

At least Rev. Thomas went to hear someone he doesn't agree with.

But if he didn't go, what would that have said?

I'll bet the conversation over hors d’oeuvres with colleagues afterwards was interesting.
posted by Living the Biblios, Tuesday, April 22, 2008 | link | 10 comments |

Spin control: Wright to do Moyers interview

Monday, April 21, 2008

Trinty United Church of Christ's former minister Jeremiah Wright is slated to do an interview with PBS's Bill Moyers according to UC News and this PBS press release.

Wright should find a comfortable home on Moyer's show - Moyers doesn't pretend to be balanced and his passion and support for liberal politics has been a staple of his career. Moyer's himself has conceded that a journalist's job is not to be balanced:
The journalist's job is not to achieve some mythical state of equilibrium between two opposing opinions out of some misshapen respect -- sometimes, alas, reverence -- for the prevailing consensus among the powers-that-be. The journalist's job is to seek out and offer the public the best thinking on an issue, event, or story.
Of course, "the best thinking on an issue" is subjective to the view of the journalist. Don't expect much more than a puff piece from Moyers interview.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, April 21, 2008 | link | 3 comments |

Obama Worships at UCC Church

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama on Sunday worshiped at a church that's part of his denomination, St. Mark's UCC in Lebanon, Pennsylvania:
Illinois Sen. Barack Obama paid a surprise visit to Lebanon County when he attended Sunday morning's worship service at St. Mark's United Church of Christ.

About 200 people gathered in the 426 N. Eighth St. church's sanctuary afterward to catch a glimpse of the Democratic presidential hopeful... For almost an hour, Obama shook hands, posed for pictures and signed autographs at the front of the sanctuary for everyone who patiently waited to greet him.
Since everything a politician does is carefully scripted, we'll do our part here as media hacks to over analyze Obama's steps.

A member of the Penn Central conference, St. Mark's is one of six UCC churches in Lebanon. Two UCC churches in Lebanon were "Five for Five" churches in 2006, but St. Mark's wasn't one of them. "Five for Five" churches are those who give to all of the UCC's one time yearly offerings. While the UCC Coalition doesn't list them, UCC.org's "Find a Church" reports that St. Mark's is an ONA church, or open and affirming, meaning that the church welcomes into their full life and ministry persons of all sexual orientations and gender identities. As we reported earlier, Pennsylvania is thick with UCC churches, so Obama inevitably had to pass over several possibilities. St. Mark's doesn't have a website, so here's guessing that Obama's campaign sought the advice of Penn Central Conference Minister, Rev. Dr. Marja Coons-Torn.

In all likelihood, Obama's appearance was designed to garner some "Obama At Church" photos and headlines to hopefully take the sting out of his "bitter" comment, when he privately told a San Francisco fund raiser audience that rural people cling to guns and religion. Lebanon County has one third class city and is 54% farm land, so Obama decided to go into the bitter heartland.

Pennsylvania's primary vote is Tuesday. Obama and Hillary Clinton are neck and neck in the polls.

Was this the first time that Obama stepped foot inside any church or a UCC church since the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. controversy broke out?
posted by Living the Biblios, Monday, April 21, 2008 | link | 2 comments |

Obama Keeps Backing Away from Wright

Thursday, April 17, 2008

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

Speaking to Jewish community leaders yesterday at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama continues to back away from the rhetoric of his pastor Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr.:
The Illinois senator has been working to reassure Jewish voters nervous about his candidacy after publicity about anti-Israel sentiments expressed by his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and criticism from Hillary Rodham Clinton during a February debate that he hadn't immediately rejected an endorsement from black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan. Obama responded that he already denounced Farrakhan, but would reject his support as well.

Obama told the group he had not been aware of Wright's more incendiary speeches before launching his presidential campaign last year, even though he had been a member of Wright's congregation for nearly 20 years. Obama said he had spoken to Wright and privately conveyed his concerns about some of the sermons once he learned of their content. But he acknowledged that he had declined to be more public in his criticism until recently, since Wright was preparing to retire from ministry at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.

