What I want to do today, however, is tell Barack Obama not to disown or distance himself from Reverand Jeremiah Wright.
Wright is an easy target for the media feeding frenzy, because he has adapted the black liberation theology primarily developed by James Cone and Dwight Hopkins into an evangelical outreach ministry focusing on African-Americans. This is a legitimate theological school of thought that is taken seriously around the world, especially with feminist/womanist and asian/latino interpreters and theologians.
In fact, if you look at the "interview" of Wright on Hannity and Colmes, you'll note that while being shouted down he attempts to get the academic credentials of his movement into the conversation:
WRIGHT: If you're not going to talk about theology in context, if you're not going to talk about liberation theology that came out of the ‘60s, (INAUDIBLE) black liberation theology, that started with Jim Cone in 1968, and the writings of Cone, and the writings of Dwight Hopkins, and the writings of womanist theologians, and Asian theologians, and Hispanic theologians...
So, Point Number One: you may agree or disagree with the Reverend Wright, but he is not a kook. He is in fact well grounded in a liberal-activist form of liberation theology that is studied by, and advanced by, serious religious scholars and clerics around the world.
What tends to show up in the media, however, are Reverend Wright's rants about American foreign policy and American social inequities at home, rants that are presented in language that is just as much a part of the Black Evangelical tradition as are rants about gays, rants about Darwinism, and rants about Islam are integral to the religious viewpoint of all those conservative Christian evangelicals that Mike Huckabee spent the last year courting, and whose equally outrageous and non-mainstream socio-political views have been accepted and courted by both conservative Republicans and Democrats for decades.
But, you know what? I don't care about his rants. Because if you take the time to take a look at what Reverend Wright and his church actually do, you'll discover the reasons why Barack and Michelle Obama have been attending in that congregation for twenty years, and why they feel such a sense of loyalty to it. The list of ministries at the Trinity United Church of Christ is a long one, and I'm going to reprint it all:
ACTIVE SENIORS AND FRIENDS - are members and friends who are 55 years of age and older. They meet regularly for Bible study and fellowship. They participate in quarterly outings for inspiration and recreation, and provide ongoing care and keeping of other seniors.
ADOPT-A-STUDENT MINISTRY - is focused on trying to retain college students who have gone away from home and are studying at universities and colleges out of the city and state. Importantly, this ministry assures our college students that they: 1) belong to God, and 2) have a church home that cares about them.
AFRICA MINISTRY - promotes, educates and advocates issues concerning Africans in Africa and the Diaspora. Opportunities shall be provided for education, travel, fellowship, economic development, missionary work, financial support, and health education.
ATHLETES FOR CHRIST - welcomes young men and women to build their physical strengths through participation in Christian sport activities.
CAN-CER-VIVE - supports members and friends who are survivors, and/or are presently overcoming and/or encountering the many faces of cancer. The ministry plans and conducts seminars/workshops designed to explore and inform its members about matters of diet, grooming, spiritual support, care-giving/receiving and recreational activities.
CAREER DEVELOPMENT - provides information, training and job fairs to enable unemployed and underemployed members to compete and upgrade their employability for jobs with employers seeking "good" employees.
CARIBBEAN CONNECTION - This ministry is our Afrocentric congregation's attempt to educate our North American members about the many aspects of the Caribbean culture. These aspects include the cuisine, the peoples, the countries, the customs, and the religion of our Lord as practiced in the various Caribbean places.
CHURCH IN SOCIETY - (CIS) - continually seeks ways and opportunities to educate, inform and empower the congregation and community to understand, identify and to be effective advocates for social justice policies that better our lives and our world.
CHURCH SCHOOL - meets Saturday mornings and provides Bible instructions in classes for pre-school through adults.
COMMITTEE FOR CHURCH IN SOCIETY (CIS) - works to establish Christian principles in the economic, social and political aspects of our church and community life.
COUNSELING MINISTRY -Masters Degree Holders in counseling or related professions, enable Church members to receive private, Christian counseling in matters of individual, family, group and/or grief crises.
DANCE MINISTRY - includes children, youth, men and women who are taught the principles of modern dance, ballet, and interpretive dance. They are also taught the African roots of dance in worship and the biblical basis for praising God with dance!
Children's Dance - 7-9 years old
Pre Teen Dance - 10-12 years old
High School Dance - 13-18 years old
Adult Dance - Adult Men & Women
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE ADVOCACY/CARE MINISTRY - provides Christian support, love and comfort to persons involved in emotional and physically abusive relationships, with husbands/wives, boyfriends/girlfriends or family members.
DRAMA MINISTRY - nurtures the innate abilities of expression present in all of our children and youth as they learn to communicate on the stage to the world.
DRILL TEAM - promotes an understanding of scripture, encourages academic excellence, heightens cultural awareness, fosters self-discipline and develops self-esteem.
Youth Drill Team - 13-18 years old
Women's Drill Team - adult women
Men's Drill Team - adult men
DRUG & ALCOHOL RECOVERY MINISTRY - meets each week with recovering members, their families and friends. Members Member's are encouraged to participate in Christian support groups which acknowledge that only "if the Son (of God) shall set you free, you shall be free, indeed."
