Special Report

Doubting Thomas

Obama's denomination tries damage control. It's not likely to work.

By 4.1.08

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"We want to place a full-page ad in the New York Times -- perhaps as early as next Wednesday -- to proclaim the truth about who we are as the United Church of Christ. Will you help make this a reality?"

So goes the latest plea from the Reverend John Thomas, the president of the United Church of Christ, in an announcement to church members this past Friday, March 28th. The UCC is, of course, Barack Obama's denomination. Mine too. (As always, I speak here for myself, not the UCC church where I serve as a church officer.)

Why the ad? The Reverend Thomas again: "The vision for the ad is to speak proactively to the breadth and diversity of our denomination, while also acknowledging the hurt that many in our country have experienced in recent weeks, including the members of Trinity UCC in Chicago."

I see. What brought on this sudden urge of the Reverend Thomas and his colleagues in the denominational leadership to run this ad? Well, says the good Reverend: "People are looking at the UCC like they never have before, and that's why it's critical that we respond proactively and tell our church's story. Otherwise, we will let others continue to define us in narrow and distorted ways."

Let's come back to this one in a minute.

What will this ad set us back? I always thought ads in the Times were, uh, a bit pricey -- unless of course you were MoveOn.org and you got some sort of interesting discount. Thomas is pretty up front: "Of course, the cost will be significant, perhaps in excess of $120,000."

Yikes! The concern that a conservative UCC member like myself has about something like this is, to be honest, that, well, there will be a less than accurate presentation of the UCC in this very expensive ad. But Thomas insists that "this will be an occasion to explain the uniqueness of our polity, to acknowledge the freedom of our pulpits, and to affirm the rights of our members to agree or disagree in love."

Just as I was beginning to sigh with relief and love over all of this, I spied the telltale reality check, the typical language of the UCC's leadership, the reality that has gotten Barack Obama in so much hot water in the real world outside the UCC leadership's left-wing bubble he had to perform confession to Pope Barbara (as the CBS newsman Morley Safer once referred to the esteemed Ms. Walters) on The View. Finishes Thomas in his e-mail about the prospective ad: "The statement will speak to our oneness in Christ, who strengthens us to be agents of justice, peace and reconciliation." (Emphasis mine)

As a UCC member, allow me to translate that last part. What Reverend Thomas is saying, without the slightest sense of irony that he is contradicting his own claim about people who might "define us in narrow and distorted ways," is that the $120,000 he is seeking for his ad will inform the unwashed that, amazing though it might seem, Jesus Christ is actually a genuine 21st century American liberal. Really! Whatever conception you might have of the words "justice," "peace," and "reconciliation," you will find, if you open your heart, they are really the biblical translation for "high taxes," "appeasement," and "disagreeing-with-liberalism-is-morally-wrong-because-we-all-know-there's-nothing- to-debate-besides-which-conservatives-are-bigots-homophobes-and-heartless." This, I'm always assured, is right there in the Gospels. You can look it up.

All of which, when agreed with, quickly brings us to a round of Kumbaya!

LET'S SPEND SOME TIME on simple math for a moment. "The UCC tends to be a mostly progressive denomination that unabashedly engages heart and mind," says the UCC leadership itself on our church website. This is, however, something quite different from the results of the 2002 Congregational Life Survey of the 15 Mainline Protestant denominations that included the UCC. This survey concluded the following on the political orientation of our church members as they self-identified:

Conservatives: 41 percent
Middle: 40 percent
Liberals: 19 percent

In other words, the fact that the UCC "tends to be a mostly progressive denomination" is only true if you believe 19 percent to be greater than 41 percent. In fact, if you add the middle, a rocking 81 percent do not consider themselves to be "liberals." Even if you add the "liberals" with the "middle," at 59 to 41 percent you are one long way from a "mostly progressive" denomination. Will you see these figures in the New York Times ad? Don't hold your breath.

What else will you most probably not see in this ad if it runs true to form? While Karnack the Magnificent has not been sighted since the death of Johnny Carson, one doesn't really need a Karnack to take a wild guess that in this pricey ad there will be no mention of:

* The UCC and the Jewish Community: No mention of the UCC's relationship with the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. This is a radical Palestinian Christian group whose leadership has not only questioned the right of Israel to exist but refers to the creation of the Jewish state as "Al Nakba" or "The Catastrophe." Sabeel founder Naim Ateek was featured at Boston's Old South UCC last fall in what one Jewish columnist in Boston called an "anti-Jewish hate fest." This on the heels of a 2007 public rebuke to the UCC issued by eight major American Jewish organizations for what was politely termed imbalance towards Israel. The signers included the American Jewish Congress, the American Jewish Committee, the Anti-Defamation League and B'nai B'rith International. Indeed, the UCC leadership's support for issues ranging from a divestment resolution to a call for Israel to tear down its anti-terror security fence protecting Israelis from Palestinian terrorists prompted the Simon Wiesenthal Center to angrily accuse the leadership of being "functionally anti-Semitic."

