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Every denomination needs one of these...

Obama dumps Trinity United Church of Christ

Saturday, May 31, 2008

You probably could have seen this coming but it's still a shock. The major news outlets are reporting that Presidential candidate Barack Obama has quit Trinity United Church of Christ. From ABC News:
Sources tell ABC News that Obama felt that as the campaign continued, the media would continue to focus on the church, to the detriment of the church community, that Obama would be held responsible for what happened in the church, and that the Church would be held responsible for his campaign. It would be best, Obama felt, to simply cut ties. He has not yet joined a new church.

As he distanced himself from Wright on April 29, Obama expressed disappointment in how the media maelstrom had intruded on the church.

"When I go church it's not for spectacle, it's to pray and to find to find a stronger sense of faith, it's not to posture politically it's not to, you know, it's not to hear things that violate my core beliefs," he said. "And I certainly don't want to provide a distraction to those who are worshipping at Trinity. As of this point I'm a member. I haven't had a discussion with Rev Moss about it so I can't tell you how he's reacting and how he's responding ... there’s been great damage."

Obama will address the matter this evening at a campaign stop in South Dakota.
I don't see any winners in this decision. Politically, I can't see how this helps Obama and if anything, he's alienating his church which has served, on a small level, as a base of support. It would have been one thing if he quit Trinity at the height of the Jeremiah Wright controversy but I can't imagine how quitting now limits the political damage he may have suffered.

Trinity comes out of this looking like a bunch of extremists and the United Church of Christ loses the opportunity to claim a potential President as one of our own. The spin is that he doesn't want his candidacy to draw the wrong kind of attention to Trinity. It may be true, but it's a weak response to a politically shrewd move that doesn't have much of an upside for anyone.
posted by UCCtruths, Saturday, May 31, 2008 | link | 7 comments |

Trinity UCC sermon turns ugly

Thursday, May 29, 2008

I guess this is a new spin on the "Sacred Conversation on Race" compliments of Trinity United Church of Christ. This is what happens when you let an insane Catholic priest like Rev. Michael Pfleger spew his venom in your church.

posted by UCCtruths, Thursday, May 29, 2008 | link | 8 comments |

Leave economics to the economists

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

There is a reason why theologians should stick to theology and leave economics to the economists. In her "On Faith" commentary today, outgoing Chicago Theological Seminary President Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite demonstrates why she should stick to subjects she actual understands.

In her rant this week, Thistlethwaite manages to mangle disconnected facts to suggest that there is a connection between lower interest rates, the war with Iraq and the mortgage lending crisis leading to the sin of greed. Thistlethwaite states:
Low interest rates are one big factor in the temptation to greed found among mortgage lenders. Alan Greenspan, when he was Federal Reserve Chairman, was not being evil in continuing to lower interest rates; he wanted to keep the economy growing even though the country was pursuing a war and paying for that war on credit. Perhaps his political bosses told him, “Keep the economy humming.” Who knows? All we know is that, for example, in 2001, we saw news stories that stated, “In an effort to battle U.S. market conditions this year, Greenspan has been forced to roll up his sleeves and unleash five 0.5 percentage cuts in the Federal funds rate. This drop from 6.5% to 4% is unheard of and the current rate is at its lowest level in seven years!” In the beginning, these rate cuts were necessary to help the market in the post 9/11 recovery. The thing that opened the door for the predatory lenders was keeping the rate so low for such a long time and lack of oversight.

‘Hurray!’ said the banks. 'Let’s make money off of these low interest rates and package lots of attractive mortgages.' But the banks added to the conditions that made for the sin of greed, because they didn’t just sell people on the idea of low fixed interest rates, they tempted home buyers with the idea they could get even lower interest rates by choosing variable rate mortgages and even interest-only mortgages.

Meanwhile, there were these two wars still going on and the wars were being paid for on credit. This disastrous run-up in debt, in turn, lowered the value of the U.S. dollar abroad. The falling dollar meant that the U.S. had to pay for its oil abroad with ever more devalued currency. At the beginning of the Iraq war, oil was selling for $25.00 a barrel, but remember those were dollars worth far more than the dollar is worth today.
Interest rates are at the root of the problem, but not for the reason she states.