"You make a decision about how are you going to handle it," Obama said. "Do you publicly denounce his comments? Do you privately express concern but recognize you are still part of a broader church community that is going to be transitioning? I chose the latter."
But do Obama's remarks contradict what he said earlier in his well-known race speech on March 18?
I have already condemned, in unequivocal terms, the statements of Reverend Wright that have caused such controversy and in some cases pain 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 the 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.
You decide.
posted by Living the Biblios, Thursday, April 17, 2008 | link | 5 comments |

Obama Insults His Own

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

You know that Presidential candidate Barack Obama is under heavy criticism after uttering the following put down about rural Pennsylvanians:
"You go into some of these small towns in Pennsylvania, and like a lot of small towns in the Midwest, the jobs have been gone now for 25 years and nothing's replaced them... And they fell through the Clinton Administration, and the Bush Administration, and each successive administration has said that somehow these communities are gonna regenerate and they have not. And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
You know too that Obama is a member of the United Church of Christ. But do you know, and ironically, does Obama realize how many of these rural and religious Pennsylvanians he insulted are members of his own denomination?

According to the Center for Rural Pennsylvania and their report, "Religious Establishments in Rural Pennsylvania":
The religious establishments with the most congregations in Pennsylvania’s rural counties were: the United Methodist Church, the Catholic Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., and the United Church of Christ. These same congregations were also the top five congregations in urban counties.
Looking at the delegate distribution from the 26th General Synod, nearly 15% of the United Church of Christ's 1.2 million members reside in Pennsylvania. That's 182,779 people. In fact, the UCC is so big in Pennsylvania it has not two, but four Conferences in the state-- Penn Central, Pennsylvania Northeast, Pennsylvania Southeast, and Pennsylvania West. With the exception of Penn West, each of these conferences are among the top 10 in delegate ranks at Synod.

Obama's unguarded words, spoken at a closed fund raiser in San Francisco on April 6, likely hit the intended target of dipping into the pockets of some rich elitist Democrats. But the spray of the buckshot has at least one Pennsylvania UCC member fretting.

The UCC Pennsylvanians who are fans of the "God Is Still Speaking" commercials likely won't take offense. They understand Obama is talking about those other churches-- the ones with bouncers and ejector seats. However, it was the UCC that once had on its rolls a historic church in rural Kansas called Beecher Rifle & Bible Church.

Obama knows his words have hurt him politically-- he's still spinning what he meant to say.

There's a lesson for us all:

The tongue is like a rifle-- you can always reload, but once you pull the trigger, you can never put that shot back into the barrel.
posted by Living the Biblios, Tuesday, April 15, 2008 | link | 27 comments |

A Lesson for the Media

Monday, April 14, 2008

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

Here's a lesson, given by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. and the UCC national office, that the media will understand:

March 21 and 23:
Writing for the The New Yorker magazine, reporter Kelefa Sanneh visits Trinity United Church of Christ for Good Friday and Easter services.

April 3:
Trinity United Church of Christ tells the media "no more" at the "Sacred Conversations" press conference and establishes rules for any reporters inside the sanctuary.

April 7:
Time stamp for Sanneh's The New Yorker story, "Project Trinity: The Perilous Mission of Obama's Church."

April 12:
UCC.org has a link to The New Yorker article prominently featured on its home page.

April 12:
Rev. Jeremiah Wright, in his first public sermon since the firestorm over his remarks began, fiercely criticized the media in a funeral message:
Reflecting on the late [appellate judge R. Eugene] Pincham, Wright said his faith “was not the jingoistic, chauvinistic ‘you’re either with us or against us’ demonizing kind of faith.” Wright said Pincham was friends with “Jews, Muslims, rabbis, imams, fathers in the Catholic church and [Louis] Farrakhan in the Islamic faith.”

