The church where Sen. Barack Obama has worshipped for two decades publicly declares that its ministry is founded on a 1960s book that espouses “the destruction of the white enemy.”
Trinity United Church of Christ’s Web site says its teachings are based on the black liberation theology of James H. Cone and his 1969 book “Black Theology and Black Power.”
“What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love,” Mr. Cone wrote in the book.
Mr. Cone, a professor at the Union Theological Seminary in New York, added that “black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy.”
Mr. Obama’s campaign, which for weeks has weathered criticism about inflammatory racial language by the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. at Trinity, said the candidate “vehemently disagrees” with those tenets.
“It’s absurd to suggest that he or anyone should be held responsible for every quote in every book read by a member of their church,” said Obama spokesman Reid Cherlin.
“Barack Obama is not a theologian, and what he learned in church is to love Jesus Christ and work on behalf of his fellow man, regardless of race, class or circumstance. This is a faulty and disingenuous approach to a church, and a flawed way to judge a candidate,” he said.
Mr. Obama has been a member of Trinity, on Chicago’s South Side, since finding religion there 20 years ago under Mr. Wright’s mentorship. Mr. Wright married the Obamas and baptized their children, and a sermon of his inspired Mr. Obama to title his book “The Audacity of Hope.”
There is no evidence to date in any of Mr. Obama’s public comments or speeches that he espouses the radical features of the black liberation theology practiced at his church.
Critics say Trinity’s message verges on separatist philosophy and at the very least advocates exclusively for blacks.
“The liberation theology and the black-values system to which his membership ascribe is a clear commitment to the social and spiritual enhancement of only the black race,” the Rev. Corey J. Hodges, who is black, wrote last year in the Salt Lake Tribune. “Even more troubling is Wright’s use of the pulpit to perpetuate racial division.”
For years, Mr. Wright delivered sermons and endorsed articles in the church bulletin that called the United States and Israel racist regimes.
The bulletin’s “pastor’s page” included essays that said Israel and South Africa “worked on an ethnic bomb that kills blacks and Arabs,” compared Israel to Nazi Germany and quoted leaders of the terrorist group Hamas calling Israel a “deformed modern apartheid state.”
In a bulletin last year, Mr. Wright lashed out at the news media for scrutinizing the church, blaming “racist United States of America” and “white arrogance” for distracting the country from more important issues, such as the Iraq war and Hurricane Katrina victims.
The church declined to comment for this article, but the Rev. Otis Moss III, the church’s junior pastor, who took over for Mr. Wright, wrote in the bulletin in October that media conglomerates “operate with contempt and disdain for the black community, women, and people of the African Diaspora.”
Conrad Worrill, a leader of the Chicago-based National Black United Front, said attention directed at Trinity United demonstrates that racist attitudes persist in the United States.
“Even if [Mr. Obama] did support some of the tenets of some of the ideas embedded in that theology, I still don’t think it has anything to do with his vision and his candidacy,” said Mr. Worrill, whose organization promotes black political and cultural education and activism.
“I think most black people would agree that what Jeremiah Wright said is the truth. … What we see playing out on the public stage is how black people still see America and the world and how white people cannot see the truth. It has nothing to do with Barack Obama.”
Mr. Wright, who recently retired as the church’s pastor after 36 years, defended Trinity’s religious views in “talking points” posted on the church’s Web site (www.tucc.org).
“To have a church whose theological perspective starts from the vantage point of Black liberation theology being its center, is not to say that African or African-American people are superior to anyone else,” he said.
Mr. Cone recently told Forbes magazine that he doesn’t know how much Mr. Obama knows about black-liberation theology.
“I’ve read both of Barack Obama’s books, and I heard the speech [on race]. I don’t see anything in the books or in the speech that contradicts black liberation theology. If he had it explained to him, I think he would [understand it],” he said.
Mr. Cone calls his own teachings a fusion of teachings of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.
In a debate last month with his rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York, Mr. Obama rejected the church’s decision last year to honor Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who is known for anti-Semitic remarks.
The senator also disavowed some of Mr. Wright’s racist sermons after they were publicized in video clips on television and the Internet and on talk radio.
But in a March 18 speech on race, Mr. Obama said he could not sever ties with the pastor. He said Mr. Wright is like family and that the pastor’s outlook is scarred by civil rights struggles of the 1960s.
Mr. Obama said he was unaware until last month that his longtime spiritual mentor and friend used incendiary racist rhetoric in his sermons, such as denouncing the “U.S. of KKKA” and proclaiming, “God damn America.”
Mr. Obama said rants against whites were never part of the Sunday services he attended.
“I don’t purchase all the DVDs [of Mr. Wright’s sermons], and I didn’t read all the church bulletins,” Mr. Obama said Friday on ABC’s “The View.” “It’s not to excuse it.”
Mr. Obama said his mixed-race heritage — his mother was white and his father black — gives him a unique vantage point from which to help bridge the nation’s racial divides.
“The church itself, though, is a wonderful, welcoming church. And if you guys went there on a Sunday, you would feel right at home,” he told the panelists on TV’s “The View,” most of them white. “You would see people talking about Jesus, and mercy, and sin, and family … and forgiveness.”
“That doesn’t excuse what [Mr. Wright] said, but I do think it’s important just to put it in context.”
The Rev. Jane Fisler Hoffman, a member of Trinity who serves as a pastor in Southern California, said the Chicago church does not follow a radical doctrine, despite the angry words of Mr. Cone’s treatise.
“It may have had some influence on what unfolded, but [Trinity] is a wonderful church, not a separatist church,” said Mrs. Hoffman, who is white. “Anyone who tries to paint the church as hateful would be missing the mark.”
The following is doctrine of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where Democratic presidential front-runner Sen. Barack Obama has been a member since finding religion there 20 years ago.
Motto: Unashamedly black and unapologetically Christian.
Official statement: Our roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent. We are an African people, and remain “true to our native land,” the mother continent, the cradle of civilization. God has superintended our pilgrimage through the days of slavery, the days of segregation, and the long night of racism. It is God who gives us the strength and courage to continuously address injustice as a people, and as a congregation. We constantly affirm our trust in God through cultural expression of a Black worship service and ministries which address the Black Community.
First tenet of the black values system: Commitment to God.
“ ‘The God of our weary years’ will give us the strength to give up prayerful passivism and become Black Christian Activists, soldiers for Black freedom and the dignity of all humankind.”
Source: Trinity United Church of Christ