Mark D. Roberts

On Monday I put up a post having to do with the delay in the retirement of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright from Trinity United Church of Christ. My post was based largely on an article from the TIME website called “The Unretirement of Reverend Wright.” According to this article, Rev. Wright used his power to delay both his retirement and the promotion of Rev. Otis Moss III as the new Senior Pastor. The claims and tone of the TIME piece suggested that Rev. Wright was doing what was best for himself, not for the church or Rev. Moss.
In my post, I admited that “there is much I don’t know about this situation.” I’m well aware of the tendency in the secular media to misunderstand or misrepresent things happening in churches. One of my blog readers told me that TIME had badly erred in this story. His source was a streamed portion of last Sunday’s worship service at Trinity Church. So I went to the Trinity website to see what I could discover. There, on the home page, was a new link called “Click Here to Read the Pastors’ Response to the Times/CNN Article.” I did click and was taken to a PDF version of a letter sent jointly from Rev. Wright and Rev. Moss.
One thing I noted right away was the letterhead. It was Trinity United Church of Christ letterhead, and included the following names and titles:

Rev. Otis Moss III, Pastor
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Pastor Emeritus

I’ll summarize what is found in the two-page, single-spaced letter:

1. The recent media reports about the leadership transition are “divisive and distorted.”
2. The Trinity Church faces “a congregational moment, where we lay claim on our charge to be a community totally committed to Chirst. We call our congregation to family meditation and prayer and now we arm you with the facts.”
3. Trinity Church follows the polity of the United Church of Christ. According to these guidelines, Rev. Moss cannot be fully vested with the authority as the church’s pastor until he has jumped through all of the required UCC hoops. This will happen in the fall of 2008. So the delay in Rev. Moss’s installation is not a matter of Rev. Wright’s hubris, but rather a requirement of Trinity’s denomination.
4. Even before his full installation, Rev. Moss “has been assigned full pastoral, administrative and management responsibilties.”
5. Rev. Moss will be given the honorary title of “Senior Pastor” just like Rev. Wright, even though this is not an official UCC title.
6. Curiously enough, the closing of the letter included the title “Senior Pastor-Elect” under Rev. Moss’s name, rather than “Pastor,” as on the official letterhead.

So, according to this official communication from Trinity Church and its leaders, there is no potential schism among leaders or the church. Rev. Wright is not seeking his own gain. The delay in Rev. Moss’s installation is not Rev. Wright’s fault. The transition between these two pastors is going well.
Given some of the eccentric things Rev. Wright has said from the pulpit and in recent public appearances, one might be inclined to doubt his truthfulness in this letter. But, though I have cringed at some of Rev. Wright’s statements, I what is said in this letter. Why? For one thing, though Jeremiah Wright has said some exceedingly odd things at times, he has demonstrated over the years a true love for the Trinity Church. Moreover, though I don’t know much about Otis Moss III, what I do know has been most impressive to me. On top of that, if this letter contained serious falsehoods, this would be obvious to the lay leadership of Trinity Church, and would not be acceptable to them.
But, more than this, I have seen time and again how the secular media gets things wrong when it comes to the church. Sometimes this reflects ill intent. Perhaps the TIME reporter wanted to “get” Jeremiah Wright. But, more often, the failure of the mainstream media to tell the truth about churches is a result of ignorance. It may be that the TIME reporter didn’t know much of anything about United Church of Christ polity, or relied on unreliable sources, or . . . you name it.
Of course there might very well be still another side to this story. I hope not, however. The good folk of Trinity Church have been through hard times recently. They need a time out of the spotlight, and they desperately need a smooth transition between Rev. Wright and Rev. Moss.
So, as of this moment I withdraw what I had said about Rev. Wright’s unwillingness to let go of his church. Of course this is just another way of saying that I was wrong. For the sake of Trinity Church and the church of Jesus Christ, I hope I really was wrong, and that I continue to be wrong.

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