The Racialist Churches of Our Presidential Candidates

Imagine if a presidential candidate were to spend their adult life in a church that had a history of racism. The candidate explains, more-or-less convincingly, that they are neither a racist nor a racialist. In fact, few people believe that the candidate is a racialist, despite the fact that they did not disassociate themselves from their church’s teachings.

Imagine also that they looked the other way and feigned ignorance of what their church taught or refused to directly denounce the racist teachings. How would you feel about such a politician? Would you regard them as a person of integrity? Would they be qualified to be the President of the United States?

Unfortunately, this is not a hypothetical question but a concern we should have about both presidential candidates—Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.

As Andrew Sullivan pointed out yesterday, Mitt Romney “belonged to a white supremacist church for 31 years of his life, went on a mission to convert Christians and Jews and others to this church, which retained white supremacy as a doctrine until 1978– decades after Brown vs Board of Education, and a decade after the end of the anti-miscegenation laws.” Indeed, Sullivan is correct. Romney was well into adulthood before the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints changed its racist’s  ways and proclaimed that “all worthy male members of the Church may be ordained to the priesthood without regard for race or color.”

Sullivan asks “what did the Romneys do to confront their own church’s non-secular position on the inherent spiritual inferiority of blacks? Nothing, so far as I can find.” That certainly seems to be the case. Like Barack Obama, Romney was a member of a racist church and did nothing about it.

During the 2008 primary and election, Obama believed—as did most of the media—that his biggest problem was his relationship with Rev. Wright. The real concern went largely ignored. Obama’s association with the rogue pastor was forgivable; his association with Trinity United Church of Christ, however, was—and remains—inexcusable.

For over twenty years, Obama and his family were members of Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC), an apostate, racialist church that makes no distinction between faith and politics. TUCC adheres to a form black liberation theology, a strain of heresy that makes Christianity subservient to a twisted, racialist political ideology. The purpose of Black theology is, as the movement’s founding theologian claims, to make political “liberation” the “central theme of the biblical message.”

As James Hal Cone, the founder of Black theology and a mentor of Rev. Wright’s, once wrote:

Black theology refuses to accept a God who is not identified totally with the goals of the black community. If God is not for us and against white people, then he is a murderer, and we had better kill him. The task of black theology is to kill Gods who do not belong to the black community. . . . Black theology will accept only the love of God which participates in the destruction of the white enemy. What we need is the divine love as expressed in Black Power, which is the power of black people to destroy their oppressors here and now by any means at their disposal. Unless God is participating in this holy activity, we must reject his love.

And in another book, Cone wrote:

For white people, God’s reconciliation in Jesus Christ means that God has made black people a beautiful people; and if they are going to be in relationship with God, they must enter by means of their black brothers, who are a manifestation of God’s presence on earth. The assumption that one can know God without knowing blackness is the basic heresy of the white churches.

In 2007 Cone told Jason Byassee, a writer for the Christian Century, that “when he’s asked where his theology is institutionally embodied, he always mentions Trinity.” An example of the influence of Cone’s “theology” can be found on TUCC’s website, under a set of 12 concepts known as the “Black Value System.” The concepts include:

Commitment to the Black Community. The highest level of achievement for any Black person must be a contribution of strength and continuity of the Black Community.

[. . .]

Pledge Allegiance to All Black Leadership Who Espouse and Embrace the Black Value System.

Personal Commitment to Embracement of the Black Value System. To measure the worth and validity of all activity in terms of positive contributions to the general welfare of the Black Community and the Advancement of Black People towards freedom.

This dangerous distortion of the Gospel is the foundation of what Trinity United Church of Christ believes and teaches.

This is the crux of the problem for Obama: Set aside the inflammatory rhetoric of Rev. Wright, even concede that the president knew nothing of his mentor’s hate-filled rants, and you’re still left with the troubling fact that for 20 years Obama was a member of a church that is founded on this racialist theology.

This is the despicable theology that was being preached while Obama was apparently asleep in the pews. This is the divisive teaching that Obama’s fellow church members embraced and spread throughout the black community in Chicago. I have no doubt that Obama is not a racialist and that he has never agreed with the basic tenets of his church. Yet I find the alternative explanation just as troubling.

Obama knew that as a modern Democrat he is not expected to believe—or at least act as if he believes—the teachings of TUCC or any other church. The tacit agreement between Democratic candidates and their voters is that it doesn’t matter whether a politician is a Protestant, Catholic, or religiously motivated racialist since they won’t let their church’s teachings conflict with their political ideology. They may claim to “Pledge Allegiance to the . . . Black Value System” but their true allegiance is to the value system of an irreligious liberalism. Religious language is still welcome if it merely substitutes for a liberal value (e.g., “social justice” used to justify redistribution of wealth). But if the two conflict (e.g., sanctity of life versus abortion rights) then the religious verbiage must be discarded.

“Barack Obama has referred to his faith more times than most presidents ever have, but for many it’s the wrong kind of faith,” says Jim Wallis, head of Sojourners. To be clear, when Wallis is referring to the “wrong kind of faith” he is not referring to Obama’s alignment with a racialist ideology. As long as Obama is using faith in the service of liberalism, Wallis, like Andrew Sullivan, will unapologetically turn a blind eye to the president’s racist associations. (Some people sell their integrity on the cheap.)

But while Democrats can be expected to put ideology ahead of faith, what is the GOP’s excuse?

Unfortunately, Sullivan has a point about there being a “double standard” on race and religion (though not the one he thinks). The same people who chastise Obama for his association with Rev. Wright and TUCC seem wholly unconcerned about Romney’s association with the pre-1978 LDS church. The fact that Romney belonged to a group that espoused such white supremacist teachings is disturbing. But even more disconcerting is that he doesn’t appear to have fully denounced his church’s earlier doctrine. The last time Romney was even asked about it was in interview by Tim Russert in 2007:

Russert: But it was wrong for your faith to exclude [African-Americans] for as long as it did?

Romney: I’ve told you exactly where I stand. My view is that there is no discrimination in the eyes of God and I could not have been more pleased when the decision occurred.

“Why could he not just have said ‘yes’?” asked Sullivan. Good question.

An even better question is why do we have two candidates who belonged to racist churches and no one seems to care?


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