The value of currency is most closely related to the interest that can be generated from holding that currency. When the U.S. lowered interest rates after 9/11, most other central banks around the world did not lower their rates. The euro, which has maintained higher interest rates, has been more attractive to other central banks. Our trade deficit (imports exceeding exports) also contributes greatly to the slide of the value of the dollar. Oil prices have increased (as the price of all imported goods have increased) as the value of the dollar decreased. The silver lining is that with the lower dollar, our exports should increase.

Besides being completely wrong about the causes of the decline of the dollar, Thistlethwaite is also wrong to associate the value of the dollar with the debt from the war. To understand this, you need to understand what the cost of the war is in relationship to GDP. The total current defense spending today represents about 4% of GDP. In 1980, defense spending as a percentage of GDP was 4.9 percent under President Carter and in 1968 was 9.5 percent under President Johnson. There is no historical relationship at all between defense spending and the value of the dollar and Thistlethwaite's claim that there is... well frankly... it's a lie.

The bigger picture here is just how unintelligently she tries to connect low interest rates to the temptation to sin through greed. The sin of greed has always been there regardless of interest rates. Right now we point to mortgage brokers putting together loan packages for borrowers they knew couldn't afford the loans. Twenty years ago, the Savings and Loan crisis was fueled in part by speculative loans made because interest rates were high. This is not exactly rocket science but it's clearly beyond Thistlethwaite's intelligence.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, May 28, 2008 | link | 7 comments |

UCCtruths Message Board in top 2% of Yahoo Groups

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The UCCtruths Message Board recieved the distinction of being a "Power Users Group" meaning that it now ranks in the top 2% of Yahoo groups based on the number of members and message posted. There are currently 533 members on the message board and it just crossed the 25,000 messages posted mark on May 13th.

So what does this disinction get you? 50% off of Yahoo hosting and free 24x7 chat support... neither of which I use.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, May 27, 2008 | link | 0 comments |

Pulpit Politics

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

I'm still amazed by the IRS vindication of the United Church of Christ but I'm even more amazed that the IRS also vindicated Southern Baptist minister Wiley Drake who blatantly endorsed Mike Huckabee on church letterhead.

The offenses identified by the UCC complaint to the IRS are arguably peripheral next to the complaint against Drake, but that doesn't mean that the UCC didn't walk into a gray area by identifying Obama as a Presidential candidate in promoting his General Synod speech on the UCC web site - an action expressly prohibited by IRS guidelines. In the grand spectrum of all church-state offenses that are possible, it was probably minor.

The only logical conclusion I can make is that the IRS is giving churches great latitude in their freedom of speech before threatening their tax-exempt status. That may be the more prudent approach. As long as they are consistent, I can live with it although I think it should be clearly reflected in their guidelines.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, May 21, 2008 | link | 7 comments |

UCC vindicated by IRS

The IRS has sent a letter to the national offices indicating that the United Church of Christ did not violate rules against political intervention when Barack Obama spoke at the UCC's General Synod last year. According to UC News:
The Internal Revenue Service has concluded that the UCC did not violate tax laws when U.S. Sen. Barack Obama addressed the denomination's 50th anniversary General Synod in Hartford, Conn., in June 2007.
In August of last year, UCCtruths received a copy of the complaint filed with the IRS. In the complaint, direct references were made to campaign statements made by Obama during the speech, references to his candidacy on the UCC web site and pictures copied from the UCCtruths web site that showed Obama campaign workers at the entrance to the convention facilities.

The response from the IRS is precedent setting in that it seems to change their existing rules that prohibit churches from referencing an invited speaker as a candidate and that the speaker make no campaign references. From current IRS guidelines:
• The individual speaks only in a non-candidate capacity;
• Neither the individual nor any representative of the organization makes any mention of his or her candidacy or the election;
• No campaign activity occurs in connection with the candidate’s attendance; and
• The organization maintains a nonpartisan atmosphere on the premises or at the event where the candidate is present.

In addition, the organization should clearly indicate the capacity in which the candidate is appearing and should not mention the individual’s political candidacy or the upcoming election in the communications announcing the candidate’s attendance at the event.
Clearly from the IRS response to the UCC, these guidelines are not firm and it opens up the spectrum of accepted political activity that churches may participate in and still be compliant with the IRS.
posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, May 21, 2008 | link | 1 comments |

A healthy discussion on race

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Not all "conversations on race" this past Sunday reflected the ugly race baiting exhibited by UCC President John Thomas. Some, in fact, were simply beautiful. From the Reading Eagle:
The Rev. Debra Hepburn, who is black and from the Pentecostal tradition, was asked by the church’s pastor to engage the congregants in what the UCC calls a “sacred conversation” about race.

