Not a Word on Obama at Trinity United Church of Christ on Sunday Before Election

November 4, 2008

A middle-aged woman rattles a spoon against the frets of a washboard and music comes out. A robed choir, some 150-strong, sings gospel, making a joyful sound. The congregation, on its feet, waves hands in the air in windshield wiper motions as if Windex-ing a glass pane.

This is Trinity United Church of Christ on the Sunday before America’s national election. Barack Obama’s church until he stopped going last spring, forced to distance himself from the spiritual mainstay of his life, two decades a worshipper in Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s House of God.
The Jeremiad of Jeremiah, it was – unapologetic race-baiter.
But at services yesterday morning, there was no direct mention of Obama, the man who might very well be – polls differ only on the margin of victory – president-elect of the United States, come Wednesday. Instead, Pastor Otis Moss III called for blessings on both presidential aspirants and their families.
And prayers, too, for Wright, pastor emeritus, now retired from this pulpit but occasionally fulminating from other lecterns, other stages.
Sunday morning coming down, the church is infused with goodwill and kindness, solicitude, humanitarian appeals for the stricken and the troubled, the pastor warning uninitiated visitors upfront that Trinity is “huggy” so get ready to touch and be touched.
My inner Protestant – and I’m Catholic – cringes self-consciously when a 300-pound woman grabs hold of one hand and a little boy clasps the other, all of us now connected by flesh and faith, presumed.
I am an interloper and my white skin shows that. But never mind. Despite rumours that Trinity had closed its doors to reporters following the Wright controversy, the congregation can’t be any more welcoming.
This is an urban black church in an American city more divided than most by racial tensions. Trinity cannot cease to be what it is, a stalwart for black self-determination, never letting its parishioners forget the civil rights era from which it sprung, the emancipation for which it fought.
Yesterday’s litany, from Isaiah 32:1-3: “Blow the trumpet in Zion and tell the people that some day there will be a King who rules with integrity, and national leaders who govern with justice … Their eyes and ears will be open to the needs of the people.”
It is a well-chosen text and surely deliberate as, some 90 blocks away, workers toil around the clock to primp and prepare Grant Park, downtown site of Obama’s rally tomorrow night, up to a million celebrants expected, though only 70,000 ticketed for the event.
The congregation responds to the scripture, reading from missals: “And until that day comes, we must remain in the watchtower, blowing the trumpet and getting our feet on the ground until we run the course and win the race.”
The litany “leader” continues and this is where Gospel gives way to gospel, just as valid to black Americans only two generations from Jim Crow.
“We cannot forget that this country was founded on a principle of African-Americans being  3/5 of a `man’, and only white male landowners were allowed to vote. We cannot forget our 19th century ancestors whose faith took them through the promises and disappointments of an Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th and 14th Amendments to end legal slavery and grant them citizenship.”
Evoking names that resonate still – Emmett Till, Medgar Evans, James Meredith, Thurgood Marshall and freedom fighter Fannie Lou Hamer (“I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired”) – the speaker goes on revisiting a history that’s bred in the bone.
“We must not forget that it was Florida in 1876, where the votes were disputed; the winner declared unfairly and the Compromise of 1877 effectively rescinded the right of blacks to vote, ushering in the era of poll taxes, religious and literacy tests, vigilantism, fraudulent ballot boxes and gerrymandering of districts …
“We hear the cries and voices of the thousands of hopeful voters who were thrown off their land, beaten with clubs, bitten by attack dogs, burned on buses, jailed and murdered; and, saw their homes and churches bombed and burned to the ground.”
These faithful will not believe in the legitimacy of an Obama defeat, should it come to that, should the “undecided” and those who merely told pollsters they would vote for America’s first black president throw their support to Senator John McCain.
I think Obama must miss this church very much.
Back in March, when the contents of Wright’s incendiary sermons and speeches first became widely known, the Illinois senator insisted he’d never heard such hurtful rhetoric from his pew – the “Goddamn America” tirades, assertions that the U.S. had brought 9/11 on itself. So, he wouldn’t sever his deep friendship with Wright.
“I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother.”
But he did, shortly thereafter, never to enter Trinity again. Wright was more burdensome than the Obama campaign could bear.
And there, supposedly, that controversy ended. Even McCain said Wright was off limits as a hustings issue.
Except, over this past weekend, in the battleground state of Pennsylvania, the GOP began running new attack adds focusing on Obama’s relationship with the reverend.
“If you think you could ever vote for Barack Obama, consider this,” says the voice-over. “Obama chose as his spiritual leader this man.” Cut to Wright’s most toxic remarks.
It is dispiriting.
Source: The Toronto Star

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