Senator Obama’s Church’s Counter Framing

The mainstream media just had this strong countering statement aimed directly  at their highly racialized and superficial, decontextualizing attacks on Senator Obama’s senior pastor by the leadership of the nation’s largest United Church of Christ:

Chicago, Ill. (March 15, 2008) — Nearly three weeks before the 40th commemorative anniversary of the murder of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.’s character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe.

“Dr. Wright has preached 207,792 minutes on Sunday for the past 36 years at Trinity United Church of Christ. This does not include weekday worship services, revivals and preaching engagements across America and around the globe, to ecumenical and interfaith communities. It is an indictment on Dr. Wright’s ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30-second sound bite,” said the Reverend Otis Moss III, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ.

During the 36-year pastorate of Dr. Wright, Trinity United Church of Christ has grown from 87 to 8,000 members. It is the largest congregation in the United Church of Christ (UCC) denomination.

“It saddens me to see news stories reporting such a caricature of a congregation that has been such a blessing to the UCC’s Wider Church mission,” said the Rev. John H. Thomas, UCC general minister and president, in a released statement. “ … It’s time for us to say ‘No’ to these attacks and declare that we will not allow anyone to undermine or destroy the ministries of any of our congregations in order to serve their own narrow political or ideological ends.”

Trinity United Church of Christ’s ministry is inclusive and global. The following ministries have been developed under Dr. Wright’s ministerial tutelage for social justice: assisted living facilities for senior citizens, day care for children, pastoral care and counseling, health care, ministries for persons living with HIV/AIDS, hospice training, prison ministry, scholarships for thousands of students to attend historically black colleges, youth ministries, tutorial and computer programs, a church library, domestic violence programs and scholarships and fellowships for women and men attending seminary.

Moss added, “The African American Church was born out of the crucible of slavery and the legacy of prophetic African American preachers since slavery has been and continues to heal broken marginalized victims of social and economic injustices. This is an attack on the legacy of the African American Church which led and continues to lead the fight for human rights in America and around the world.”<

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. preached the Christian tenet, “love thy neighbor as thyself.” Before Dr. King was murdered on April 4, 1968, he preached, “The 11 o’clock hour is the most segregated hour in America.” Forty years later, the African American Church community continues to face bomb threats, death threats, and their ministers’ characters are assassinated because they teach and preach prophetic social concerns for social justice. Sunday is still the most segregated hour in America.

Campus Diversity Matters: Improves Intergroup Understandings

      A key argument in the most famous, recent affirmative action case, the University of Michigan’s Grutter v. Bollinger case, was that affirmative action in admissions was essential for students to learn how to live in, and interact with a diversity of people in, the modern world. Campus diversity was thus linked to the expansion of intergroup understandings and of human knowledge in college and university settings.



       A study just released by The Center for Studies in Higher Education (CSHE) at the University of California (Berkeley) DOES DIVERSITY MATTER IN THE EDUCATION PROCESS? provides some interesting evidence for this contention.



       Undergraduates at eight University of California campuses were asked such questions as, “How often have you gained a deeper understanding of other perspectives through conversations with fellow students because they differed from you in the following ways?” – “Their religious beliefs were very different than yours; Their political opinions were very different from yours; They were of a different nationality than your own; They were of a different race or ethnicity than your own; Their sexual orientation was different.”



       The report’s abstract summarizes the findings thus (italics added):

This exploration into student interactions that improve understanding, student attachment, and demographic characteristics of students attending the University of California in the spring of 2006 finds the University to be a diverse and healthy environment. Interactions among students with demographic differences are frequent and are rarely associated with decreased sense of belonging. . . . Overall, rich or poor, religious or not religious, immigrant or Mayflower, Republican or Democrat, underrepresented minority or overrepresented majority, UC students feel that they belong at the University of California. In spite of strong scores . . . the University is encouraged to expand discussions about diversity, to launch a more thorough examination of campus climate generally, and to especially consider the experiences of low income and African American students.

       More specifically, the findings are thus:

Over 40% of students reported that their understanding of others was often improved through personal interactions with other students who differed from them in terms of SES, politics and religion. Discussions [improved understandings] more commonly occurred (about 60% reporting frequent) where the topic was race/ethnicity and nationality—student differences that were more apparent because of visual differences or accent. . . . [S]tudents were attributing change to the fact that the other student in the discussion possessed the differing characteristics. This finding goes to the very heart of the argument that diversity must be present in the student body, not only the curriculum.



       The study is certainly a start on assessing the impact of diversity on students in higher education, but the approach here seems rather superficial and too psychological. In my view much more attention needs to be given to qualitative and ethnographic data on students’ lives and experiences with diverse campus environments. Savvy researchers need to do focus groups and in-depth interviewing, to get deeply into what the campus racial and other social climates are really like. The report itself acknowledges this need, to explore the campus climate, but it is odd that this was not part of this original study–especially given some of their survey findings, such as that African American students had a lower than average sense of belonging on the UC campuses.



       Major studies on campus racial climates have been published since at least the mid-1990s, and it is strange that these are neither fully cited nor significantly used in a report touching centrally on the impact of racial/ethnic climates.