The United Church of Christ and the Bullying of a Black College
Jeffrey Lord
by

The headline my fellow member of the United Church of Christ saw was, indeed, astounding if not surprising. Wrote this former colleague on the UCC regional board of directors from our area of Pennsylvania: “Have our church leaders gone off the deep end??? How can they continue to claim to be uniters, and inclusive?”

Good question. Here’s the headline she flagged on the United Church of Christ News website:

UCC leaders call on Talledega [sic] College to avoid participation in Presidential Inaugural Parade

The story opens this way as written, bold print for emphasis supplied:

The national leaders of the United Church of Christ have reached out to the president of Talledega [sic] College, one of the denomination’s Historically Affiliated Black Colleges, about his decision to allow the Alabama school’s marching band to participate in next week’s presidential inauguration parade. 

The Revs. John Dorhauer, Traci Blackmon and James Moos, in a letter to President Billy Hawkins of Talledega [sic] College, are asking for a dialogue in hopes of removing the Marching Tornadoes from the parade roster at the inauguration of president-elect Donald J. Trump. 

The national officers of the UCC, which is a longstanding investor and supporter of Talladega College, are concerned about the impact of Hawkins’ decision on the legacy of the institution of higher learning “founded by two formerly enslaved people of African descent who understood the education of black children as essential to the permanence of newly established liberties,” the letter states. “It seems incongruent that a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) with such rich and significant history would now agree to participate in the inaugural ceremonies of a man whose political platform and proposed cabinet appointments are the antithesis of the very principles on which Talladega College was founded.”

Soon enough the issue was settled, as reported in the New York Times. The headline and opening:

Ending Speculation, Black College Says Band Will Play at Inaugural Parade

On Thursday, after days of speculation that the college administration might bow to the pressure and remove the band from the parade roster, the president of Talladega College, Billy Hawkins, issued a statement confirming the participation of the band, the Marching Tornadoes, and argued, in essence, that the 58th presidential inauguration is about something bigger than Mr. Trump.

“We respect and appreciate how our students and alumni feel about our participation in this parade,” Dr. Hawkins said. “As many of those who chose to participate in the parade have said, we feel the inauguration of a new president is not a political event but a civil ceremony celebrating the transfer of power.”

In other words? The officers of the UCC were bullying a UCC-sponsored black college thusly: Don’t march in the 45th president’s inaugural parade because we liberals can’t stand him. You are supposed to be one of us. Do it our way or you will be financially punished. Adhere to our far-left demands or else. To which, Talladega President Hawkins, ever so politely and in the most Christian of terms, told the UCC leadership “thanks, but no thanks.” AKA, go pound sand.

As someone who is a member of the United Church of Christ? A former president of my church council? A former member of the Penn Central UCC Board of Directors? The latter like my friend who brought this to my attention? Let me blunt.

This move by the UCC leadership was bullying flat out. It was borderline on the insultingly racist. Talladega is a black college so the UCC leadership, led by a white liberal, is in essence saying that by marching in a presidential inaugural parade — an honor sought out every four years by colleges and high schools across the country — the very presence in this particular president’s parade of American kids who happen to be black somehow violates the political views of the leftists momentarily at the top of the UCC church pyramid. And thus it was demanded that in the act of simply being themselves — a college with a great band — the college leadership was not giving proper deference to the masters of the liberal plantation. Worse, for those few hours involved in Washington in a 228-year-old ceremony rich in American history, these kids were seeking to escape the plantation to march for — gasp! — Donald Trump! Oh nooooo!

Not to put too fine a point on this, but — shocking newsflash I know — there are lots of members of the UCC who — gasp again! — voted for Donald Trump. I was one. My friend another. I don’t poll my own church but I know without question that we had members who voted for Trump — and they happily sit in the pews of our church alongside friends who voted for Hillary Clinton.

And… so what? At my UCC church we are not in the business of telling our friends and fellow congregants how to vote. Period. Full stop.

There is no point here in re-running the 2016 campaign and my reasons for supporting the President-elect. The point is… he is the president-elect. If Hillary Clinton had been elected never in a thousand years would I have advocated that some UCC-affiliated college keep their band members from a Hillary Clinton inauguration because the ex-Secretary of State was seen in such deeply negative terms by some church members. Why? Because presidential inaugurations are one of the grander ceremonies of civic America, no matter who is at its center.

Can you imagine if in January of 1961 some band from a Protestant college were asked to stand down from John F. Kennedy’s inaugural because he was Catholic? What if Al Gore had been sworn in on January 20, 2001 — along with the man who would have been the first Jewish Vice President of the United States, Senator Joe Lieberman? Should a marching band somewhere have acceded to a demand from some nutty anti-Semite that the band not march because of the new VP’s religious views?

Incredibly, the UCC news story goes on to say this:

The UCC officers indicated that “we can certainly understand, under normal circumstances, why the leadership of any educational institution would be proud of an invitation to participate in the Presidential Inauguration,” noted “these are not normal circumstances and, as you know, Talladega College is not just any educational institution.”

The Revs. Dorhauer, Blackmon and Moos, along with several alumni questioning the band’s participation “in the most contentious inauguration in the history of the United States,” also expressed concern about the long-term impact on Talledega [sic] College going forward.

Catch that phrase? The reference to “normal circumstances” and that the Trump inaugural will be “the most contentious inauguration in the history of the United States”? One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry at such pretentious nonsense.