Escalating into full-preaching mode, Wright thundered, “Fox News can’t understand that. [Bill] O’Reilly will never get that. Sean Hannity’s stupid fantasy will keep him forever stuck on stupid when it comes to comprehending how you can love a brother who does not believe what you believe. [Pincham’s] faith was a faith in a God who loved the whole world not just one country or one creed.”

At that point, congregants nearly drowned Wright out with a booming standing ovation.

Wright also referred to Fox News as “Fix News.”
So much for encouraging the media to take its spotlight somewhere else.
posted by Living the Biblios, Monday, April 14, 2008 | link | 9 comments |

"Let's Talk About Race" Ad

Thursday, April 10, 2008

By Pastor Ted Weis, Congregational Church, Little River, KS

Coming in the Friday, April 11 edition of USA Today is another full page ad from the United Church of Christ.

In an advance mass e-mail, UCC President John Thomas writes:
Our ad invites the nation to enter a sacred conversation on race and asks other communities of faith to join our preach-in scheduled for Trinity Sunday, May 18.

Together, as we ready ourselves for this important preaching opportunity and the intentional dialogues that must follow in the months to come, this ad clearly puts the UCC on public record as a church willing to grapple forthrightly with difficult issues. Ours is a risk-taking church.
This newest one, which comes on the heels of last week's New York Times ad, is entitled, "Let's Talk About Race."

OK. I accept.

Let's talk about how this ad frames the question and sets the agenda.

First, notice how this ad doesn't mention the Barack Obama-Jeremiah Wright flap and more importantly, the UCC's relationship to it. Why is boldness suddenly shy? It's like the parent talking to their child about the birds and the bees, but too embarrassed to admit the part they played in bringing little johnny into the world.

If Obama and Wright were members of another denomination, there's no way the UCC jumps into the fray and places this ad.

So really. Why are we calling for a dialogue on race? And doing so now?

The ad's lack of full disclosure is telling. It suggests that one motive for keeping silent is denominational self-preservation.

Try saying with a straight face that you're Jeremiah Wright's denomination, you won't scold his outrageous statements, nor condemn his award to Louis Farrakhan, all the while insisting on the need to discuss race.

Difficult, huh? The general public won't buy it and I think our leaders realize this. Better then to avoid the connection and instead say this:
Sacred conversations are never easy, especially when honest talk confronts our nation's painful past and speaks directly to the injustices of the present day. Yet sacred conversations can, and often do, honor the value of diverse life experiences, requiring an openness to hear each others' viewpoints.
Instead of acting like the Old Testament prophets-- who told it like it was and willingly took the hit to their reputation-- the ad takes the soft sell route.

Never mind that we're the religious body that's home to this race controversy. Ignore the fact that none of our national leaders have the courage of Obama, who said in his race speech that Wright remarks were distorted and divisive. Forget that.

Instead, simply present yourself as the denomination that calls for a sacred conversation about race. That strategy raises the odds of the denomination looking much better in the public eye. We look spiritual, reasonable, and hip all at the same time.

If the average irreligious USA Today reader doesn't recognize the UCC connection to the Obama-Wright controversy, the strategy of the ad just might work to enhance our reputation.

Image is certainly on the mind of our President:
No single newspaper ad will ever fully capture our denomination's diverse story or our justice legacy, but as the media spotlight continues to focus on the UCC like never before, it is imperative that we be proactive in sharing who we are and what we're about, lest others continue to define us in narrow and distorted ways.
But for those in the general public who do know the UCC connection, who've read or seen Rev. Thomas' defense of Wright, and don't approve of Wright's remarks, the ad won't work.

The effect will come off like this: "A UCC pastor makes outrageous claims about race and then the UCC tells me that I'm the one who needs to have a dialogue about race? I'm the one who needs to be lectured? It's like being the innocent bystander who sees a fight on the school playground, but instead of the bully going to the Principal's office, I get sent."