In the impassioned and powerful cadences associated with black spiritual traditions, Hepburn spoke to the small, white congregation at the Brecknock Township church about the meaning of sacred conversation.

She was accompanied by Sister Bernice Greene, a gospel recording artist from Bethlehem who performed two solos in a traditional style.

“The sacred conversation is not between you and me, but between us and the divine one,” said Hepburn, who is ecumenical director for the Lehigh County Conference of Churches.

She spoke of how the sacred conversation should inform conversations between people who have differences.

Hepburn told a story about dealing with severe racial intimidation aimed at her 16-year-old son, who is a student at Liberty High School in Bethlehem.

“My husband and I went to God and prayed as to how we could touch the lives of the parents whose son had perpetrated horrible things against our child,” she said.

The couple opted to meet with the perpetrator’s family, Hepburn said, using independent mediation.

“We met last Sunday for three hours, and we talked about hard journeys from both ways,” she said. “And we left the room with peace and resolutions that everyone could live with.”

Hepburn urged her listeners to be what God intended them to be.

“Our natural course is to be loving,” she said.
I was emailed this article from someone who attended the sermon and called it sincere and moving. We are fortunate as a denomination that our local churches can see past the failings and agendas of the national office to do some really great work. My church didn't participate in the discussion on race this past week, but if it had, I would hope it would have been as good as the one started by Alleghenyville United Church of Christ.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, May 20, 2008 | link | 2 comments |

UCC President John Thomas stoops to race baiting

Monday, May 19, 2008

Just when you think United Church of Christ President and General Minister John Thomas couldn't do more damage to the denomination and to his own reputation, he finds new ways to disappoint. From his sermon yesterday in response to his own call for a conversation on race:
The ugliness we watched on television as media manipulators tried to scare people from voting for a black candidate by presenting a deliberately frightening caricature of his black pastor reminds us how ugly the conversation on race can be.
This is clearly and plainly race baiting... and it's contemptible.

It was one thing for Thomas to argue that Jeremiah Wright's sermons needed "context" to be properly interpreted. It's an entirely different thing to then claim that the media interest in Wright's sermons stemmed from an evil plot to scare people away from voting for Obama. History is full of clergy who have said stupid things and, regardless of their color, the media has a field day with them. Whether it's Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell or Louis Farrakhan, the media never misses a beat to show stupid comments from clergy.

Thomas' comments weren't just stupid because they were wrong, they were stupid because they undermined the purpose of the sermon which was supposed to foster a "sacred conversation on race". Like some have speculated about Wright, I wonder if Thomas isn't adding fuel to the fire to undermine Obama's campaign. This supposed "sacred conversation on race" only succeeded in putting Wright's inflammatory comments back into the spotlight just as it was starting to die down. Is this any way to start a conversation on race?

I guess I'm also dumbfounded that anyone, especially the leader of a denomination struggling for credibility, would make such an unsubstantiated claim without any supporting information or logic that might give credence to the statement. How does he read that and feel good about it?
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, May 19, 2008 | link | 7 comments |

The media gets it - the "sacred conversation on race" is about Jeremiah Wright

Shockingly, the United Church of Christ's spin machine could not shape the message for newspapers reporting on the "Sacred Conversation on Race" called for by our denominational leaders. While media coverage of the "sacred" conversation was sparse, the ones that did cover it all mentioned Jeremiah Wright as the catalyst:
  • From the headline in Bangor Daily News: "Rev. Wright debate brings racism issue to UCC sermons".
  • From The Philadelphia Inquirer: "Wilson was invited to deliver the Sunday sermon as part of a "sacred conversation on race" declared by national United Church of Christ leaders after the stormy reaction to the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's denunciation of the U.S. government."
  • From Greenwich Time: "The United Church of Christ asked pastors across the country to hold "sacred conversations" on race yesterday. The call, according to the organization's Web site, came in light of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago whose racially charged comments has been closely linked to the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama."
  • From the Kennebec Journal: "The national office of the United Church of Christ, which has 5,700 affiliates across the country, called for all churches to talk about race Sunday in part because of comments made by Chicago pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, a former UCC pastor.
  • From the Chicago Tribune: "They joined hundreds of United Church of Christ congregations across the country in the dialogue on race, sparked last month by the controversial statements of Sen. Barack Obama's longtime pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. of Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's South Side."
The UCC shell game for promoting the "sacred" conversation seemed to be designed to provide cover for Wright and the denomination without actually admitting it. It's refreshing that the media actually saw through this and put the "sacred" conversation in it's proper context.

