Jesus Lite and Victimology at Obama’s Still-Racist Trinity Church

“Black people! Grow up! Stop helping white people!”

So thundered the preacher from the pulpit of Obama’s Trinity Church.

After the first time I wrote about Obama’s home church, one of the members of that church posted a comment here defending Trinity and inviting me to visit. I decided I wouldn’t write anything more until I had seen it for myself.

A few weeks ago I made the pilgrimage to Trinity. Clicking on a map ad for directions to the church, I ended up at the wrong address–their old building few blocks west. Walking around the building I saw a parking lot with a sign declaring “members only”. Would that be the topic sentence for my visit?

Just as I was deciding that this wasn’t the same building as in the website, a guy in a van–a shuttle from the remote parking lot–offered me a ride to the church. As the driver picked up more people from the street, I inquired about Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Would he be speaking today? Rev. Wright was retiring, I was told. Rev. Moss was in the process of taking his place.

We were dropped off and entered the building, sunlight filtering through two stories of stained glass inside, and were immediately stopped by a gesture from a pair of white gloves. A between-services prayer had just begun in the sanctuary, and the ushers, women in white gloves, were stopping everybody in their tracks. It reminded me of a movie set I saw once at Daley Plaza with all the extras playing pedestrians frozen in place prior to rolling the cameras.

The prayer over, I walked around the narthex a bit to see if I could glean their story. Walking upstairs to the balcony entrance, I looked at the stained glass window a little more closely. Black faces and a tribute to the NAACP, the first time I’ve ever seen that as a stained glass theme in a church. Then I saw white faces immortalized in the stained glass. Who were they? A male judge and man in a police uniform. Between them stood a man with a black face and a dejected posture. The story was obvious. The only white people pictured here were Oppressors.

Enough time for a pit stop before the service started. On my way to the rest room I noticed how many people were wearing African costume. In the ladies room the mirror area was crowded. More women in African gear were making last minute makeup repairs before the service. I was definitely underdressed. Hopefully I would be undernoticed as well.

It was time to find a seat for the service, so I decided on the main floor, but far enough back to be unobtrusive. I like to listen for God in the silences as well as the words and music, but Trinity isn’t that kind of church. Audience participation is the order of the day. Trinity parishioners are in the habit of calling out “amen” or variations thereof whenever they like something.

For those who find music indispensable to religious practice, Trinity certainly has a world-class choir. Their rendition of the Lord’s Prayer gave me goose bumps. At least I think I had goose bumps. Everyone holds the hand of the person next to them during prayer, so I couldn’t really see my arms, but I know I had goose bumps. I kept waiting for the hush after each musical phrase where the spirituality of the moment comes through, and you can feel the building itself inhale, but everyone seemed compelled to fill up the silences with amens.

Some of the women were even more vocal. While only male voices were heard from the authority of the pulpit, at various times throughout the service women called out from the congregation. One young woman in the front shrieked repeatedly. She looked like she might have Tourette’s Syndrome, but no one paid any attention to her. Later in the back a well-dressed woman stood up and shouted, “Something! Something!” Again, everyone acted as if that were par for the course.

No hymnals in this church, there isn’t even a place for a hymnal in the pews. The words to the one hymn were printed in the bulletin, but no one was reading it–or singing it.

The gospel reading, I Corinthians 13, was also printed in the bulletin, done as a unison reading:

…When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face…

Then the sermon. The lesson to be taken from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians was about slavery.

  • The mirrors of Paul’s time were not of a good enough quality to see a clear reflection because they were made by slaves.
  • Walmart practices a form of slavery. (I gave the speaker a silent “amen” for speaking out about Walmart’s labor practices.) Then …
  • “Black people! Grow up! Stop helping white people!”

Oopsie! Is this really the Christian message? Help people in your neighborhood, of course. Patronize local businesses instead of overseas sweatshops, yes. But “stop helping white people”?

