Southern California Nevada Conference of the United Church of Christ
Quick News From Jane
Jane Fisler Hoffman, Interim Conference Minister

Dear Friends in Christ,

I had not intended to address the Trinity-Wright-Obama situation again because, as I have been saying lately,  47 young Americans died in recent weeks in Iraq plus unknown numbers of Iraquis not to mention other war torn places; trillions of dollars are being spent on war while global hunger has reached dangerous proportions ;  and the economic mess in this country is threatening the health and well being of the unemployed and working folk in serious ways.  WHY are we permitting ourselves to be distracted by a media fixated on this situation? WHERE is our rage about war, hunger and poverty?

But I have received several emails asking how I'm feeling and what I'm thinking in the wake of the painful Rev Wright-Senator Obama situation and following the National Press Club event Monday.   Apparently at least some churches are finding this all difficult to deal with and I understand that.   Our national UCC offices are struggling with calls, letters and emails from all 'sides' . Near the end of this piece, you can link to a letter just sent out from our General Minister and President.  As for me, I've spoken with a few reporters (again) and heard that I was mentioned on the O'Reilly program by a caller.  And pastor Wright mentioned me at the National Press Club, telling them that I spoke from the Trinity pulpit and said "I am unashamedly African..."  I understand you may want to know more about that.  So I will share some thoughts with you, while encouraging us all to address this as part of giving our attention and energy to God's mission of love, peace and justice.

First, let me say that because I know and love Rev. Wright and have met and respect Senator Obama, I do not intend to allow the media distortion and furor to influence my high opinion of either man.  As I told a reporter, I genuinely believe that both men are honorable and faith driven and that each, in his own way, is pursuing what he believes to be God's call.  (That perspective, of course, did not get reported.)  I find it troubling that we as a nation are permitting the media to act as if disagreements between two adult men must somehow diminish one or the other. And it is not necessary that any of us choose one over the other. We can just accept that this is a moment of deep difference and respect them both. Folks, these are good people being pressured by a culture, politics and media into an untenable situation.

Second, I am just going to come out and say this:  I sincerely believe that this is all happening only because Senator Obama is an African American with the real potential of being President.  Oh, of course white men have been hit by 'swift boats' before.  But to assault a candidate's church and pastor as part of an effort to undermine that candidate is unheard of and, I believe, utterly inexcusable.   I believe there is such fear and passion in this country, among some, about the possibility of a black man becoming president that this is all about fanning those destructive flames.   Please note: I am not making a political statement about any particular candidate.  I am making a cultural observation about one of our nation's deepest sins, the sin of racism. 

Third.  Some have asked why Rev. Wright would do what he is doing and, as some say, undermine Senator Obama's campaign.  Someone even asked what Wright 'has 'against'Obama'.  I can tell you after knowing Rev. Wright for eight years that he is being the Jeremiah Wright he has always been.  He is brilliant, insightful, a biblical scholar, a widely respected preacher and leader with a lifelone record of ministry influence for good, for justice and for human rights that few can equal.  He is also fiery and occasionally volatile.  I have disagreed with him and we have had words over stuff.  But that doesn't change my overall deep regard for him. Nothing has changed about Rev. Wright and he is not, I believe, 'doing' anything in relation to the Senator. He is doing and saying what he believes is right for the church and its ministry.  That's who he is.  I am astounded that folks who were voicing and writing support for him and for Trinity UCC are now turning on him.  He is and has been Jeremiah Wright, as always, and in my view he owes it to no one to change who he is or the nature of his ministry.

Fourth.  As I reflect on my life and ministry, there are many things I have said that I wish I had not said or at least in the way I said them.    And when we are under pressure, all of us may react to that pressure by writing or speaking in a way we might not have.  I can't speak for Rev. Wright but I know that if all of my preaching and teaching and speaking in front of groups was recorded, there would be things I would rather take back or say differently.  Friends, Jeremiah Wright is a great man but he is human.  This furor is placing inhuman levels of stress on him and his family.   They are living under 24 hour security.  It is outrageous.  I say give the man, this fine pastor, a break.  If you disagree with him, fine.  But don't demonize him.  I challenge anyone to match him in the good he has done, the lives he has touched and the influence he has been on young people, the imprisoneed, black fathers, communities in Ghana and Brazil and more.  I personally know one man whose life was literally transformed because Rev. Wright took the time to reach out to him while in prison. That man is now a bright and promising seminary student with a powerful witness for Jesus Christ.  I have seen the remarkable impact of his and the church's ministry in an impoverished Ghanaian village.  I challenge Rev. Wright's critics to risk measuring their lives before God next to his, the good and the troublesome together.

Fifth.  When I visited Trinity several weeks ago I said that this episode reminds me of the story of Joseph.  Late in his life, remembering the way his brothers had sold him into slavery, Joseph said to his brothers:  "Though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good..."  (Gen.50:20)  I believe that God can work through us all in taking this painful, difficult moment and turn it into good.  I already know of some ways that is happening---like the young man who had drifted away from the church but went to one of our Southern California churches on Easter "in honor of Rev. Wright".  What greater way is there to honor someone than to celebrate our living Lord and return to Christ's church?  But the real good that could come from this is if this country and our church would actually face the challenges of race and racism.  I urge and encourage you to enter a sacred conversation about race with anyone possible---in your family, in your church, with your friends.  Our denomination has some resources for this conversation.   Plus you may view John Thomas's letter.  This is an opportunity to focus on a real need for healing in our country. Let's not blow it by fighting over one man.

Finally, I want to tell you why, as Rev. Wright told the Press Club, I stood in the pulpit of Trinity United Church of Christ and said "I am 'unashamedly African".  That was not because I am some weird kind of pale-person-Afro-wanta-be (though I do love the colorful Afro dresses).  I said it and meant it because I find meaning and healing in acknowledging that historically, anthropologically we all began in Africa.  Anthropological studies show that the earliest known emergence of a distinguishable human creature came in Africa.  But also from a church perspective, significant parts of the Bible have African connections (obvious ones like the Cyrene who carried Christ's cross and much more) and some of the earliest and most influential church leaders, came from the continent of Africa.   So our church and religious heritage has deep African roots as well.   I am unashamedly African because it is simply true that much of human and Christian history is rooted there and that heritage should be honored, respected and claimed as much as my later European heritage.   It is simply time that we light-skinned folk faced that there is nothing remotely superior about us because a fluke of human geographic migration long ago led to our having paler skins than those living in our originating geography.  It is time that we light skinned ones acknowledged the privilege that is now ours because generations before us claimed a white superiority which conquered and enslaved whole nations of darker children of God-in Africa, in this country and around the globe. It is time we acknowledged that some of God's children are still living with the life diminishing effects of that history.  And it is time that we, in our time, stepped up to the challenge voiced differently but voiced by both Rev. Wright and Senator Obama of moving towards a new reality of genuine equality and justice in this nation and unity in our churches.  Friends in Christ, this isn't a matter of going off on a guilt trip---guilt is counterproductive right now on the matter of race.  It is rather a matter of people of all races taking responsibility for what we do with the realities of our time.  It is a matter of living what we say we believe:  that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth and all those who walk upon it.  We are all beloved children of our God but some of God's children in our world are without fair access to food, education, work and health care because of a history of racism.  It is time we all said ENOUGH. The time for hating and anger and division is past. It is now time for sacred conversations about race and about building a better world together, for all, ALL of God's children. 

 

Sorry for the length but some of you asked for this!

Below are some additional links that have been shared with me...

With you in prayer during these interesting times,

Jane

 here's a piece by: