Kinnamon: 'Invite all churches into this sacred conversation'

Written by Michael Kinnamon
April 3, 2008

Press statement on April 3 at Trinity UCC in support of UCC's call to nationwide "sacred conversation" on race:

I am not a member of the United Church of Christ (UCC), and I have never before been at Trinity UCC.  Rather, my presence here today is representative of the wider Christian community to which the UCC, and all of its congregations, is related.

The National Council of Churches (NCC), of which I am the General Secretary, is a community of very  diverse churches (denominations)--including Orthodox churches, historic peace churches, Methodist and Baptist churches  that are predominantly African American, recent immigrant churches, and mainline Protestants.   The predecessor bodies of the UCC were founding members of the NCC; and since it was formed in 1957, the UCC has been a valued  contributor to every dimension of the Council's life: theological dialogues aimed at promoting Christian unity, Bible translation, Sunday School curriculum, advocacy on behalf of poverty relief or environmental protection.....  Not all of the other member churches of the National Council agree with all of the stands taken by the UCC (let alone all of the things said by its ministers)--but you could say the same about every one of our members.

In recent weeks, I have seen the UCC occasionally portrayed as some kind of radical sect.  This, of course, is nonsense.  It is a denomination valued by its ecumenical partners not only for its commitment to justice but for its life of worship and service in the name of Jesus Christ.

As I said, I have not worshiped at Trinity, but I know and respect people who do.  I have heard the  former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, on at least three occasions and generally found him to be inspiring and biblically grounded.  There is a passage in the Christian scriptures (Romans 12:9) that comes to mind when I think of his sermons I have heard: "Let love be  genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good."  Genuine love, in other words, will not only say yes! to the neighbor, it will say no! to all that diminishes the neighbor.  Rev. Wright, during his ministry here, built up this community and affirmed people as children of God--and, at times, made others feel uncomfortable by saying no! to all  that would tear them down.

So one reason I am here is to affirm that this denomination and this congregation are not fringe groups but are part of the  wider Christian  community.

But there is another reason I  wanted to be present today: namely, that issues raised in recent weeks around Trinity UCC have bearing on churches across this country.  One of those issues is race.  The frustration heard in the clips of Rev. Wright is one voice (and not an isolated one) in what John Thomas calls a "sacred conversation" we need to have--as churches, as a society.  I do think that Sen. Obama is correct when he says that this country has  made important strides in confronting its racist past--but, surely, no one thinks that racism has been eradicated.  The NCC has historically been deeply involved in the struggle for civil rights, but in recent years our efforts have lagged.  In this setting, where the challenge to  overcome racism has been so clearly expressed, I commit myself to make this a priority of my own leadership at the NCC and to invite all of our churches  into this sacred conversation.

Another issue raised in connection with this congregation is the sanctity of places in which people gather to worship God.  If there are threats against one church, all churches are threatened.  If the privacy of church members in one place is violated, all places of worship are diminished.  That is what Christians mean when we say that we are part of the one body of Christ.  I hope that my presence this afternoon represents this  connectedness to one another.


Rev. J. Bennett Guess
Executive Minister, Local Church Ministries
700 Prospect Ave.
Cleveland, Ohio 44115