Despite the flaws and motives of this ad, the truth remains that, "we have an opportunity to make America a better nation." Sometimes, when the family of an alcoholic is asked to sit down for treatment, they protest saying, "But I'm not the one who needs therapy!" And yet, if they choose to sit down and talk, they too can learn something valuable.

The American public may not feel like they have to sit down and talk about race. But if they do, I'm sure they'd learn something good.

Meanwhile, Rev. Thomas should be proactive in taking this risk-- the Friday before Trinity Sunday, May 18, go and talk about race on the O'Reilly Factor or Hannity & Colmes, and state clearly that Wright was wrong.
posted by Living the Biblios, Thursday, April 10, 2008 | link | 39 comments |

Sacred places provide good cover

Monday, April 07, 2008

Here's an interesting column from the Sunday Chicago Tribune:
The wounds inflicted on Barack Obama by the hateful speech of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, are serious and profound.

Why else would ministers gather at Obama's church in Chicago—Trinity United Church of Christ—to hold a news conference demanding a "sacred" national dialogue on race?

"The intersection of politics, religion and race has heightened our awareness of how easy it is for our conversations about race to become anything but sacred," Rev. John Thomas, president of the United Church of Christ, said last week. "That's why we are calling for sacred conversations, and for the respect of sacred places to begin right here and now."

In other words, listen up you reporters: Back off.

Clearly, it's difficult enough to pray and reflect upon the story of the Good Samaritan without pesky reporters asking you to defend Wright's indefensible, hateful words.

It's got to be tough when reporters ask about that 10,000-square-foot suburban mansion the church bought for Wright, the one along the golf course, the one with the $1.6 million mortgage held by the church.

Wright has damaged Obama by cursing America from the pulpit, breaking one of the 10 Commandments along the way, shouting "G-d damn America!," blaming our nation for the 9/11 terrorist attacks and suggesting our government infected people of color with AIDS.

"And, they will attack you, if you try to point out what's going on in white America, the U.S. of KKK-A!" Wright was quoted as saying.

Now that he's retired, I wonder if he'll play a tape of that one while he's out on his deck, perhaps holding a new titanium driver, smiling, absently listening to himself shouting "white America, the U.S. of KKK-A!" but also thinking ahead, to the water hazards and sand traps on that back nine.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, April 07, 2008 | link | 16 comments |

Thomas plays race card to dodge Wright criticism

Thursday, April 03, 2008

In an effort to change the focus of mounting criticism, United Church of Christ President John Thomas today called for "a nationwide 'sacred conversation' about race in the United States" at a press conference today at Trinity United Church of Christ. From the press conference:

"On Sunday, May 18, 2008 – the Sunday after Pentecost, which also happens to be called Trinity Sunday in the ecumenical calendar – we are asking our 10,000 UCC pastors across the nation to use their pulpits to address the subject of race. We believe this is an important first step in beginning the broader conversation that needs to take place in our nation, in our communities and, especially, in our houses of worship. Over the next six weeks we will be equipping our pastors and lay leaders to help them prepare for May 18 and for the important conversations to follow."
The effort to have a national conversation on race would be admirable had it not been hastily called for in response to the criticism that Thomas and the UCC has been facing in defense of comments in sermons and in publications by Trinity's former minister, Jeremiah Wright, Jr. who did not even attend the press conference. As disgusting and vulgar as it sounds, Thomas appears to be playing the race card to dodge the criticism which ultimately undermines the very conversation on race that he and others are seeking.

The consequences of this will be damaging on a number of levels. First, Thomas has made it pretty clear that he's not going to actually respond to the concerns raised within and outside of the denomination on Wright. Like so many other actions he and the national office have taken, it will be local pastors left to react and they really aren't being given much to work with here.