The Philadelphia Inquirer article actually went further and deeper on the Wright connection to the "sacred" conversation:
Wilson, pastor of Healing Stream United Church of Christ in Kensington, staunchly defended Wright in a May 6 Philadelphia Daily News column, and he offered a similar justification with the Wayne congregation during coffee hour yesterday.

He asserted that, like Wright, some African Americans believe the U.S. government is responsible for instigating the AIDS epidemic, even though there is no evidence to support that view. He said many blacks feel that way because of the nation's history of slavery and oppression of minorities.

"For 400 years, we were slaves in this country, we were ripped from our homeland," Wilson said. "So as black people we have lived in situations where you might well say, 'Well, that never happened.'

"Do I believe that the U.S. government put AIDS in our communities? I don't know," Wilson went on. "I wish that I could say no, but I know the government has done other things in the past."

Some members of the congregation gently pushed back.

Phil Clark, a scientist who works in the pharmaceutical industry, said that there was no evidence that the government had anything to do with starting the AIDS epidemic and that it did not have the technology at the onset of AIDS to create the virus.
In the end, I don't think our denomination's call for a "sacred" conversation will have much of an impact at all. If this were a genuine effort at discussion, which I think is needed and is healthy for our nearly all white denomination, this would have already been a part of our social infrastructure and not something spurred by the media frenzy around Jeremiah Wright. During John Thomas' tenure as UCC President and General Minister, the national office of the UCC has largely been out of touch with the concerns and needs of the local church and their handling of the Jeremiah Wright situation amplified the disconnection even more.

While the Wright controversy alone won't hurt the denomination, as Barack Obama gains a higher profile with his inevitable nomination for President, the UCC will find itself under greater scrutiny and for many in the UCC it will be an eye opening experience.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, May 19, 2008 | link | 10 comments |

The double standard over Obama's use of religion

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Mollie over at GetReligion.org sees the double standard on mixing religion and politics in advertising:
Do you remember back in December when all hell broke loose because Mike Huckabee put out a television ad wishing Iowans “Merry Christmas” while seated in front of a bookcase that looked like a white cross? There were dozens of broadcast reports and newspaper stories analyzing whether it was proper to evoke a cross in a political ad. Well, apparently crosses are fine in political ads now. And you don’t even have to use the subliminal ones. Barack Obama has been using fliers in southern states that really pound home his Christian bonafides, touting himself as a “committed Christian” who has been “called to Christ.” Kentucky has a primary on Tuesday and the fliers have been sent out far and wide to evangelical voters.
More than a few folks on the message board were a little perplexed about why I was making an issue out of Obama's brochure and I think Mollie sums it up pretty well. I would add that the hypocrites at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State pounced on Huckabee's Christmas television advertising last year:
Huckabee, by contrast, has been specific, said Barry Lynn, executive director of the advocacy group Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "Jesus and Mike Huckabee are both products being sold by this commercial. And I don't see how anyone could view it otherwise," Lynn said.
As expected, Lynn is silent about Obama's brochure.
posted by UCCtruths, Saturday, May 17, 2008 | link | 0 comments |

Sounding Off on Trumpet Magazine

Thursday, May 15, 2008

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

It may not be the way the United Church of Christ wants a sacred conversation on race, but Stanley Kurtz rummaged through several issues of Rev. Jeremiah Wright's Trumpet magazine to better comprehend Wright's world view:
I obtained the 2006 run of Trumpet, from the first nationally distributed issue in March to the November/December double issue. To read it is to come away impressed by Wright's thoroughgoing political radicalism. There are plenty of arresting sound bites, of course, but the larger context is more illuminating-- and more disturbing-- than any single shock-quotation. Trumpet provides a rounded picture of Wright's views, and what it shows unmistakably is that the now-infamous YouTube snippets from Wright's sermons are authentic reflections of his core political and theological beliefs. It leaves no doubt that his religion is political, his attitude toward America is bitterly hostile, and he has fundamental problems with capitalism, white people, and "assimilationist" blacks. Even some of Wright's famed "good works," and his moving "Audacity to Hope" sermon, are placed in a disturbing new light by a reading of Trumpet.
After you finish reading Kurtz's article, you get the sense that for Rev. Wright, everything is black and white-- an "us" verses "them" race mentality where liberation for blacks is available only through religiously baptized left-wing politics.

