NY Times highlighted suggested question for Democratic debate that echoed smears about Obama's church

››› ››› KATHLEEN HENEHAN

In an item consisting of suggested questions sent in by readers for the upcoming Democratic presidential debate, The New York Times featured a question for Sen. Barack Obama that included the assertion that Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ, "gives the impression that it encourages only black attendance and black allegiance." The reader went on to write: "Your willing participation in this church for some 20 years does not speak to an open mind and quest. Please explain." But visitors to the church have said that they experienced Trinity as racially inclusive.

A February 21 New York Times item headlined, "The People's Questions," listed several suggested questions for the upcoming Democratic presidential debate, which, according to the Times, were "culled" "from the hundreds sent in by readers of Campaign Stops, the editorial department's election blog." One of the questions for Sen. Barack Obama included the assertion that Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ, in Chicago, "gives the impression that it encourages only black attendance and black allegiance." The reader, identified as Lorraine Hynes, went on to write: "Your willing participation in this church for some 20 years does not speak to an open mind and quest. Please explain." But while the Times found merit in printing a question asserting that Obama's church "gives the impression that it encourages only black attendance and black allegiance" and that Obama's "participation in this church" "does not speak to an open mind," visitors to the church have said that they experienced Trinity as racially inclusive. Moreover, the Times itself reported in June 2007 that the United Church of Christ, of which Trinity is part, "prides itself on its inclusiveness of racial minorities, gay men and lesbians and people with disabilities, and its focus on social injustice."

From the February 21 New York Times item:

Senator Obama, the church to which you belong gives the impression that it encourages only black attendance and black allegiance. Its Web site glorifies the church's African roots. Your willing participation in this church for some 20 years does not speak to an open mind and quest. Please explain.

-- LORRAINE HYNES

Bellmawr, N.J.

Rev. Jane Fisler Hoffman, a minister in the United Church of Christ who attends Trinity, recently made a statement about the church -- video of which is available online -- in which she stated that "ministers all around the United Church of Christ -- European-American, African-American, and other denominations -- bring people from their churches to Trinity because the worship is so powerful, the preaching is so meaningful and prophetic." Hoffman went on to add that Trinity "is a church that reaches out to everybody, locally, around the world, all colors, and it just wants to share the gospel and good news of Jesus." Moreover, in an April 2, 2007, posting on the website of the Martin Marty Center -- the institute for advanced research in all fields of the study of religion at the University of Chicago Divinity School -- professor emeritus Martin E. Marty wrote of Trinity: "My wife and I on occasion attend, and, like all other non-blacks, are enthusiastically welcomed."

While Trinity's website says that its "roots in the Black religious experience and tradition are deep, lasting and permanent" and that its congregation maintains "a non-negotiable commitment to Africa," it does not "encourage[] only black attendance and black allegiance," as Hynes suggested. When asked to address accusations that Trinity "is a black separatist church," during a March 1, 2007, appearance on Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Trinity's pastor at the time, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, stated that the church's "African-centered point of view does not assume superiority, nor does it assume separatism."

Posted In
Diversity & Discrimination, Race & Ethnicity, Religion
Network/Outlet
The New York Times
Stories/Interests
Barack Obama, 2008 Elections
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