Second, members of the UCC are pretty wise to what is going on here. The problem isn't race, it's about Wright's comments and Thomas' reaction to them.

Finally, all this has really done is guarantee that this issue won't die down anytime soon.

(AP Photos / M. Spencer Green)
posted by UCCtruths, Thursday, April 03, 2008 | link | 23 comments |

Trinity UCC in crisis mode: Top Obama advisor gets crisis PR firm to step in

And some of you wonder why I'm so cynical about the United Church of Christ... this is from TPM's (Talking Points Memo) Greg Sargent:
Here's an interesting peek at some of what was going on behind the scenes in Chicago during the controversy over Jeremiah Wright, the pastor at Obama's Trinity church.

I'm told that top Obama adviser David Axelrod privately tried to help Trinity with its raging public relations problem by asking one of Chicago's top P.R. firms to go in and help the church deal with its P.R. mess.

Axelrod confirms to me that amid the controversy, Trinity put out word that it was overwhelmed by media calls and in need of help. Axelrod confirms that he called Jim Terman, the president of Jasculca-Terman and Associates, a major Chicago P.R. outfit that specializes in doing crisis P.R. management for corporations and large institutions.

"I called Jim Terman and asked if they were interested in helping out and they followed up with the church," Axelrod emails, adding that his involvement ended there.

Terman himself confirmed that Axelrod had asked him to help Trinity -- and confirmed that his firm was currently doing pro bono work on the beleagured church's behalf.

"Trinity is a well respected institution in this town, though you wouldn't believe it from the national press," Terman said, adding that he has known Axelrod for 25 years. "David was interested in helping the church -- the guy he's working for happens to be a member of the church."

It's unclear whether Axelrod was operating partly out of worry about how the controversy was impacting Obama -- after all, the church was the first to sound the call for help. But this is nonetheless noteworthy -- a glimpse at a previously-unseen aspect of the Obama camp's efforts to deal with the whole situation.
posted by UCCtruths, Thursday, April 03, 2008 | link | 2 comments |

UCC national office in crisis mode: John Thomas lays out strategy

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

In an email to Conference Ministers last week, United Church of Christ President John Thomas laid out the strategy for countering the negative perceptions about the United Church of Christ. Some of this is old news (like the New York Times ad) but there is some new points here. From the email:

I hope you all had a good Easter celebration, both spiritually and physically renewing.

I know many of you have been wondering about how we are planning to address the continued media issues surrounding Trinity Church as well as other issues that are likely to arise during the course of the campaign. Our first priority has been to seek to be supportive of Trinity. Several ideas have surfaced and were explored and some of you have been waiting to hear about planning. I'm sorry we weren't able to get back to you but we needed to hear from the folk at Trinity about what would be most useful to them. As you might imagine, in the midst of Holy Week and the other political and media distractions, it has been difficult for them to respond as promptly as we might like. Here's where we are:

1. We had considered a gathering of UCC folk at Trinity next week. However, Trinity has asked us not to do this. Media presence has been intense and intrusive. Reporters have been calling members at home, including those on the home bound list. Threats against Trinity, Jeremiah, and Otis have been made. Security has had to be significantly increased. Events at Trinity, especially worship, is taking place in the midst of a siege of TV trucks, etc. As a result, adding another event that would subject their members to another round of this is not deemed wise. In light of this we have discussed what other ways we might be supportive. What we have agreed to is this: For the weeks between now and Pentecost we will seek to have members of the United Church of Christ who are willing and able to do so to come to Trinity for their 11 a.m. worship. I am in the process of identifying a church leader who can be a representative to offer words of greeting and support during the service. Cally, Linda, Edith, and Steve have agreed to be present for one Sunday. I suspect that most of those who come will be from the Chicago area; I will be in touch with Jorge Morales about this as soon as I am able. We will also prepare an invitation that you can send out to folk in your conference.