* The UCC and Puerto Rican terrorists: No mention of the UCC's support for the Puerto Rican terrorist group FALN (Fuerzas Armadas de Liberacion Nacional or Armed Forces of National Liberation), a terrorist group, as reported here the other week, determined by the U.S. government in the 1990s to "represent an ongoing threat." A terrorist group that has included the wife of a UCC minister, a woman honored and admired by the church leadership who was caught on an FBI surveillance tape making a bomb -- and did time until the UCC among others persuaded Bill Clinton to grant clemency.

* The UCC and Obama: No mention of the now-ongoing IRS investigation of the denomination set in motion because of its perceived support of the Obama for president campaign, including an appearance by candidate and church member Obama himself, as documented both here in The American Spectator and by the UCC Truths website.

* The UCC's Trinity and the IRS: No mention of a second complaint to the IRS that has now been filed against Obama's personal church, Trinity UCC of Chicago, because of the political content of the famously videotaped sermons sold by Trinity itself.

* The UCC and Obama on Wright: No mention will be made of Senator Obama's statement on The View that he would have left Trinity UCC had Wright not retired and kept preaching in the very fashion Reverend Thomas has already lavishly praised -- from Wright's pulpit.

* The UCC and the charge of "spies" at Trinity UCC: No mention will be made of a charge in the Washington Post by Susan Thistlethwaite, the president of the Chicago Theological Seminary, that there are "spies" amongst the Trinity congregation. Who does this woman in service to Christ accuse as spies? Why, "members of the press or political operatives" who have the audacity of freedom to "take notes during the service and try to record the message."

* The UCC and Wright's "retirement" home: No mention will be made of the recent discovery by Fox News that a UCC compensated minister -- Jeremiah Wright -- who spent his career ministering in the poor communities of Chicago, is retiring to a multi-million dollar gated community. No mention either of this from Fox News: "Public records of the sale show Trinity initially obtained a $10 million bank loan to purchase the property and build a new house on the land. But further investigation with tax and real estate attorneys showed that the church had actually secured a $1.6 million mortgage for the home purchase, and attached a $10 million line of credit, for reasons unspecified in the paperwork."

* The UCC and opposition to intellectual diversity: No mention that while the UCC hierarchy loves the idea of dissent when it is dissenting from Bush administration policy, no less than Reverend Thomas himself has termed dissenters from what he calls the "progressive values" of the 19 percent ruling the church as "serpents in our midst," with the church's official blogger calling those who dissent from the 19 percent "thieves."

* The UCC, the Obama staffer/UCC employee and Air America: No mention that the UCC's official blogger, the Reverend Chuck Currie -- who doubles as a staffer to the Obama campaign -- links the UCC's site to his own personal site, which in turn promotes links back to the UCC (through use of its official logo), the Obama campaign and Air America, the left-wing extremist site that is famous for its virtual cauldron of verbal venom. Sample rhetoric on this site promoted by a UCC minister includes (but unfortunately is not limited to) this language from a lovely talk about First Lady Laura Bush, from Air America's "Mike Malloy Show": Mrs. Bush is "a murderer" and a "killer," the Bush family a "crime family (that) is about theft and greed and lies and war and death....They are beyond evil." Memorably, the Currie link takes you to the allegation that the president believes in both rape and cannibalism. By the way, Currie says he opposes "personal attacks" and "slander."

Charming, no? Although perhaps not as impressive as the video of himself Currie features on the official UCC site giving a political speech at a political rally (oops, church PC calls these UCC sponsored events "peace rallies," sorry). Currie is heard on the video he has placed on the church site attacking Bush and Cheney as "villains" who display "addictive arrogance." In the world of his officially sanctioned church blog, where political apartheid is the coin of the realm and serious opposition banished, this video comes hilariously replete with a photo of Cheney as Darth Vader. Really. What's funny, admittedly, is that Currie apparently thinks Cheney-as-Vader is not funny but true. Then again, there's a lot funny about this minister of Christ who thinks Air America language is appropriate and said awhile back that a conservative church participating in a "Justice Sunday" rally should be investigated by the IRS. Be careful what you wish for.

