Obama's Church and the Farrakhan Factor

Q: I've heard that Obama attends a black supremacist church.

A: Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago is affiliated with the United Church of Christ, the fifth largest mainline Protestant denomination in the U.S. The church’s website describes it as “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian….We are an African people, and remain 'true to our native land,' the mother continent, the cradle of civilization."

The United Church of Christ’s general minister and president, Rev. John H. Thomas, has called emails that claim the church is racist, “absurd, mean-spirited and politically motivated.” He says the church is proud of its Afrocentric heritage: “This is no different from the hundreds of UCC churches from the German, Evangelical and Reformed stream that continue to own and celebrate their German heritage, insisting on annual sausage and sauerkraut dinners and singing Stille Nacht on Christmas Eve.” Prominent religious historian and University of Chicago professor Martin Marty, who is white, has said publicly that he and his wife have worshipped at the church and have always been made to feel welcome. “[F]or Trinity,” Marty has said, “Being ‘unashamedly black’ does not mean being ‘anti-white.’”

Q: But hasn’t Trinity United’s pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, supported Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan?

A: Trumpet Newsmagazine, which Wright founded 25 years ago as a church publication but which now exists separately--his daughters serve as publisher and executive editor, according to the Washington Post--last year gave its Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Trumpeter Award to Louis Farrakhan, who has been strongly criticized for his anti-Semitic statements. Wright, who praised Farrakhan in Trumpet for “his integrity and honesty,” also accompanied Farrakhan on a 1984 visit to Libyan president Muammar Gaddafi and said last year that when Obama’s enemies learned of the trip, “a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell.” When the Washington Post reported on the Trumpet award this year, Obama said in a statement, “I decry racism and anti-Semitism in every form and strongly condemn the anti-Semitic statements made by Minister Farrakhan.” He characterized the award as “not a decision with which I agree.”

Earlier this year, Farrakhan praised Obama in a public speech, calling him “the hope of the entire world.” The incident came up at a February debate, when Hillary Clinton remarked that she’d rejected support from an anti-Semitic group in New York. Obama noted that he’d denounced Farrakhan earlier but told Clinton: "I’m happy to concede the point, and I would reject and denounce [Farrakhan]."

 Obama’s Faith Life

Q: Do we know a lot about Obama’s faith life?

A: Yes. Obama has long been an active member of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and frequently attends services there. His pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, officiated at his wedding, baptized both his daughters, and dedicated his house.

Obama came to the United Church of Christ after college. He’d taken a job as a community organizer for a group of Chicago churches and focused on tackling joblessness. Working with pastors and laypeople, Obama has written, “forced me to confront a dilemma that my mother never fully resolved in her own life: the fact that I had no community or shared traditions in which to ground my most deeply held beliefs. The Christians with whom I worked recognized themselves in me; they saw that I knew their Book and shared their values and sang their songs. But they sensed that a part of me remained removed…”

Drawn by the activist African-American church tradition, the longtime religious skeptic was “finally able to walk down the aisle of Trinity United Church of Christ one day and be baptized.”

 How Christians, Muslims, and Jews Have Reacted to Obama

Q: Have the false rumors hurt Obama with Christian voters?

A: Obama has received substantial support in the primaries from the Christian community, though largely among black churchgoers who are likely motivated more by race than religion. Polls suggest that Hillary Clinton has an edge among white churchgoers, but it’s unclear if the false Muslim rumors are at all responsible.

Q: How have Jews reacted to the false rumors, and what’s the truth about Obama’s stance on Israel and the Palestinians?

A: The false Muslim rumors, combined with Obama’s past sympathetic statements toward Palestinians, his support for negotiating with Iran, his ties to his pastor—a supporter of Louis Farrakhan—and the role of Israel critic Zbigniew Brzezinski as an informal Obama adviser—has sown some doubts about him in the Jewish community. Obama has met with Jewish activists to address the concerns. During the campaign, Obama has frequently voiced support for Israel, saying in a February debate that the Jewish state’s security is “sacrosanct.” In January, a letter signed by leaders of nine prominent Jewish organizations condemned emails falsely claiming Obama to be Muslim. Obama won Jewish votes in primaries in Connecticut, California, and elsewhere, while Hillary Clinton has won among Jews in New York, New Jersey, and a handful of other states.

Q: How have Muslims reacted to the false rumors about Obama being Muslim?

A: Some Muslims have criticized Obama for calling false rumors about him “scurrilous” and for declining to defend Muslims as he combats the rumors. What’s so bad about being Muslim, they ask? There is no good polling on which presidential candidate Muslims are supporting in 2008. But with Muslims moving from the Republican to the Democratic column in the years since George W. Bush’s war on terror, some Muslim leaders believe that Obama is beating Clinton among Muslims, largely because of his background and his outspoken support for stepped-up diplomacy with Muslim nations.

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