2. We have discussed with Trinity a press conference in Chicago, tentatively set for next Thursday. Participants would be Otis Moss, myself, and Michael Kinnamon of the National Council of Churches. The focus of this would be a statement calling on all who are involved in the political process - candidates, media, campaign workers, etc. - to respect the sacred space of our churches and our church communities. In light of what Trinity has been experiencing, we believe it is important that our congregations and denominations not be seen merely as fair game for scoring political points. This would be seen by Trinity as support, and would also set a wider context. We are awaiting confirmation from Otis Moss on this; Michael has agreed to be present if the press conference happens. We may also try to place an op ed piece in relation to this. Should I go to Chicago, I have also expressed a desire to visit with Jeremiah if that would be welcomed. I'll let you know as soon as I have confirmation of plans.

3. Recognizing that all of our churches are dealing with the turmoil from this, Steve Sterner has written a letter to pastors. The letter is attached and I would be grateful if you would use your electronic networks to make this available to as many of your pastors as possible.

4. We are working on a YouTube "introduction to the UCC" which we will send to media outlets and make available on the web. The effort here is to present a broader picture of the UCC. It will be crafted from new narration wrapped around existing footage.

5. Ben Guess is in conversation with Gotham about the production of a print ad that could be placed in a major newspaper and also be available to all of our churches for placement in local papers. Again, this would be an effort to interpret the witness of the UCC in a more honest and holistic way. We will need to do fundraising for purchasing space in a major paper and paying for production. This would need to be coordinated with you as there may also need to be local and/or regional fund raising for local placement. We have no budget for this so we will need to have the capacity to seek funds for our costs here.

6. We are designing a major interpretation piece for use as we move ahead in anticipation of attacks against the UCC related to some of our justice commitments. We anticipate these attacks continuing and intensifying as long as Barack Obama's This would be on the web, with several "layers" moving from the general to the specific. We imagine an introduction to the UCC, and then links to specific issues, each of which would be described with further links to more detailed documentation. Broad themes here would include: Human Rights (Wilmington 10, Puerto Rican Political Prisoners, Death Penalty, etc.), Environmental (Pastoral Letter on the Environment, Vieques, Toxic Waste and Race), Inclusion (glbt issues, gay marriage,) Women's Issues (ordination, language, etc.), Global Justice (Israel-Palestine, Hawaiian Apology, etc.). Don't hold me to this exact list or design. We are now seeking to contract with a seasoned UCC member with journalistic experience who can manage this for us under Ben's supervision. This will need to be ready soon. It will be designed to be a resource for media but also for our own members who will need information quickly when an issue surfaces in the campaign. We will want to work with you to determine the best methods for quick response to issues using this resource once it is available.

7. We continue to respond to media inquiries here. I am grateful to many of you who have alerted us to articles and stories that have appeared in your own settings. I am also grateful for the excellentarticles you have authored for your pastors and congregations. It has been impressive and inspiring!

I think this is as full a picture as I can give you at this time. Let me know if you have questions and please share Steve's letter as widely as possible.

He just doesn't get it.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, April 02, 2008 | link | 35 comments |

NY Times ad to run Wednesday, USA Today is next

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

According to an email from the national office late today, enough money has been raised by the United Church of Christ to run a full page ad on Wednesday in the New York Times and a follow-up ad in USA Today. from the email:
As of noon today, we had exceeded our goal of $120,000, and the donations are still pouring in, because people understand the need for a proactive message about the United Church of Christ.

In fact, the support has been so widespread and positive that we're now asking that we continue the momentum and place a second complimentary ad in USA Today. The next ad - in coming days - would specifically invite the entire nation to join our UCC churches in a sacred conversation on the issue of race.

On Thursday, I will be traveling to Trinity UCC. There, at a press conference scheduled on the 40th anniversary of Martin Luther King's last sermon, I will join the Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity UCC, and the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches.

