Trinity United Church of Christ, where The Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. served as pastor for 20 years, boldly proclaims that it is "Unashamedly Black, Unapologetically Christian." Earlier today on NPR, Michele Noris interviewed The Rev. Otis Moss, III, the new pastor of Trinity UCC, and she asked him about his church’s slogan. Reverend Moss responded in part in this way:
The majority culture has always had the assumption that we are celebrating culture that is connected to Europe. It is important that we become a multicultural, broad spectrum of our understanding of what it means to be a part of the human family . . .
[In response to a follow-up question suggesting that perhaps his church’s credo represents a "double standard"]
I think that anyone who operates within the religious tradition knows that they are bringing certain pieces to the table in terms of their culture and it is not a double standard. The real double standard is to say that you can’t say it, to say that we can’t say you’re unashamed of being black, then the opposite must be, then we must say that we are ashamed of being black.
Reverend Moss makes two great points here, points that (as I listen to the national media) most Americans don’t seem to understand. First, our majority culture assumes that culture is defined by European standards. White (European) culture is the default culture in this country. If you are not of a white, European background, then your culture and your way of life is not honored, not valued, not celebrated, not empowered, not assumed to be "normal" or "standard" in the way that white culture is. The majority culture tends to like minorities who play by the majority’s rules. When the minorities develop their own rules and do things in accordance with their own traditions, we in the majority get anxious.
Second, Rev. Moss notes that we bring culture with us into our practice of religion. There is no "non-cultural" or "trans-cultural" or "post-cultural" religion. Culture is embedded within our practice of religion. We can’t get rid of it. His church understands this fact, and celebrates their culture and race as God-given gifts to be celebrated. What Trinity UCC does so well is to embrace their God-given particularity. Many white congregations and traditions, on the other hand, assume their own practices to be universal, when in fact they are not universal but very particular, very European in origin. Why can’t we in the majority see our particularity?
Finally . . . there is so much more to write about this topic. I have met Dr. Jeremiah Wright, Jr. on at least two occasions, heard him speak a few times, and have had a few conversations with him. In fact, when I first met him I didn’t know he was such a prominent preacher and church leader. He is a good man, and definitely not the boogeyman people make him out to be. If, as Gordon Lathrop says, the pastor is a symbol, then Dr. Wright is a symbol of the greatest (and not unfounded) fears of the black community – that the federal government is behind the urban HIV and drug crises (anybody remember Tuskegee?) – and also a symbol of the great faith and power of that community, too.
As I wrote above, there is so much more to write on this topic. But it is getting late, and I must get some sleep. Starting tomorrow evening, it is going to be a busy four days.
A blessed Holy Week to you all.