Kurtz goes on to ask:
Is Wright an anti-white racist? He would certainly deny it... Wright, however, rejects the notion that "black racism" is even possible. That is why he prefers the term "white supremacy" to "racism." "Racism," says Wright, is a "slippery" and "nebulous" term, precisely because it seems potentially applicable to blacks and whites alike. The term "white supremacy" solves this problem, and Wright deploys it at every opportunity.
While Kurtz doesn't buy Barack Obama's plea of ignorance about Rev. Wright's extreme political views, Kurtz's review confirms what Obama said about his now famous pastor in his Pennsylvania race speech:
The profound mistake of Reverend Wright’s [is]... that he spoke as if our society was static; as if no progress has been made; as if this country... is still irrevocably bound to a tragic past.
Since Wright is the only reason the UCC is calling for a "sacred conversation" this Sunday, it's appropriate we ask questions not just of ourselves, but also about him:

Does Wright yearn for true reconciliation between the races? Or, the defeat of one race and triumph of another? What, if any, progress does he see in America's race relations?

That's what I'll be asking Sunday.
posted by Living the Biblios, Thursday, May 15, 2008 | link | 6 comments |

Church and State: Obama to "do the Lord's work"

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Any bets that the hypocrites over at the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State will, again, have nothing to say about this?

posted by UCCtruths, Wednesday, May 14, 2008 | link | 10 comments |

A Sacred Farce on Race

Monday, May 12, 2008

The "sacred conversation on race" called by our denominational leaders is a farce because it only came about to blunt the criticism we received because of Jeremiah Wright's comments. No honest person can claim that this conversation would have happened otherwise. I'm glad that at least one minister with standing in the United Church of Christ recognizes the disingenuous nature of this "sacred conversation on race" albeit for different reasons. From Rev. Dennis Sanders:
The United Church of Christ, the denomination that Wright is ordained in, has decided to make next Sunday, May 18, a day to have a "sacred conversation on race." On the surface it seems to make sense; let's talk about this issue that has had such a prominent role in American history. I've heard others talk about having a conversation about race and again, it sounds good. But in the end, this conversation ends up not really being a conversation at all. In some ways, it seems more like a play, where persons of color and whites have roles to play, where the script has already been written well in advance.

The pastoral letter on racism from the leaders of the United Church of Christ is interesting, in that it paints an extremely dark view of race relations in the United States circa 2008. This is a sample:
The Pastoral Letter on Racism documented what it called “a sobering truth” – namely, that despite the meaningful progress achieved during the civil rights era, “quality of life for the majority of racial and ethnic people is worse today in many ways than it was during the 1960s.” The letter went on to name a number of disturbing trends that signaled growing racial intolerance and hostility: increasing inequities between the rich and the poor; charges of “reverse racism”and attacks on affirmative action; a resurgence of racially motivated hate crimes and; fear of “foreigners” surfacing in movements such as “English Only.” Seventeen years later, in 2008, we might wish to believe that we have made significant progress in addressing and reversing those alarming trends. Lamentably, that claim cannot be substantiated.

We have witnessed a systematic assault on affirmative action policies at the state and national level. In the wake of the “war on terror,” our Arab American and Muslim brothers and sisters contend daily with discrimination, racial profiling,and misunderstanding about the true nature of Islam. As unemployment rates soar and jobs are outsourced overseas, frustration and rage are unleashed upon the most vulnerable within our borders – immigrants and those who some call “illegal aliens.” After more than two years, thousands of dispossessed residents of New Orleans are still in diaspora, awaiting our government’s promise to help rebuild their homes and neighborhoods. The divide between rich and poor is greater than at any time since the Great Depression. Despite the rise of a Black middle class over the past 40 years, the average net worth of White families in 2008 remains 10 times greater than the average net worth of Black families. Racial segregation in our public schools has intensified and has now been condoned by the United States Supreme Court.
There is a lot here to agree with in some case and a lot to disagree. On the belief that the quality of life for persons of color is worse than it was in the 60s, I have to respectfully disagree. I've said this before, but back in the 50s, my father could not get a hotel room or eat in a restaurant when he made trips to his native Louisiana from Michigan. Black people were getting killed by whites and all-white juries let them get away with it. Is life a racial utopia? No. We still have problems. We still have cops shooting unarmed blacks and too many who think hanging a noose is funny. But we are not the America of the 50s and 60s where whites were trying hard to keep blacks down.

