The Wide Wild World of the UCC

One of the benefits of the United Church of Christ is the diversity of churches and people who are part of our denomination. There are times when I have walked into a UCC church and questioned whether it was really in the same denomination. Building styles, worship design, theologies and hymns are only a few of the areas in which you may see a great variety from churches across the country and even within our own county. We don’t even agree on the same wording for the Lord’s Prayer! (I always said trespasses before I came to Huntington.)

This past week we have been witness to an aspect of our diversity that is one of our greatest strengths. Unfortunately, in the hands of television newscaster and politicians the UCC and one of our sister churches have been dragged through the mud.

I am, of course, speaking of Trinity United Church of Christ and it’s former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. The UCC has for years honored Trinity UCC for its creative and persistent example of how a church may bring a profound word of hope through enthusiastic worship and extensive outreach programs. It is also impressive that this African-American congregation is our largest church.

The Rev. Wright is a pastor who inspires, confounds and, at times, frankly, insults his listeners. I have heard him preach and was impressed with his charismatic oratory, but was disturbed by some of his language. He has been described as reckless in his words, but I would use the term provocateur. Those who worship at Trinity consistently refer to his Biblical preaching (almost literalistic) and his constant word of hope for all people.

It is a shame that Rev. Wright is now defined by a few minutes from his many hours of collective preaching. These snippets of his work do, in fact, deserve the condemnation they have received from Sen. Obama and others. I agree that through these words Rev. Wright has served to widen the racial divide that he has otherwise condemned. I hope, though, that history will allow a more comprehensive look at his life’s work and will show the profound range of his ministry and the significant contribution that Trinity church has been, and continues to be, for the UCC and Christianity as a whole.

The most common temptations when the veneer of niceness is pulled off the stark reality of any of our differences are to retreat, or to condemn. It is easy to shout, or to run. It is hard to find ways to authentically grapple with issues that bore into our hearts and dreams. I value the UCC because the very nature of our covenant requires me to engage at a deep level what it means to be a faithful person today. The best way to do this is to focus on our common values and articulate our shared dreams, regardless of the circumstances that may divide.

This is why I am so excited about the speech Sen. Obama gave on Tuesday in response to this whole controversy around Rev. Wright. I think it should be required reading, or viewing, for everyone. Sen. Obama is not only able to address the immediate issues, but to rise about the morass and see the horizon to which we all aspire. This is not an endorsement of his candidacy for president, but it is a recommendation to study his words. I am looking for time in the church calendar to have a discussion in our church on these issues. Please let me know what you think about how to address the role of race in America as part of our on-going church program.

As we approach Easter, the day of ultimate hope, I do have hope that we will all be able to learn from each other-in loving challenge and trust-to see a new day of understanding for us all.


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