Have any states seceded from the Union as the Trump inauguration looms? No? Well, gee. Seven states had left the Union by the time Abraham Lincoln was raising his hand to take the oath on March 4, 1861. Following Lincoln’s inaugural another four states left. And barely a month after the inaugural there was that small civic disturbance known as the Battle of Fort Sumter. These departures of states from the Union and the skirmish at Ft. Sumter were followed by a bit of an upset that wound up killing 620,000 Americans, 2% of the population in the day and, according to the Civil War Trust, “… as a percentage of today’s population, the toll would have risen as high as 6 million souls.” All of which occurred in order to, among other things, end the assumed right of one set of Americans to insist that because people are black they must be slaves to the whims of whites. Which is precisely what was happening to Talladega.

And the UCC officials reference to “normal circumstances”? Like, say, 1829 when Andrew Jackson had upended the Establishment of the day in distinctly Trumpian style? Historian John Steele Gordon described the highly abnormal Jackson inaugural this way in the Wall Street Journal:

The first six presidents of the United States had all come from Virginia or Massachusetts, and all had been from the upper reaches of society. Of the six, all but George Washington had attended college, a very rare level of education in those days.

But Andrew Jackson was from a very different background. While four of the six previous presidents had ancestries that can be traced back to European royalty, Jackson’s can be traced only as far as a great grandfather in impoverished northern Ireland. His parents had immigrated from there to the South Carolina frontier a few years before Jackson was born in 1767. Orphaned by the time he was 14, his education was spotty at best, although he read law in a lawyer’s office and was admitted to the bar when he was 20 years old.…

On Inauguration Day, Washington was jammed with people. “I never saw such a crowd before,” wrote Daniel Webster. “Persons have come five hundred miles to see General Jackson.” With hotel rooms unavailable even at triple the normal rates, people slept on tavern floors and even in open fields. They reminded some, unhappy at Jackson’s election, of the “inundation of the northern barbarians into Rome.”

The inauguration ceremony, which previously had usually been held indoors before invited guests, was to take place, for the first time, on the East Front of the Capitol Building, in order to accommodate the crowds. The open area in front of the Capitol was packed by 10 a.m. and the crowd became unruly, trying to swarm up the steps to the portico where the ceremony would be held. A ship’s cable was stretched across the stairs to hold them back. Francis Scott Key, an eyewitness, was deeply moved. “It is beautiful,” he wrote. “It is sublime!”

The outgoing President John Quincy Adams was so incensed at his defeat by Jackson that he refused to even attend Jackson’s inaugural and left town. Not to put too fine a point on it, but the Trump inaugural isn’t going to be even close to the abnormalities that were the Jackson and Lincoln inaugurations.

But step back a second and survey the current spectacle: The UCC attempt to bully a black college. Actress Meryl Streep and her arrogant lecture at the Golden Globes. The protesters swarming outside Trump Tower the night after the election. The earlier wails of furious indignation from Mitt Romney and Jeb Bush that accompanied their indignant refusal to support their party’s nominee.

What is on display here is what Professor Angelo Codevilla aptly titled in his classic book of the same name a temper tantrum by the Ruling Class. With various Ruling Class venues — religion, entertainment, politics in this case — stomping their feet like a bunch of spoiled brats who did not get their way because the great unwashed — aka the American people — spurned their various candidates and even more upsetting spurned their Ruling Class notions that they and only they know what’s best for everyone else. As Codevilla wrote:

From Atlanta to Seattle, today’s Ruling Class was exposed to a narrow, uniform set of ideas, and adopted a set of habits and tastes, as well as a secular canon of sacred myths, saints, sins and ritual language. The class’s chief pretension is its intellectual superiority: its members claim to know things that the common herd cannot.

Or, as Hillary Clinton herself infamously put it:

You know, to just be grossly generalistic, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?

The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic — you name it.”

In the end, with the added overlay of racism in the case of Talladega, this is what all of this comes down to. A Ruling Class leadership that is appalled — appalled! — that their views in this last election were not only not heeded but rejected. Thus they intend to deal with this supposed outrage by disrupting the civic norms in any way they can.

In the case of Talladega this meant that a church — say again a church! — that literally contains the words “of Christ” in its title will act in an appallingly un-Christian fashion because the “leaders” disapprove of an election outcome. Worse still they treated Talladega and its students who wished quite voluntarily to perform at the inaugural in a fashion reminiscent of these words from then-Judge Clarence Thomas at his Senate confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court:

And from my standpoint as a black American, as far as I’m concerned, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you. You will be lynched, destroyed, caricatured by a committee of the U.S. — U.S. Senate, rather than hung from a tree.

No one — no one — should be forced to participate in even a revered and cherished civic ceremony that is the inauguration of a president of the United States. But at the same time the notion that those who wish to do so should be bullied — threatened with financial ruin — if they do is patently unacceptable. That this was done to Talladega is bad enough. That it was done to students at a historically black college is worse. But that this bullying — unsuccessful as it was — was done by the United Church of Christ — my own church — is downright shameful.

An apology — to the students of Talladega, to President Hawkins and yes, to all the members of the UCC who voted for the President-elect — is in order.

Dialogue that.

Jeffrey Lord
Jeffrey Lord
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Jeffrey Lord, a contributing editor to The American Spectator, is a former aide to Ronald Reagan and Jack Kemp. An author and former CNN commentator, he writes from Pennsylvania at jlpa1@aol.com. His new book, Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and The New American Populism vs. The Old Order, is now out from Bombardier Books.
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