THE SPINE MAY 6, 2008
Ever since Jeremiah Wright made his debut on the wider American political stage many people -- and especially white liberals -- have been wondering: what do he and his church represent in black religious life in the country? When most white liberals (sometimes, I confess, me included) talk about African-American matters, they speak from a very thin, even wobbly base of knowledge. That's been happening in the last six weeks again. It's my impression, in fact, that the consensus in this camp was that Wright was something of a prototypical figure and his church was very much like hundreds, maybe thousands of others. But this was bad news, and so the like-minded made it into a moral tale: white racism was still so rampant that millions of blacks were compelled to see the country, more or less, through Wright's eyes or through eyes like Wright's.
I've finally read an illuminating piece by two scholars who really know American blacks and black institutions, They are Stephan and Abigail Thernstrom, a husband and wife team, he the Winthrop professor of history at Harvard, she a political scientist and the vice chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, who are optimists about the African American future -- optimists, if only policy-makers weren't so attached to a grim view of what African Americans can accomplish.
In any case, they've written this article, "Examining the United Church of Christ," at realclearpolitics.com that puts Trinity into its proper place in relation to other black churches and shows how different it is from them. The U.C.C. is actually a white church with a few black subalterns. This used to be the old, sensible and modest Congregational Church which maybe still feels guilty for those of its seventeenth and eighteenth century communicants who were in the slave trade.