I once heard a speech by Louis Farrakhan, and this is how he spoke. First he started out with things everyone could agree with. Helping your neighbors. Economic development. After about twenty minutes, when everyone was nodding in agreement, Farrakhan would start in with the hate speech.

Even though slavery ended 140 years ago and no member of Trinity has ever been a slave, the Trinity Church narrative is about slavery. Our story is about being persecuted, it says, our story is about being victimized. And where other churches might talk about the devil or about evil, Trinity demonizes white people. Never mind that there were whites who marched for civil rights. Never mind that there were whites who lost their lives trying to register blacks to vote in the South. Never mind that every day there are whites–clergy and ordinary people too–who quietly defend justice and insist that the value of a person is more than skin deep. That doesn’t fit the Trinity Gospel of Victimology.

As I left Trinity I looked for some symbol that anyone there had recognized value in any white person. There it was, at the bottom of the stained glass window. A figure on a horse, bent over with fatigue. This could only be one of the circuit riders, the early preachers who traveled on horseback, and rarely lived past the age of thirty. As far I know, circuit riders were all white, but unlike the full-color treatment of the rest of the stained glass, this figure was done in sepia tones and you couldn’t tell its skin tone. No, a white person with a calling from God wouldn’t fit their narrative.

Today I was back at my home church. The faces in the pulpit were black, white, Asian, male and female. As we greeted each other during the passing of the peace, the faces in the pews were just as diverse. As the communion was shared we sang:

One bread, one body, one Lord of all,
One cup of blessings which we bless.
And we, though many throughout the earth,
We are one body in this one Lord.

Gentile or Jew, servant or free, woman or man, no more…

One bread , one body, one Lord of all, ….

And at the end of the communion where the printed ritual in the hymnal says

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord…

the entire congregation spoke in one voice without hesitation

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord…

unwilling to participate in perceived gender discrimination, no matter what the authority behind the printing of those words.

How did I feel as a result of my visit to Trinity? Closer to God? Yes. For sure. But I was also reminded of the gentile woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus refused, based on the woman’s cultural identity. So did she just leave? No. The woman rebuked Jesus. Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table she told Jesus. A bitter snark, that, considering the Middle Eastern attitude towards dogs. In the Biblical story, Jesus accepted the gentile woman’s rebuke and healed the child.

No one will be rude to the white person who visits Trinity, but they don’t exactly consider white people to be members of the same family of God either. If you are white, you will have to be content with the scraps that fall from the table.

Trinity needs to heed the criticism of the negative publicity it has been receiving. There is some healing to be done.


Related posts:

Is Barack Obama’s Trinity Church Racist?


10 Responses to “Jesus Lite and Victimology at Obama’s Still-Racist Trinity Church”

  1. borris Says:

    – “But I was also reminded of the gentile woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus refused, based on the woman’s cultural identity. So did she just leave? No. The woman rebuked Jesus. Even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table she told Jesus. A bitter snark, that, considering the Middle Eastern attitude towards dogs. In the Biblical story, Jesus accepted the gentile woman’s rebuke and healed the child.”

    i find that entire statement very hard to believe. Where in the bible does it say that? Let me know.

  2. Nijma Says:

    Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30

  3. chris Says:

    You quote “jesus” and his bible.
    If jesus was real i promise you he would’ve never turned anyone away based on their cultural identity.

    i think you’re reading from the Koran.
    The one true God would never turn anyone away for their “cultural” identity. That’s small little world stuff.
    He really wouldn’t turn anyone away(.)
    No matter what they believe in.

  4. chris Says:

    That is as good as God is…
    The ultimate faith in you and whatever you believe.

  5. Bobby Says:

    You mention being disquieted during your visit to Trinity because you saw no face of a “white person with a calling from God” in their stained glass windows. I am sorry you felt excluded, however, I encourage you to take solace in the fact that you can visit thousands of other churches where white faces are the only ones you will see in stained glass. Does this mean that these churches feel that black people are not called to serve God? No, but as you personally experienced, it can remind someone of the cultural heritage of that particular church. Would you complain about a church with a strong Korean membership with services in Korean and outreach programs to help new immigrants? I hope not. On the other hand, I would agree that rhetoric that implicitly or explictly demonizes white people or any group merely demarcated by color is divisive and unchristian. I believe that closer scrutiny (such as your courageous visit) will reveal that racial divisivness is not the general tenet of Trinity or the larger church to which it belongs.

