President Obama, a Christian formed in the American Black church
Considered a man of faith, Barack Obama, the American President of the United States, is formed as a Christian. The Reverend Jeremiah Wright, pastor Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), Chicago, where the Obama’s worshiped for 20 years in Illinois is his Obama’s former minister. What kind of Christian was the Church? The church website proclaims: “We are a congregation which is unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian…”
Trinity United Church of Christ occupies a tan brick building on West 95th Street across railroad tracks from a public housing project, reports The Christian Science Monitor.
The President said about leaving, “Too much press harassment, people couldn’t’ worship in peace.” That wasn’t his reason for leaving, but a complaint on the news media attention. The reasons were politically controversial remarks by Trinity’s pastor, Reverend Wright.
Wright’s comments contradicted one of Obama’s central messages — that the candidate can transcend past divisions such as those involving race.
Regarding the Church, on Bill Moyers Journal, Wright says we are unashamedly Black. His philosophy embodies, “Use the culture of which we are a part.” He preaches there is hope, that life has meaning, and that God is still in control. “We can change. We can do better.” Black Liberation theology is Wright’s United Church of Christ (UCC) message. It is a UCC message he offers, since he is a UCC minister who studied under Martin Marty. Martin E. Marty, distinguished Lutheran Pastor, teacher, and writer who has been on the University of Chicago faculty since 1963.
Grounded in the history of the African-American, Black theology is powerful stuff. He is little sorry about his comments, but in Bill Moyer’s interview, Reverend Wright does appear sorry he made the comment “God damn America” in the Pulpit-if only for a few moments. But it wasn’t one remark, but a string of them that caused the significant distancing between the candidate’s spiritual advisor and then candidate.
The press in the United States spent a lot of time and space talking about President Obama’s faith during the campaign, his church, and how he is a Christian-the President said he is Christian himself, and that is also news. Religion makes news, despite separation of Church and State. Time magazine says more voters saw President Obama as a strongly religious person than they did every major presidential hopeful during the campaign but Mitt Romney, the Republican former governor of Massachusetts. Romney’s Mormonism drew extensive news coverage.
President Obama was married in Trinity church. His children were baptized in the church, and also like his wedding, Reverend Wright performed the solemnizations. The President said on leaving the church, “Trinity was where I found Jesus Christ, where we were married, where our children were baptized. We have many friends among the 8,000 members…” It is a church where he was moved many times. When Wright preached one Sunday about the sustaining power of hope in the face of poverty and despair, Obama says he found himself in tears.
He said in one speech during the Presidential campaign:
* “For one thing, I believed and still believe in the power of the African-American religious tradition to spur social change… Because of its past, the black church understands in an intimate way the Biblical call to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and challenge powers and principalities. And in its historical struggles for freedom and the rights of man, I was able to see faith as more than just a comfort to the weary or a hedge against death, but rather as an active, palpable agent in the world. As a source of hope.”
It is the claim of Reverend Jeremiah Wright that Trinity is a church of Black theology. The Reverend Doctor John Cone, the Harvard Professor and African-American theologian interviewed on American Public Broadcasting System (PBS) by commentator Bill Moyers says on the PBS website:
* “As we examine what contemporary theologians are saying, we find that they are silent about the enslaved condition of black people. Evidently they see no relationship between black slavery and the Christian gospel. Consequently there has been no sharp confrontation of the gospel with white racism. There is, then, a desperate need for a black theology, a theology whose sole purpose is to apply the freeing power of the gospel to black people under white oppression.”
* The Cross is the same as the lynching tree for the Black American in a Harvard Speech. The Christian Reverend Cone wants to start a conversation on this subject. He offers that lynching was terrorism that “worked to a certain degree.” This includes spectacle lynchings where 5,000 would gather to watch.
Religion is one place where you have an imagination that no one can control.” Black Churches are a place of the spirit… (even though you are living under the shadow of the lynching tree).” … There were 246 years of slavery, and 100 years of segregation and lynching. America does not see itself as “not innocent,” according to Cone. “No human being is innocent.”
Reverend Cone is ordained in the Apostolic Church of God in Chicago. which is one of the city’s largest black churches and not far from Obama’s home in the South Side neighborhood of Hyde Park.
Apparently the President did not turning his back on Black theology yet, per se, since he spoke from the pulpit at that same mega-church in Chicago, which has 20,000 members and is also considered a Black American church. This in 2008.
It is the history of the African American church in the United States that it is a center of Black community life speaking to the needs of the church and larger community in social and political ways. But not in so partisan a manner as was recently ascribed to the theology and preaching of the Reverend Wright. So the perception became. But he still associates himself with the African American church in general.
President Obama spoke of the role of Black fathers and their responsibilities, perhaps more a campaign speech than sermon from a “religious” man whose campaign motto is “Change That Works for You.” Will he again become a member of a Black Church while serving in Washington, D.C. Time will tell. Nonetheless, there his Christian roots lie.
It is from the Black Church that President Obama learned many things about hope. Can he really take himself out of the African-American church ethos, as he has known it? Perhaps the Reverend Wright thinks not, though he is not saying. His official press release remark on then President Obama and his family’s leaving was, “…We are saddened by the news …”
Peter Menkin, an aspiring poet, lives in Mill Valley, CA USA (north of San Francisco).