The letter also seems to ignore the most important change of the last 40 years: a political party is on the verge of nominating a black man for President and all indications point to this same black man becoming the 44th President of the United States. A nation that once treated its African immigrants as property might very well elect someone of African heritage.

Barak Obama's historic run for the presidency can't by itself atone for America's racist past, but it is important and can show that we have come a long way. To not hold this up is puzzling.

But maybe what is most puzzling about this letter is that this isn't as much a conversation as a monologue. It lists a litany of problems and says white people don't care and that life is hard for persons of color. I'm not saying any of this is a falsehood, but there isn't much room in this letter for a conversation on race. It has one view and one view only.
Indeed it has only one view because this is not an authentic call for a conversation on race. I talk to a number of different ministers all over the political and theological spectrum of the UCC and I don't get the sense that there is any enthusiasm at all for this "conversation". This Sunday we will be a denomination of mostly white people pretending to have a conversation on race and we'll pat ourselves on the back for this phony gesture of social justice.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, May 12, 2008 | link | 10 comments |

U.S. News and World Report covers the United Church of Christ

Saturday, May 10, 2008

U.S. News and World Report had an interesting conclusion in it's article on the United Church of Christ:

Whether an unabashedly progressive church can become a growing part of the American religious landscape is still an open question. "They may become the refuge for liberals from all sorts of denominations, " says University of California-San Diego sociologist John Evans, though he sees no evidence that the UCC's liberal branding campaign has worked. In the meantime, just as leaders of evangelical churches tend to be more politically conservative than most people in their pews, so the leaders of the UCC will probably continue to be to the left of most of their flocks. And that may only contribute to the view, particularly among many younger Christians who are leaving both mainline and evangelical churches, that overly ideological leadership is one of the weaknesses of contemporary institutional Christianity.

posted by UCCtruths, Saturday, May 10, 2008 | link | 0 comments |

UCC gets ripped

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

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

By Stephan Thernstrom and Abigail Thernstrom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephan Thernstrom is Winthrop Professor History, Harvard University. Abigail Thernstrom is a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and the vice-chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, May 06, 2008 | link | 29 comments |

Presbyterians admit and confront "anti-Jewish" sentiments

Monday, May 05, 2008

In a stunning article on the PCUSA web site, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) is acknowledging anti-Jewish sentiment within it's ranks:
We Presbyterians can celebrate the extent to which we have been able to rid our teaching, preaching and actions of such prejudice. We take these principles and commitments seriously and we believe that the official policies and statements of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) live up to this standard.

However, we are aware and do confess that anti-Jewish attitudes can be found among us. Our conversations with Jews in the last several years have renewed our concern to guard against anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish motifs and stereotypes, particularly as these find expression in speech and writing about Israel, the Palestinian people, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and steps toward peace. Once again, many Presbyterians have become aware that strains of an old anti-Jewish tradition are present in the way we ourselves sometimes speak and in the rhetoric and ideas of some writers that we may read regarding these matters.

Examples of such an anti-Jewish theology can unfortunately be found in connection with PC(USA) General Assembly overtures, such as the overture on Confronting Christian Zionism, adopted by the 216th General Assembly in 2004. Some of the authors cited in the rationale of that overture make use in their writings of arguments suggesting or declaring that the Jewish people are no longer in covenant with God, or make statements that echo the medieval Christian claim that the Jews are to blame for the crucifixion of Christ. The rationale and background sources cited in any overture are not General Assembly policy, but Presbyterians need to read such materials with awareness of these themes of classic anti-Jewish teaching.

When our analysis or critique of the Israeli-Palestinian situation employs language or draws on sources that have anti-Jewish overtones, or clearly makes use of classic Christian anti-Jewish ideas, we cloud complicated issues with the rhetoric of ignorance or subliminal attitudes, or the language of hate, and undermine our advocacy for peace and justice. Critical questions such as ending the occupation of Palestinian territory by Israel or the future of Jerusalem are complex and difficult. It does not help to import stereotypes, anti-Jewish motifs or classic ideas of Christian anti-Jewish theology into our discussions.