SO WHAT'S REALLY GOING ON with this prospective New York Times ad? Stand back for a moment and take a good long look at what's happening here.

This is something that American conservatives have seen before. An institution that seems on the surface to be a rock of left-wing certitude is, in fact, not what it seems at all. Just as the Soviet Union collapsed, just as the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, just as the façade that was the dominance of the American liberal media has crumbled, the 19 percent dominance by the American left of a very old and prestigious American religious institution that was once peopled by the Pilgrims, the Puritans, Jonathan Edwards and counted the decidedly conservative Calvin Coolidge as a devout member is now showing the first signs of collapsing.

The irony is that Thomas and his left-leaning brethren have long been lusting for the UCC to get a higher profile in American politics. At one point a few years back a church PR guy launched a campaign to get Thomas invited as a political player on shows like Meet the Press, complaining bitterly about the media attention afforded conservatives religious leaders like Jerry Falwell. Again, as the old wisdom goes, be careful what you wish for -- you might get it. Suddenly, thanks to Obama, an increasing number of UCC church members outside the 19 percent are wide awake to the fact that simply couching American liberalism in biblical language is nothing more than what Obama himself is about -- American politics. Nothing more, nothing less, and certainly nothing of Christ. The Emperor has no clothes, as congregants gazing at Jeremiah Wright's stark language realized with the stunning clarity of an epiphany. With the heat of the spotlight focused on his -- our -- denomination, Thomas has suddenly had to fight off calls for his resignation, finding not only his own leadership under scrutiny but also the treasured insistence of the hierarchy that "social action" equates to American liberal politics.

Critic James Hutchins, the bane of Thomas's existence over at UCC Truths (hmm, since Currie likes the Stars Wars analogy, think of Hutchins in this scenario as Luke Skywalker, with Thomas as Vader and Currie as Grand Moff Tarkin), has already raised the obvious point about the impending ad. Instead of resorting to the safety of a static ad in the pages of the New York Times, why isn't Thomas investigating a chance to make his case for the UCC and defend his friend Wright on a Fox show like The O'Reilly Factor? After all, he's the one who had a campaign to get himself on TV talk shows. To which I would add, why not make the rounds of Hannity and Colmes or any conservative radio talk show that would book Thomas? One suspects the reason, of course, is that Thomas has the same thought William F. Buckley once attributed to a liberal who refused his entreaties to appear on Buckley's Firing Line television show: "Why does baloney reject the grinder?"

So let's see if we're in store for another example of what passes for leadership in Obama's church -- my church. Will $120,000 be raised to help any number of poor lost souls who need church help? Or will it be raised and spent this very week to make a rich liberal newspaper richer and promote the politics of a liberal church leader to a targeted audience of liberal readers? As a side effect the ad could open the church to the charge it continues to provide a political benefit among undecided liberals to the favored church member who is the leading Democratic presidential candidate. Who cares if this is a variation of the charge that has already brought the denomination, and possibly now Obama's Trinity church, under the shadow of an IRS investigation? In for a penny, in for a pound.

And by the way, church member to church member, what does my brother in Christ Barack Obama think of this? Is he giving any dough to Thomas to help with the PR fix that he, Obama, has partially caused, necessitating this ad?

MANY AMERICANS ARE FAMILIAR with Ronald Reagan's use of the phrase a "city upon a hill" to describe his vision of America as a beacon of hope. Perhaps not as many realize the phrase comes from the Puritan leader John Winthrop, the Governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and a "forefather" of what is now the UCC. The more complete version of Winthrop's quote is as follows: "Wee shall be as a Citty upon a Hill, the eies of all people are uppon us; soe that if we shall deale falsely with our god in this worke wee have undertaken and soe cause him to withdrawe his present help from us, wee shall be made a story and a by-word through the world."

The idea that the mission of the Pilgrims' church of Christ has been exchanged by a leadership representing 19 percent of its members for a proverbial 30 pieces of modern left-wing political silver symbolized by Jeremiah Wright and John Thomas has unexpectedly become a part of the 2008 presidential campaign.

Spending $120,000 on an ad in the New York Times in a belated attempt at political damage control is one more misguided effort in the left's idolatry of earthly politics that is, as John Winthrop once feared, making this church "a story and a by-word through the world" for dealing falsely with our God.

Can you say "Amen!"?

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About the Author
Jeffrey Lord is a former Reagan White House political director and author. He writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com.