Trinity Church:

With Barack Obama's Trinity Church and its recenlty retired minister Rev. Jeremiah Wright very much in the news lately, I came across an interesting, and generally very sympathetic, article on the church published in the Christian Century last May. Of particular interest:

TRINITY'S CRITICS SPEAK as though it is a political organization constantly advocating for social change, like Operation PUSH or the National Action Network. But it is neither more nor less than a church. "Trinity's activism is a write-your-elected-official activism, not one that mobilizes thousands to picket," Hopkins said. The only signs of politics that I saw in Trinity's packed worship bulletin the day I visited were a list of polling places in advance of an upcoming citywide election and a reminder to "boycott Wal-Mart." Not exactly the stuff of revolution.

There is no denying, however, that a strand of radical black political theology influences Trinity. James Cone, the pioneer of black liberation theology, is a much-admired figure at Trinity. Cone told me that when he's asked where his theology is institutionally embodied, he always mentions Trinity. Cone's groundbreaking 1969 book Black Theology and Black Power announced: "The time has come for white America to be silent and listen to black people.... All white men are responsible for white oppression.... Theologically, Malcolm X was not far wrong when he called the white man 'the devil.' ... Any advice from whites to blacks on how to deal with white oppression is automatically under suspicion as a clever device to further enslavement." Contending that the structures of a still-racist society need to be dismantled, Cone is impatient with claims that the race situation in America has improved. In a 2004 essay he wrote, "Black suffering is getting worse, not better.... White supremacy is so clever and evasive that we can hardly name it. It claims not to exist, even though black people are dying daily from its poison" (in Living Stones in the Household of God).

Wright agrees. When I asked him whether white Americans are right to maintain that the racial situation has improved since the days when Africentric Christianity was born, Wright pointed to the racist remarks by radio host Don Imus: "And you say things have improved?"