  6. Nijma Says:

    Not quite the same, Bobby. A more apt comparison would be if you went to a completely white church and saw immortalized in stain glass pictures of blacks stereotyped as drug dealers, car thieves, murderers, hookers, drunks, and addicts. I don’t think you will find that sort of thing anywhere in a white church, much less on a stained glass window. I also suspect most blacks would find it objectionable to see all blacks portrayed in purely negative roles. I have personally met all of those types of blacks in real life, though.

  7. Audrey Says:

    I don’t think a black/diverse church that demonizes whites to be any less Christian. I’m white and acknowledge that my people have done, and continue to do, all manner of demeaning and horrible things to other races and cultures because ultimately, its Us first. We can’t applaud ourselves enough for how courageous we have been when going against the grain to help blacks and minorities. As if this is and has always been a White country and we’re being so gracious as to allow blacks like Obama to have any kind of force or power, or to drink from the same water fountain as us. Black people, Mexicans, whatever- they’re outnumbering us these days more and more. Let them arm themselves with what they will and preach what they will. We once had no qualms about stating our belief in the complete inferiority of every other race to whites- why not just come out and say it Nijma! Those Trinity preachers ought to know their place and be greatful they’re not spit-shinin yer shoes right this very minute!

  8. Nijma Says:

    Doesn’t Audrey seem like such a sweet person.

    But I wonder how she found out about all those Eeeeevil White People. You know they’re ALL as evil as the day is long.

    It’s in their genetic code, you know. They’re bred that way, kind of like cows.

  9. P. Says:

    Wow, Audrey .. you’re full of s*** .. What Nijma is saying is that continuing to water some negative thought will only make negative plants grow. What the good person is preaching is that everyone has a place, and everyone is a part of the big energy called God .. Portraying white people on stained glass as cops and judges is just a way to revenge and reopen the scar that is slowly trying to heal .. and vengeance leads somewhere you are not ready to go my little inocent Audrey, you are white .. and you are feeling guilty of all the slavery thang .. and you know why you feel this guilt .. because of what you ear .. because of the music you listen to, because of the fact that you can’t stand for your f***** self and say ”I AM NOT A F***** HATER” and you know why you can’t say that .. because you prbably are a hater .. and you probably are the one who didnt hang with black people when you where young because you thought they smelled funny and they looked strange, now that they’re considered ”cool” you like them, same for mexicans .. look at yourself .. and try to see the good inside people, instead of trying to fit in,or pointing fingers and try to sound more intelligent then you really are. The problem is not the color .. its the revenge and hate, you’re the kind of white c*** who would say ” [three lines of explicit sexual violence content edited–N]. SHUT UP, IT’S JUST F**** WRONG, AND THESE DAYS THIS S*** IS OVER, YOU CAN BE BLACK AND BE RICH YOU CAN BE WHITE AND BE POOR, YOU DONT HAVE TO SELL DRUGS IF YOU’RE BLCK AND YOU DON’T CALL THE COPS FOR B****** IF YOU’RE WHITE, BLACK WHITE ASIAN NAPTADULOULEAN PURPLE RED OR F***** POLKA DOTTED RAINBOW ON A F***** CLOUDY BACKGROUND IS ALL THE SAME. Anyway .. we can see it comin … it’s comin, like a nerd that has been bullied that grew some muscles to be able to be the bully .. and everyone should be prepared for it .. good article Nijma .. One Love .. Bob Marley was just right .. oh .. and he was from a white father and black mother .. but that’s a whole other story ..
    [****edited for language–Nijma]

  10. P. Says:

    sorry if i’m a little rude, i’m just like that .. it pisses me off ..

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