EMMAUS ROAD MINISTRY - provides companions, prayer partners, helpers and friends for grieving persons, months after the passing of a loved one. Ongoing contact with the family is maintained.
FINE ARTS & LITERARY GUILD - informs the church family about artistic and cultural events focusing on African and African American heritage.
FOOD SHARE MINISTRY - provides fresh and canned food baskets on a monthly basis for the Hungry, the Homeless, and the Less Fortunate.
GIRL SCOUTS - involve young girls 9 - 17 years of age in the experience of scouting within our Afrocentric Christian environment.
GREETERS MINISTRY - welcome visitors and members to worship and special services.
HEALING MINISTRY - offers the laying on of hands to all who request prayer for healing of spirit, soul or body.
HEALTH ADVISORY MINISTRY [HAB] - is dedicated to the prevention and treatment of physical and mental illnesses. HAB strives to inform and educate our members and community about "cutting edge" health issues.
HIGH SCHOOL COUNSELING - supports high school students to enhance their educational progress.
HIV/AIDS MINISTRY - offers comfort through support, education, and training for individuals, families and friends impacted by HIV and AIDS. Training Required.
HOSPITALITY MINISTRY - hosts family repasts, in-house ministry receptions and rolls out the "red carpet", for visitors gathered within our gates.
HOUSING MINISTRY - sponsors seminars to inform the church and community families about tax sales, "how to..." avoid foreclosure; purchase HUD homes; finance mortgages; etc.
INTERNAL SECURITY MINISTRY - provide security for the pastoral staff, members and V.I.P.'s. Additionally, the ministry assists ministries with securing funds when necessary and when offerings are received. Training Required.
INTONJANE - Swahili for "Coming into Womanhood" is a formal Rites of Passage program for young women, ages 8-18 years old. The program involves each participant in inspiring Christian, cultural and social awareness exercises.
ISUTHU - Swahili for "Coming into Manhood" is a formal Rites of Passage program for young men, ages 8-18 years old. The program involves each participant in inspiring Christian, cultural and social awareness exercises.
INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY MINISTRY - Information Technology Ministry (IT Ministry) provides Information and Technology related services to the church community.
KUJICHAGULIA - The 2nd principle of the Nguzo Saba, meaning "Self-Determination;" provides resources, networking and hands-on assistance to persons who are physically, mentally, and/or emotionally challenged.
LEGAL COUNSELING - The Legal Counseling Ministry nurtures the spiritual growth and development of Christian attorneys and other legal professionals, and provides legal assistance to the Trinity community.
MARRIED COUPLES - provide Christian context and insights for couples who are committed to building and maintaining Christian homes.
MATH TUTORIAL - involves elementary age youth in the rigorous discipline needed to increase their understanding of mathematical concepts.
MEDIA MINISTRY - provides services related to the audio, visual, print, photography and telecommunications. Subcommittees included in this ministry are:
Tape Sales & Duplication
Video Recording & Lights
MEN'S CELL GROUPS - provides a "safe place" for our brothers to "be themselves", sharing their joys and fears, defeats and victories, breaking down the age-old stereotype that says, "Men can't/don't pray."
MEN'S FELLOWSHIP - follow the traditional model of men in the church who are concerned about healthy and wholesome living with Christ at the center of their pilgrimage.
MILLION FOR THE MASTER - implements programs and services that promote the spiritual, economic, social and political viability of the African American community, focusing on bringing the church into the community and bringing the community into the church.
MINISTRY SERVICES - the mission of the Ministry Services Department is to serve the congregation, staff and Pastor in a responsive manner. To create partnerships between ministries and staff that fulfills the overall mission of the Pastor, Executive Minister and Church.
MUSIC MINISTRIES - God has richly blessed us to have a staff of professionally trained, Christian musicians who devotedly teach choir members to make an offering of their voices. Trinity's Music Department is made up of six choirs:
Imani Ya Watume - Swahili meaning "Messengers of Faith" (high school choir)
Little Warriors for Christ - age six years old through 8th grade.
Men's Chorus - over 90 participants (adult men)
Sanctuary Choir - over 200 participants (adult men and adult women)
Women's Chorus - over 200 participants (adult women)
Walaika - 3 to 5 year olds
NEWNESS OF LIFE -encourages new member candidates to begin their journey by providing informational and inspirational materials.
PRISON MINISTRY - visits the prisons every week of the year! To provide tutorial support and to engage the inmates in rap sessions and training programs.
PROJECT JEREMIAH - provides Christian role models and mentors for the boys and girls in elementary schools each week.
READING TUTORIAL - provides educational experiences through tutoring in reading for elementary school students.
SIGN LANGUAGE INTERPRETERS MINISTRY - provides interpreting and transliterating service so that hearing impaired people can become full participants in the shared worship experience, Bible study and other activities.
SINGLES COMMUNITY MINISTRY - addresses unique issues facing single Christian adults.
