Posts Tagged ‘UCC’

The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright

March 18, 2008

Blogging on Barack Obama’s pastor problems is probably already passé, but a few thoughts anyway:

The United Church of Christ certainly is a Big Tent denomination. Wright and Obama’s Trinity Church, with its great size and aggressive Afrocentrism, sounds nothing like the quaint and sedate Congregational churches that dot the town greens of New England, whose congregations are as white as their clapboards (I say that as a member of one of those churches). I imagine they have a better choir than most of our NE churches, too…

As for Obama’s relationship with Wright, and Obama’s statement that he was unaware of Wright’s more inflammatory rhetoric, I certainly can’t judge–and neither can the pundits and bloggers who have been judging, as far as I can see. And really, I’m not sure what Wright said is as bad as all that:

The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God damn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people. God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.

Not something a politician wants to be associated with, certainly, but in context not entirely undeserved. Racism is America’s Original Sin, and it behooves us to stay aware of that.

Barack knows what it means living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people. Hillary would never know that. Hillary ain’t never been called a nigger. Hillary has never had a people defined as a non-person.

Hard to deny that one. The big problem there, IMO, is campaigning from the pulpit.

[just after 9/11]: We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.

The least defensible of Wright’s quotes that I’ve seen. The “reason” 9/11 happened, insofar as the concept applies, is that Al Qaeda is evil. For all I know Wright said so; I haven’t seen the rest of his sermon that day, and obviously it might matter. But even if the quotation isn’t missing relevant context, there is an argument to be made that our policies abroad have consequences at home–if our policies the Middle East were different, would 9/11 have happened? (The answer is, “I don’t know.”) Certainly what Wright said is less odious than what Pat Robinson and Jerry Falwell and their ilk said. Not that that’s a defense.

UPDATE:

OK, so maybe he’s a little crazy:

The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.

We started the AIDS virus . . .

and I’m not going to try to say anything nice about his association with the odious Louis Farrakhan.

UCC/IRS/Obama, cont.

March 8, 2008

Having read a bit more UCC/IRS thing, I’m really just as ignorant as I was, and only slightly more opinionated.

First, a word about the United Church of Christ. It’s often characterized as among the most liberal of Protestant denominations. That’s correct, but should be understood in light of the fact that the UCC is also among the least hierarchical. The denomination has no real authority over individual churches; churches own their own buildings, hire their own pastors, and do pretty much whatever they want. That is of course very much in the tradition of the Congregationalists who are one of the constituents of the UCC. It’s also one of the few things we have in common with the even-less-centralized and otherwise similar-in-name-only Churches of Christ.

The denominational leadership may be quite liberal, but individual congregations (and congregants) are all over the place theologically and politically. The mean is, I think, somewhat left-of-center, but not nearly as much so as the denominational leadership. Every couple of years there is a General Synod that passes noble resolutions of a liberal bent, of which most actual UCC members (me included) are blissfully unaware.

[I should say that I’m one of the more liberal members, politically and theologically, of a relatively liberal church.]

The point there is that anything you read about the UCC and its politics does not necessarily have much to do with any specific UCC church.

Anyway. Here’s how I understand the Obama brouhaha:

At some point before Obama declared his candidacy, the UCC invited him to give the keynote address at last year’s General Synod. He is after all the most prominent member of the UCC. I don’t know whether the invitation came before or after it was clear he was thinking about running.

He was a candidate by the time of the General Synod (in June). The UCC, very correctly, attempted to make it clear that he was speaking not as a presidential candidate but as a UCC member with something to say about faith and public life.

No campaigning was allowed inside the building, but there were campaigners outside.

Most of Obama’s speech was unexceptionable, but he did mention his candidacy twice, once more or less in passing, and once in what sure looks like standard campaign fare:

It’s been several months now since I announced I was running for president. In that time, I’ve had the chance to talk with Americans all across this country…

I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premiums by up to $2500 a year. That’s not simply a matter of policy or ideology – it’s a moral commitment.

The IRS is now investigating whether that violated the guidelines for churches. This may or may not have been spurred by a complaint from UCCtruths, which seems to be the UCC’s version of a heretical splinter group–they think the denomination is too liberal. [I can’t tell whether the IRS ever says what prompts investigations.] Here‘s the IRS letter to the UCC–unfortunately, I can’t find the questions they attached, so I don’t actually know what the specific violations they’re investigating.

As far as I can tell (not having been there, and not being a lawyer), the UCC certainly didn’t endorse Obama or otherwise support it (although I’m sure that most of the UCC’s leadership does in fact support him). The problems are with Obama himself, and those two little references to his candidacy, which looks to me like a clear violation of the IRS guidelines (see page 9). It seems silly that the whole thing could have been avoiding with 10 seconds’ thought and a red pen.

What I don’t know is what the IRS typically does and doesn’t bother with in practice. Presidential candidates are forever campaigning in churches, whether they call it that or not. I can’t believe that none of them have never let the word “candidate” slip out before.

There does seem to be a real, fundamental problem with the IRS rules, and their assumption that a candidate’s appearances can be neatly separated into as-a-candidate and non-candidate events. Everything a Presidential candidate does is a campaign appearance. Candidates don’t go to the bathroom without campaign spin. Obeying the spirit of the rules would require forbidding candidates to go to church at all. Obeying the letter–you can’t say the magic words “candidate” and “election”–is just disingenuous.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s very unlikely that the UCC will lose its tax-exempt status over this. The denomination has a grade-A lawyer working pro bono now, and I imagine it will win the case (if “case” is even the right word) outright.