On being 'unashamedly black'
The suggestion that a church identifying itself as "unashamedly black" necessarily implies racism on the part of its leadership or members fails to acknowledge that there are African Americans still living today not to mention their children, whose outlook would have been shaped in part by what their parents experienced who endured the humiliation of being forbidden from drinking from "whites only" water fountains, eating in "whites only" restaurants, and swimming in "whites only" pools, etc. due to Jim Crow segregation laws. This is not ancient history; for the people concerned, racial segregation is a living memory. To declare oneself "unashamedly black" is to reclaim one's stolen dignity. It is not an expression of racism.
To suggest otherwise also fails to acknowledge the 200-year history of a religious and social institution the black church born out of slavery and shaped by the need to overcome subjugation and marginalization due to racial prejudice.
The first independent black churches in America, formed around the turn of the 19th century, "combined evangelical zeal with work on behalf of struggling free blacks and antislavery advocacy," writes historian Laurie Maffly-Kipp. They also provided social services then commonly denied to blacks in both slave and free states. "Because limited educational and vocational opportunities were open to blacks in northern states," Maffly-Kipp continues, "churches also served as schools, training centers, and centers of community organization. Many of the early black newspapers published were facilitated or spearheaded by black clergy, and thus the churches helped to bring African Americans across distances together into a more self-conscious community."
Even after the abolition of slavery (which, needless to say, did not translate into instant equality), black churches continued to fulfill these functions in African American communities, right up through the civil rights era and on to today. The black church movement was never an expression of racism; it was a response to racism, and a homegrown solution to many of the social problems it created.
Separatism vs. self-reliance
An artifact of more radical times, Trinity United's emphasis on such buzzwords as "Africentrism" and a "Black Value System" may ring as a call to racial separatism in some ears, but the parishioners themselves view it as a way of honoring their common heritage, as well as fostering self-esteem and a spirit of self-reliance.
"Commitment to God, black community, commitment to the black family, the black work ethic, self-discipline and self-respect. Those are values that the conservative movement in particular has suggested are necessary for black advancement," said TUCC's most famous member, Barack Obama, in remarks published by the Chicago Tribune. "So I would be puzzled that they would object or quibble with the bulk of a document that basically espouses profoundly conservative values of self-reliance and self-help."
Update: Obama and the pastor
Which is not to say that the candidate necessarily accepts every tenet of the church. Obama has denounced the inflammatory rhetoric in sermons delivered by TUCC's former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, for example rhetoric which Obama says "pained and angered" him to hear. "I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies," Obama wrote in a statement published on the Huffington Post website. "I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue."
Sources and further reading:
Trinity United Church of Christ
Race Is Sensitive Subtext in Campaign
Chicago Tribune, February 6, 2007
Rev. Jeremiah Wright: Pastor Inspires Obama's 'Audacity'
Chicago Tribune, Jan. 21, 2007
Africentric Church: A Visit to Chicago's UCC
Christian Century, May 29, 2007
Keeping the Faith at Trinity United Church of Christ
The Christian Post, April 2, 2007
African American Religion
By historian Laurie Maffly-Kipp, via National Humanities Center
Black Churches, Community, and Development
By Omar M. McRoberts, via National Housing Institute
Last updated: 03/14/08