After twenty years of sitting with apparent acquiescence in the pews of Trinity United Church of Christ, after doing a slow-motion backslide from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright when the campaign spotlight flickered on, a backslide that eventually ended in an open break, Senator Barack Obama has now officially cut his ties with Trinity UCC altogether. Faced with a choice between bringing change to his own congregation, or simply turning his back, Obama chose the latter.
As he would do in Iraq, so he has now done with Trinity. The question now is, will he leave the United Church of Christ as well?
In a halting South Dakota press conference, Obama had no answer as to where he and wife Michelle would now be worshipping. Said the denominational president of the UCC, the Reverend John Thomas:
"Obviously, we are saddened that Barack and Michelle Obama have decided to resign their membership at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. And we are hopeful that, as they discern their future church membership plans, that they will consider retaining their United Church of Christ membership in another UCC congregation."
Thomas added: "It's also important to name the painful reality that many candidates and public officials now find it nearly impossible to be an active member of a particular religious community, given our divisive political culture. Faith is rooted in community. Persons in public office should have the same opportunity, as the rest of us, to experience the worship, prayers and close personal friendships that congregational participation affords."
The United Church of Christ has walked itself so far out on a left-wing political limb that no one of any real sensibility could not have seen this coming. Why in the world does Reverend Thomas think that Jeremiah Wright and Father Michael Pfleger were so comfortable preaching the things they did when standing behind a UCC pulpit in the first place? Because when the leaders of the national UCC praise Puerto Rican terrorists, earn the UCC a reputation among American Jews as anti-Semitic, give a pass to the ludicrous notion that the U.S. government initiated the AIDS epidemic as a way to control the black population, assert that the real Axis of Evil is President Bush and the U.S. Congress and so on and on endlessly going back several decades, why would either Wright or Pfleger think what they were preaching would be seen as sexist, racist bile?
Obama has yet to be asked one very simple question: Since he could have done something about the ability of Wright or Pfleger to be behind the Trinity pulpit, why didn't he?
AS BOTH THE Reverend Thomas and Senator Obama are all too well aware, even if the media is not, the very heart of UCC doctrine is that the members run the church. At any time in the last twenty years Barack Obama had the complete authority to say to Reverend Wright and his fellow parishioners at Trinity: "I don't think this is a good idea. I think we have to stop wallowing in black victimology. The things I am hearing from our pulpit sound racist, divisive, hateful." And then he could have begun an effort to remove Wright from the pulpit, something every UCC member has the ability to do.
He did not do it.
Obama froze. Or he chose -- to do nothing. To give Wright his "old uncle" a pass. Was it because he was afraid to damage his political base? Was it because he was afraid he would anger Wright? Or most interestingly of all -- was it because he actually agreed with what Wright was preaching? For that matter, since we now know Obama was such a great friend to not only Wright but Father Pfleger as well, is there any record of Obama objecting to Pfleger's activities in Chicago? Whatever the reason, the harsh and very plain fact is that when it came to having the courage to bring change to Trinity, to exercise good judgment, Barack Obama displayed, as Theodore Roosevelt once said of William McKinley, "the backbone of a chocolate eclair."
Read again Reverend Thomas's lament about candidates and public officials finding "it nearly impossible to be an active member of a particular religious community, given our divisive political culture. Faith is rooted in community. Persons in public office should have the same opportunity, as the rest of us, to experience the worship, prayers and close personal friendships that congregational participation affords."
Catch that last phrase: "congregational participation." When did Barack Obama participate in the Trinity congregation by ever -- ever -- standing up and saying that what was going on at Trinity was wrong? Answer: he never did. His "congregational participation" on one of the most important issues of our day -- the moral standing of our churches -- was zero. Nada. Zilch.
"Moral courage is a rarer commodity than bravery in battle or great intelligence," said the late Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a theme he picked up from his brother JFK's classic book of heroes in the U.S. Senate, Profiles in Courage. It is abundantly clear that the man who has based an entire presidential campaign on change and judgment displayed none in twenty years worth of dealing with Trinity UCC.
IT IS VERY SAD yet equally clear that the national leadership of the United Church of Christ is in part responsible for the damage done to Trinity. Making its way quietly around UCC circles is the inevitable Watergate-style statement about following the money. Specifically, the suspicion is well out there that Trinity's extremism was never criticized by Thomas and the national leadership not simply because they shared these views, but because Trinity was the largest individual congregation within the larger UCC denomination -- and the UCC needed Trinity's collection dollars.
Finally, there is something else that troubles. Remember the famous Sherlock Holmes tale about the dog that didn't bark, the clue that helped Holmes solve his case? When one takes a look at the UCC website in the wake of Obama's withdrawal from Trinity, front and center is John Thomas's statement about Obama's decision. But what's missing? Either in Thomas's statement or anywhere else on the UCC website? What's not there is any statement whatsoever from Reverend Thomas or anyone else in authority about the disgusting performance from a UCC pulpit put on by Father Michael Pfleger.
And why, exactly, is that? Reverend Thomas?
As for Senator Obama and his future in the United Church of Christ:
Senator, as written in this space as far back as June of last year, there are many UCC members who feel the national UCC has let itself be overtaken by its obsession with extremist left-wing politics. These very politics have now caused you great personal and political embarrassment. Will you stay in the United Church of Christ? And if so, what role will you play in whatever UCC congregation you join in helping those of us who believe it is long past time to restore change and good judgment to the national UCC?
Stay in the UCC, Senator. If I may borrow from someone running for president, I think we are the change in the UCC we have been waiting for.
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