Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fact Check: Barack Obama's Church

There has been much controversy surrounding Barack Obama's affiliation with Trinity United Church in Chicago. Past comments by the out-going minister, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, which recently appeared on YouTube, have stirred rancor, leading Obama to publicly repudiate those comments and Wright to leave his symbolic post in Obama's campaign. I don't want to jump into the specifics of Wright's comments here at this time, but do want to offer some broader context on Obama's faith and his Church...

Before I do that, allow me to make a somewhat obvious point: Hopefully, the silver lining in all of this hoo-ha over Rev. Wright and Trinity United is that it should put to rest once and for all the bogus smear that continues to circulate on the internet and in gossip that Obama is a Muslim. Very clearly he is not and has never been Muslim. Ok? Got it? Good. Tell your friends...

Now that that is out of the way, let me go further and write the while Obama is not a Muslim, but a practicing Christian who believes that Jesus is the son of God, if he were Muslim that should be immaterial to his candidacy. Just like belief in Christianity should not be a prerequisite to elected office, in general, a belief in Islam should not rule any citizen out from running for office or serving his or her country in the political sphere.

Anyway, on to the main reason I am hitting this topic this morning...

First, here is Barack's statement yesterday about Wright's comments and his own faith journey:

Barack Obama, "On My Faith and My Church"

Second, here is a nice YouTube by a white minister who also attends and ministers at Trinity. It is significant that she is white considering the belief out there in the media-ether that Trinity is a black-only church. It is not:

Last, here is an EXCELLENT article on Trinity, situating the church within a broader context of race and faith stretching back to the civil rights/Black Power era. I've posted this one previously, but it is well worth another look:

Jason Byassee, "Africentric Church: A visit to Chicago's Trinity UCC"

So, take a little time to look a little deeper into Trinity's faith community. Do some exploring for yourself and I think you will find that on balance, this is a very positive, inclusive and spirit-filled church that situates social justice at the forefront of their theology.


  1. It's not about the pastor. If Obama's THEOLOGY is seen for what it is the election is lost. See:

  2. So, you call yourself "a christian prophet," huh? That says quite a bit, in and of itself...

    But the website you link to... that is a hilarious site. It is so utterly looney far-Right what else can you do but laugh out loud.

  3. Patrick

    I'm curious about how your read of history interacts with this from the linked article:

    In a recent essay, Wright summarized the early 1960s vision of integration: "Blacks should adopt a white lifestyle, a white way of worship, European values, and European American ways of viewing reality" (in Growing the African-American Church). One of the UCC's few black ministers in the 1960s actually said from the pulpit, "We will tolerate no 'niggerisms' in our services." This meant, Wright explains, that "no one could shout. . . . There would be no hand waving. There would be no displays of emotion."

    Wright dates the collapse of this vision to 1968. The assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. "was enough to make a negro turn black," he says, borrowing a phrase...

    I'm not interested (here) in the use/misuse of Wright in the campaign context or in the chronology of Black Power, but in the characterization of integrationist portion of the Civil Rights movement as one-way assimilation.

    My take is much more along the lines of asserting an intact and distinct African American identity as an American identity. Nothing is clean and there certainly was some "emulate the white middle class" stuff, but I don't see this as the main thrust.

    Your thoughts?


  4. TJ,

    Can't write a full essay now or here, as it appears you'd like (smile), but what I will write is that I'm not sure the factual correction you want to make is the most important point in terms of the politics of race. The fact of the matter is that many folks believed, or have come to believe, a variation of the narrative Wright and many others espouse (and that you decry as inaccurate). I think if we are sensitive to the history and legacy of racial inequality, particularly as white dudes, what we should be hearing here (and in the considerable "amens" Wright receives at his comments from the pews) and what we should be talking about in the election is the gulf of experience and perception of America by many people of color compared to many white folks. To me, it is a shame that the Ferraro stupidity and now the Wright controversy have not opened up real and compassionate discussions about where we are at with race and gender inequality in this historical moment, and how we might overcome the persistent inequalities in our society, which are real and yawning and getting more acute every day...

    This gets back to a critique I wrote about a few weeks back when Obama and Clinton debated in Cleveland. It was a tragic missed opportunity that the entire thing wasn't a discussion of the urban crisis. Why weren't the candidate asked what they would do to address a poverty rate of +30% in Cleveland. What they would to to address the devastation in Cleveland's historic black middle class as a result of predatory sub-prime mortgages. How would their plan address not only the massive health crisis among the poor and working class, but also the mental health struggles of so many people who struggle or are oppressed in our society. Or, specifically, what really can be done and should be done to revitalize cities like Cleveland where the industrial base is gone and likely never coming back. Or, how would they address the very real struggles of the white working class in a city like Cleveland, given the reactionary thrust of that demographic in the face of African American and gender equality. How would they address the soul-sapping rot and urban blight at the core of many urban neighborhoods? I could go on, but you catch my drift, I am sure.

    So, I guess what I am saying is that your question seems more academic than political to me. I am not saying it isn't important. As you know, my work life is oriented toward demystifying precisely these kinds of questions. But, again, it doesn't seem to me that it hits at the critical issues and important opportunity that the Wright story raises. Good or bad, right or wrong, many people feel precisely the way Wright does in his critique of America and in his mythic narrative of the last 40 or so years.

    Are you with me this far...?

    Perhaps you could clarify a bit why you think your query is key?

    If you want me to address the historical question, push me again on that front...

  5. Patrick

    I'm only with you so far.

    First, kudos on the missed opportunity in Cleveland thing...I saw one other post or essay with the same theme and two isn't enough.

    Where I leave is I don't think it is academic and I think what you write about the gulf and the Amens demonstrates that.

    I don't have time today either, but I think the contested legacies of struggles for justice (under whatever headings, integrationist, Civil Rights, Human Rights, Black Power) inform the perceptions of the present so much that questions like mine are almost as much about the present as they are about the past.

    In weird ways the King/integrationist movement gets misrepresented and misinterpreted by many across the spectrum. This is in part a product of the fact that King as an icon and "the Civil Rights Movement" have assumed a place in our culture where they are celebrated without examination. On one hand this allows anyone to have their version; as an empty symbol, or as real inspiration, or as a straw man, or..., or... (fill in the blanks). I also think it produces an opening to build on the mindless embrace and make it a mindful one.

    More later (probably), maybe by phone...

    By the way, I wasn’t "decrying," I was asking. Most of the movement discussions we've had in the last few years were more about Black Power stuff and I wanted your take and insights. Some of this is academic curiosity, some personal and some because I do think that there were a meaningful and important pluralist visions in the integrationist and Black Power movements that if better understood, given more examination, would help all of us negotiate this stuff together as we move forward.

    One last thought. An education blog I like has a post up about "What do we want from our schools?" ( There was nothing there about pluralism or diversity till I posted a comment. We do need to talk about this stuff and even very smart and good people often forget that.

    This is all over the place...Sunday evening and not fully concentrating.