Together, we will call upon UCC pastors and our ecumenical colleagues to devote May 18 - which liturgically falls on Trinity Sunday - to preach on the important subject of race in the United States. Our hope is that May 18 will become a significant step toward honest dialogue, education and conversation.
All of this would be great if we would first have an honest conversation within our denomination about how our own ministers treat race. Calling for a national discussion on race sure beats having a discussion within our denomination.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, April 01, 2008 | link | 7 comments |

Italian group demands prophetic apology from Wright

And now this response to the prophetic Rev. Wright:
“We write on behalf of the 103 year old Order Sons of Italy in America (OSIA) and our 550,000 family members throughout the nation, and our anti-defamation arm, the Commission for Social Justice (CSJ), to strongly and unequivocally reject and condemn recently reported remarks made by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. According to MSNBC and other published and internet sources, Rev. Wright in 2007 stated: “[Jesus’] enemies had their opinion about Him . . . . The Italians for the most part looked down their garlic noses at the Galileans.” He then called Jesus’ crucifixion “a public lynching Italian style” executed in “Apartheid Rome”.
And just in case you thought they had a political axe to grind:
OSIA’s and the CSJ’s purpose here is not political. We desire no involvement in the current presidential campaign, nor do we wish to become embroiled in a political maelstrom. Still, one of the three candidates will, in all probability, become the next leader of the free world and the next president, thus representing all of the US’s 300 million-plus citizens, 26 million of whom are of Italian heritage. We believe that Senators Clinton, McCain and Obama must unequivocally condemn the words and sentiments voiced by Rev. Wright, and clearly disavow his actions.”
Hey... I don't know what they are getting so worked up about, after all Jeremiah Wright is speaking prophetically... just ask Walter Brueggemann:
The current spasm of "righteous indignation" concerning Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama's pastor, smacks of embarrassing ignorance. Such a critique of Wright is ignorant of black preaching rhetoric and the practice of liberation interpretation. It is also disturbingly ignorant of the prophetic traditions of the Bible that regularly expose the failures of society in savage rhetoric. I am grateful for the ministry of Wright, a colleague of mine in the United Church of Christ, who for a very long time has been a faithful pastor and a daring prophetic figure. It is odd when right-wingers misconstrue this belated Jeremiah as they do the original Jeremiah, who knew about God's passion for truth-telling in risky places.
Really Walter, who is embarrassed now?

While I deeply respect Brueggemann, I'm throwing him under the bus on this one. You can line up a thousand PhD's and I'll never understand how they can claim that racial slurs and lying about the development of the AIDS virus is prophetic. This isn't a "right wing" thing, it's common sense.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, April 01, 2008 | link | 6 comments |

Jeffrey Lord: Why isn't Thomas going on TV?

Jeffrey Lord, former Reagan White House political director and fellow UCC'er, is a fan of UCCtruths... and asks the same question I've been asking... from American Spectator:
Critic James Hutchins, the bane of Thomas's existence over at UCC Truths, has already raised the obvious point about the impending ad. Instead of resorting to the safety of a static ad in the pages of the New York Times, why isn't Thomas investigating a chance to make his case for the UCC and defend his friend Wright on a Fox show like The O'Reilly Factor? After all, he's the one who had a campaign to get himself on TV talk shows. To which I would add, why not make the rounds of Hannity and Colmes or any conservative radio talk show that would book Thomas? One suspects the reason, of course, is that Thomas has the same thought William F. Buckley once attributed to a liberal who refused his entreaties to appear on Buckley's Firing Line television show: "Why does baloney reject the grinder?"
The reason seems obvious to me: a $120,000 newspaper ad affords Thomas the luxury of not having to respond to criticism or serious questions. For a national office that bellyached not long ago about not being invited on the Sunday morning talk shows, you would think this would be the ideal time to tell the story about what the UCC is all about... and it would be much cheaper than the New York Times ad.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, April 01, 2008 | link | 2 comments |