Same Gender Loving
SISTERHOOD - provides an atmosphere where adult women build trust and explore ways to renew their strength for facing and resolving difficulties.
STEWARDSHIP COUNCIL - oversees the New Member orientation, administers the benevolence budget of the church, and assists with the financial needs of members who are enrolled in accredited seminaries.
Tangeni Adult Dance Ministry
The purpose of this ministry shall be to praise God in dance. In keeping with the church’s motto of being “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian,” we recognize that praise and worship in dance is both an expression of our heritage and an acknowledgement of our faith. Tangeni, as led by the spirit, shall provide fellowship and nurturing to its members through devotion during rehearsals, seminars, retreats and other related activities. Tangeni provides an opportunity for its members to enhance and use their spiritual gifts in order that we may minister unto the church universal and the community at large
TAPE VISITATION MINISTRY - enhances the overall ministry of sick visitation by personally carrying services of worship (audio cassettes) to members and extended family who are hospitalized, shut-in at home and/or extended care facilities.
TRINITY COMPUTER LEARNING CENTER
Trinity Computer Learning Center (TCLC) is a faith-based training facility for Trinity United Church of Christ and the community at large using computer technology to help cross the digital divide.
USHER BOARD - are the doorkeepers in the house of the Lord. Include are:
Youth - 8-12 years old
Young Adult - 13-18 years old
Adult - Men and Women
VILLAGE KEEPERS - ensure that members are safely escorted to and from their cars and in between the 532, 421 and 400 buildings. They provide a presence of protection and security.
WOMEN'S GUILD - is the volunteer corps for the residents of the two Trinity sponsored senior residences.
YOGA MINISTRY - helps participants maintain physical, mental and spiritual fitness.
YOUNG ADULT MINISTRY - nurtures Christians between the ages of 18 and 35 by addressing issues and concerns of young African American Christian adults; and provides a bridge over which teenagers transition into adulthood.
YOUNG WOMEN'S CHRISTIAN WALK - provides character development from a Christian perspective. Activities are supportive of and sensitive to developing cultural and spiritual awareness.
YOUTH CHURCH MINISTRY PARTNERS - are committed to teaching children ages 3-10 years of age about the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through the use of Christian Education materials, music, prayers, and crafts, your child can participate in an atmosphere that is designed to teach them all the elements of worship. 3-year olds must be potty-trained and not wearing pull-ups. Space is limited to a first-come first-served basis at the 7:30 am and 11:00 am services. The space is also limited by the capacity of the classrooms for your child's particular age group.
This is not the list of ministries you find in a church led by a political opportunist. This is the list of ministries you find in a church run by an individual who gets up everyday and works in his community. And if his personal anger at societal inequity spills over into his sermons from time to time--get this clear--I don't give a shit.
I have friends who are 9/11 "truthers" who do more charity and youth-group work than almost anyone else I know. They're nuts on that issue, but I'd trust my kids in their houses any day of the week. And since I'm not running for public office, if you criticize me for that I can tell you what Barack Obama can't: get screwed.
Point Number Two: The embarrassment here is not for Rev. Wright or Barack Obama. It is for the people on both sides of the aisle who seize on (a) a few disjointed seconds out of a man's life or (b) who insist that a political candidate should disown the people they truly respect just because parts of their personality and views are unpopular. It is patently obvious to anyone with enough brains to read the statements on American foreign policy that Barack Obama has been making since 2004 that he does not substantively agree with Wright regarding America's role in the world.
Not surprising: I love my own priest very dearly, but if I were to be bound by his political views I'd be an idiot.
Equally not surprising: the media loves making politicians repeatedly commit the self-emasculating gesture of disowning people because their opinions are not 100% mainstream maudlin moderate.
Let's get two more asinine and irrelevant issues out of the way: Louis Farrakhan and the Black Values System. You know what? Farrakhan is a kook and a racist and an anti-semite, but the Nation of Islam has always pursued its agenda through non-violent means, and is--in my book--no more and no less fringe than the anti-science Answers in Genesis and Ankerberg Theological Research Institute, or Dr. James Dobson's rampantly homophobic Focus on the Family. Funny, you don't ever see the media or other politicians calling on Republican candidates to disown them.
You know what I'd really like to see Senator Obama do? (This is my fantasy world.) I'd like to see him stand up and say, "Look, I've sat in this church for twenty years. If you think I sat there to soak up racism instead of the word of God, then don't vote for me. If you think I'm going to disown my own pastor just because his rhetoric goes over the cliff some days, you can kiss my ass!"
I have some hope. Obama has been consistently willing to hold unpopular positions--like his initial opposition to the war in Iraq and his open-handed approach to gay rights--regardless of whether or not they cost him short-term political gain.
Don't disown him, Senator. If he's wrong on an issue, say so, but keep reminding people that we're all wrong on something, and if we throw away all the flawed people with the potential to do good we might as well just turn out the lights, because America's done.
I know that won't happen, because Obama still has to appeal to the people who are so small-minded that they cannot imagine taking seriously anyone whose opinions are so different from their own. Ah well, I had a dream....