“Unashamedly Black . . . “

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.

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
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5 Responses to “Unashamedly Black . . . “

  1. PS says:

    I do agree that the European culture underlies many of our religious groups. And some of us do talk about it, at least if we are in music groups in our churches or we have an interest in church history. Our mid-western Lutheran Church Colleges also do celebrate their ethnic heritage. Overtly. The teams may even be named after an ethnic character.
    But the white churches I’m familiar with aren’t usually as overtly political, or at least not from the pulpit, as our black counterparts. That can’t be said for some of the white Christian tv/radio personalities.
    I don’t agree that if one thing isn’t true or can’t be said, then the opposite must be true.
    And any, ANY, of us, could be raked across the coals for statements said in passion or taken out of context.

  2. Rachel says:

    I think part of what’s so difficult is that ‘culture’ is a nearly impossible term to define. It’s easy for us to look in at different societies and civilizations, point to things and say “ah! That’s culture!” Because it’s different from what we do. But looking at ourselves, at our language, religious beliefs, governments, people, societal values…taking a step back and reflecting on what our culture really is is tough. And so most of the ‘majority culture’ don’t even realize what it is we’re talking about. People just don’t think about it unless they see something they classify as different. Some people deal with that every day, and are therefore hyper-aware of culture, its boudaries and meanings. Others don’t ever think about it.
    But I completely agree with PS…we can all be raked over the coals for something we’ve said/done that other people find controversial/offensive. As Winston Churchill once said, “You have enemies? Good. That means you’ve stood up for something sometime in your life.”

  3. LawAndGospel says:

    For those of us in the majority culture, we often say, ” Why can’t we all get along?” But it is interpreted as meaning, ” Why can’t you just do things our way?” We can talk about being color-blind, but it sounds like, “your race, or ethnic background must be ignored.” The ideas of liberation theology are challenging, and that may mean “threatening” – but I think it is hard to imagine what it is like to be told to “know your place” for generations. Statements will be taken out of context, will be passionate. Obama I thought said it well when he talked about how we all get caught up in the emotions and fail to move forward toward a new day.

  4. Diane says:

    I think the thing that disturbs me the most about all of this about Pastor Wright is the assumption that because people heard one angry sermon, that this is what he preaches every week from the pulpit. They think they can listen in one sunday in twenty years and know exactly what kind of pastor he has been…

  5. mim says:

    The Black church has provided a safe zone and a spiritual and social focus for African Americans. Perhaps that’s called making the best of a bad situation.
    But in general, in a multiethnic society, the ethnic church as incarnational ideal is problematic, if not dangerous. If ethnicity and ethnic folk customs are the glue that binds the community together, then outsiders are not welcome. Anyone of a different ethnos is an interloper and a destroyer of community.
    I am of Jewish background, so in a world of ethnic churches, where would I not be an interloper? In a “Hebrew-Christian” fundamentalist church with a mock-Yiddish veneer?

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