Written by J. Bennett Guess
February - March 2008
Chicago church is home to U.S. Senator Barack Obama
A ramped-up smear campaign against the UCC's largest congregation and U.S. Sen. Barack Obama's home church — Trinity UCC in Chicago — has raised the ire of the Rev. John H. Thomas, the UCC's general minister and president, who called the e-mail-driven claims "absurd, mean-spirited and politically motivated."
"Our national offices in Cleveland, as well as other settings of the UCC, have been forwarded countless e-mails that obviously derive from a similar source," Thomas said. "They contain misleading statements obviously meant to undermine the integrity of one of our most vibrant, mission-driven congregations."
Thomas said that while it's not his intent to come to the aid of Obama or any presidential candidate, he does feel it's imperative that "absurd, mean-spirited and politically-motivated attacks against one of our UCC churches be challenged forthrightly."
Obama, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, has been a member of Trinity UCC for 20 years.
Since Obama won the Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3, a flurry of e-mail messages with identical language and sentiment has been circulating across the internet, claiming that Trinity UCC was racist because of its long-stated church motto: "Unashamedly Black, Unapologetically Christian."
"Trinity UCC is rooted in and proud of its Afrocentric heritage," Thomas said. "This is no different than the hundreds of UCC churches from the German Evangelical and Reformed stream that continue to own and celebrate their German heritage, insisting on annual sausage and sauerkraut dinners and singing Stille Nacht on Christmas Eve. Recognizing and celebrating our distinctive racial-ethnic heritages, cultures, languages and customs are what make us unique as a united and uniting denomination."
While Trinity UCC is predominately African American, it does include and welcome non-Black members. The Rev. Jane Fisler-Hoffman, former Illinois Conference Minister, who is white, has been a member of the congregation for years.
"Trinity is a destination church for many members of the UCC, a multiracial, multicultural denomination that is largely Caucasian," Thomas pointed out. "When in Chicago, many UCC members flock to Trinity to share in and learn from its vibrant ministries, dynamic worship and justice-minded membership. Contrary to the claims made in these hateful e-mails, UCC members know Trinity to be one of the most welcoming, hospitable and generous congregations in our denomination."
Trinity UCC was founded in 1961. Ten years later, when the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright became its pastor, the church had 87 families. Today, Trinity UCC has more than 8,000 members, 70 ministries and three Sunday worship services.
Trinity UCC is also the largest congregational contributor to Our Church's Wider Mission, the UCC's common purse for regional, national and international ministries.
The circulating e-mails are written to appear as if they are coming from a groundswell of persons, with different names and e-mail addresses. But each uses nearly identical language, makes similar claims and even manages to make the same mistakes. For example, each makes introductory reference to "Trinity Church of Christ" instead of "Trinity United Church of Christ."
"It's clear that someone is using the internet to give the appearance of widespread concern and, thus, to hopefully create traction for this absurd story," Thomas said.