Similarly, in a few materials that have been circulated by Presbyterians, one finds characterizations of Zionism that distort that movement. They do not accurately present the history of the Zionist movement or acquaint readers with its internal debates and ethical concerns. Instead, Zionism is often presented as a monolithic force or merely as an extension of European colonialism and result of anti-Semitism, and nothing else. In such materials, the problems and suffering of the Palestinians are attributed solely — and inaccurately — to Zionism alone. The origins, development and practices of Zionism and its relationship to the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian situation are much more complex than such a picture presents.
This is certainly wonderful and welcome news and it should help foster better interfaith relations between Presbyterians and Jews. This is also significant because the Presbyterians were largely responsible for starting the anti-Israel divestment movement that spread across the mainline denominations a few years ago. Victor Makari of PC(USA) championed divestment as did his son, Peter Makari, for the United Church of Christ. You will recall that at the 2005 General Synod, UCC President John Thomas and Peter Makari modified a resolution to include divestment language over the objection the committee at General Synod that specifically removed any reference to the controversial action. Since 2005, Thomas has been roundly criticized by every major jewish group in the United States.
posted by UCCtruths, Monday, May 05, 2008 | link | 7 comments |

Why Rev. Wright should be the next UCC President

Friday, May 02, 2008

From the quantity of email I have received this week, it's obvious that most people think I am either joking or exploiting the Rev. Wright controversy by suggesting that he should be the UCC's next President. Neither is true and I genuinely want Rev. Wright to be the next President of the UCC. Part of the reason some folks might be suspicious of my support is the cavalier way I first suggested Rev. Wright by taking jabs at our current leadership. I understand the confusion, but let me be very clear - Rev. Wright should be the next President of the UCC because:
  1. Rev. Wright knows more about church growth than anyone else in the denomination right now and he's proved it at Trinity UCC. First and foremost, our denomination needs a leader focused on church growth.

  2. Rev. Wright is probably second to Barack Obama as being the most visable person in the UCC to the public. While he is considered controversial, he makes the UCC visable and relevent. It also doesn't hurt that he can get attention for the denomination in a way that our current leadership has failed to do.

  3. We are a church full of pew sitters who are not engaged or aware of what our denomination does. Yes we have a sizable group of folks who are active, but they represent only a small percentage of our denomination. For the most part we go to church on Sunday, get the feel good message and go home to our regular lives often forgeting the lessons of the sermons (and I'm as guilty as anyone of that). Rev. Wright's pressence as the leader of our church would be a welcome shock to our rather sedate denomination and it is our best chance to save our denomination that is slowly dying.
I have been extremely critical of Rev. Wright's sermons and even if he becomes President of our denomination, I will still be critical of him or anyone else who gets elected. This criticism, however, doesn't diminish what he can bring to the denomination as a whole and the value that he would bring to us as President.
posted by UCCtruths, Friday, May 02, 2008 | link | 7 comments |

Et tu, Brute? Thomas distances UCC from Wright

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Just got this in a broadcast email from United Church of Christ President, John Thomas:
While there is high regard for Rev. Wright's ministry and leadership at Trinity UCC in Chicago during the past thirty-six years, and for his prophetic, scriptural preaching, many of us today are troubled by some of his controversial comments and the substance and manner in which they have been communicated, both by him and as characterized by the media.

Following Rev. Wright's insightful interview with Bill Moyers on Friday, many in the UCC hopefully anticipated that the prophetic voice of the church would be more clearly understood by the public and affirmed. But, unfortunately, following widespread critique of his handling of questions and answers at the National Press Club, that deep hope has turned now to unsettling despair for many. There is a collective and abiding sadness and anger in the present moment, regardless of theological or political persuasion.
I guess I shouldnt be surprised, but I am.
posted by UCCtruths, Thursday, May 01, 2008 | link | 9 comments |

I'm serious - Jeremiah Wright for UCC President

Some people think I'm kidding about supporting Jeremiah Wright for United Church of Christ President and General Minister - I'm not. Maybe the way I posted on it while taking jabs at our current leadership made it look less than serious, but I am completely serious.

I receieved a gracious email last night from Lynne Simcox acknowledging receipt of my suggestion and that it would be forwarded to the search committee. I would encourage others to send respectful emails to Lynne suggesting Wright as well by emailing GMPSEARCH@aol.com.

I will also start adding banners and other material to this site to promote Wright - feel free to use the graphics as needed to promote Jeremiah Wright for UCC President and General Minister.
posted by UCCtruths, Thursday, May 01, 2008 | link | 6 comments |