Trinity United Church of Christ

Trinity United Church of Christ

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Trinity United Church of Christ is a predominantly black church with more than 8,500 members, located on the southwest side of Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

. It is the largest church affiliated with the United Church of Christ
United Church of Christ
The United Church of Christ is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination primarily in the Reformed tradition but also historically influenced by Lutheranism. The Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches united in 1957 to form the UCC...

, a predominantly white Christian denomination
Christian denomination
A Christian denomination is an identifiable religious body under a common name, structure, and doctrine within Christianity. In the Orthodox tradition, Churches are divided often along ethnic and linguistic lines, into separate churches and traditions. Technically, divisions between one group and...

 with roots in Congregationalism
Congregational church
Congregational churches are Protestant Christian churches practicing Congregationalist church governance, in which each congregation independently and autonomously runs its own affairs....

, which branched from American Puritanism.

In early 2008, as part of their presidential election
United States presidential election, 2008
The United States presidential election of 2008 was the 56th quadrennial presidential election. It was held on November 4, 2008. Democrat Barack Obama, then the junior United States Senator from Illinois, defeated Republican John McCain, the senior U.S. Senator from Arizona. Obama received 365...

 coverage, news media outlets and political commentators brought Trinity to national attention when controversial excerpts of sermons
Black sermonic tradition
The Black sermonic tradition, or Black preaching tradition, is an approach to sermon construction and delivery among primarily African Americans. The tradition seeks to preach messages that appeal to both the intellect and the emotive dimensions of humanity...

 by the church's 36-year pastor Jeremiah Wright
Jeremiah Wright
Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr. is Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ , a megachurch in Chicago exceeding 6,000 members...

 were broadcast to highlight Democratic
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

 presidential candidate Barack Obama
Barack Obama
Barack Hussein Obama II is the 44th and current President of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. Obama previously served as a United States Senator from Illinois, from January 2005 until he resigned following his victory in the 2008 presidential election.Born in...

's relationship with Wright and the church. Obama responded with a speech, A More Perfect Union
A More Perfect Union (speech)
"A More Perfect Union" is the name of a speech delivered by Senator Barack Obama on March 18, 2008 in the course of the contest for the 2008 Democratic Party presidential nomination...

, which addressed the criticisms.

The church's early history coincided with the American civil rights movement, subsequent death of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the turmoil that entered the movement after his death. During that tumultuous period, an influx of radical black Muslim groups had begun to headquarter in Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

, and Trinity sought to recontextualize Christianity
Christianity
Christianity is a monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus as presented in canonical gospels and other New Testament writings...

 through black liberation theology
Black liberation theology
Black liberation theology, sometimes shortened to black theology, is a relatively new theological perspective found in some Christian churches in the United States. It maintains that African Americans must be liberated from multiple forms of bondage — political, social, economic, and religious...

 in order to counter the influence of radical black Muslim leaders, who taught that it was impossible to be both Black and Christian. Trinity is best known today for its social programs on behalf of the disadvantaged, both nationally and internationally, although in its earliest days such outreach did not even figure in its mission.

Background and history



Social and religious context


Pattern of migration among both blacks and whites are an important part of the social context in which Trinity was founded. Another is the threat that radical Black nationalism
Black nationalism
Black nationalism advocates a racial definition of indigenous national identity, as opposed to multiculturalism. There are different indigenous nationalist philosophies but the principles of all African nationalist ideologies are unity, and self-determination or independence from European society...

 and Black Islam posed to Christianity's influence among Chicago blacks, as well as to blacks nationwide. As these movements gained ground among Chicago blacks, Trinity sought to turn the attention of blacks back to Christianity.

1910 through 1940s


Beginning around 1910, The Great Migration of African Americans
Great Migration (African American)
The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million blacks out of the Southern United States to the Northeast, Midwest, and West from 1910 to 1970. Some historians differentiate between a Great Migration , numbering about 1.6 million migrants, and a Second Great Migration , in which 5 million or more...

 occurred as many thousands of blacks migrated northward from the south. A great many settled on Chicago's southside. When they arrived, they brought with them the forms of Christianity they had practiced in the South. As elsewhere in the United States, Chicago blacks of the time faced serious discrimination in typically every area of their existence.

In the early 1930s, Nation of Islam
Nation of Islam
The Nation of Islam is a mainly African-American new religious movement founded in Detroit, Michigan by Wallace D. Fard Muhammad in July 1930 to improve the spiritual, mental, social, and economic condition of African-Americans in the United States of America. The movement teaches black pride and...

 leader Elijah Muhammad
Elijah Muhammad
Elijah Muhammad was an African American religious leader, and led the Nation of Islam from 1934 until his death in 1975...

 moved his embroiled religion's headquarters from Detroit to Chicago
Chicago
Chicago is the largest city in the US state of Illinois. With nearly 2.7 million residents, it is the most populous city in the Midwestern United States and the third most populous in the US, after New York City and Los Angeles...

. Mixing
Syncretism
Syncretism is the combining of different beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term means "combining", but see below for the origin of the word...

 elements of the Bible
Bible
The Bible refers to any one of the collections of the primary religious texts of Judaism and Christianity. There is no common version of the Bible, as the individual books , their contents and their order vary among denominations...

 and the Qur'an
Qur'an
The Quran , also transliterated Qur'an, Koran, Alcoran, Qur’ān, Coran, Kuran, and al-Qur’ān, is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims consider the verbatim word of God . It is regarded widely as the finest piece of literature in the Arabic language...

, Elijah Muhammad taught that Africans were the Earth's first and most important people. He prophesied that a time was coming when African Americans would be fully vindicated, released from their various oppressions, and brought into full freedom within their own geographical state
Sovereign state
A sovereign state, or simply, state, is a state with a defined territory on which it exercises internal and external sovereignty, a permanent population, a government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood to be a state which is neither...

. For this to actualize, however, Elijah Muhammad taught that blacks had to radically separate from all whites. In addition, he proclaimed that blacks needed to live a moral life.

By the 1940s, the Nation of Islam's radical message had drawn in thousands of Chicago's blacks, many who had converted from one of the forms of Christianity their forebearers brought northward to Chicago (see Trinity in comparative perspective, below, for a discussion of the various forms).

1950s through 1960


Another of the contextual backdrops of Trinity is a pattern of migration that occurred in Chicago during the 1950s and 60s, when middle-class whites began vacating urban areas for surrounding suburbs. As whites in southern Chicago migrated in large numbers to suburbs, upwardly mobile blacks from the "Black Belt" of Chicago's South Side
South Side (Chicago)
The South Side is a major part of the City of Chicago, which is located in Cook County, Illinois, United States. Much of it has evolved from the city's incorporation of independent townships, such as Hyde Park Township which voted along with several other townships to be annexed in the June 29,...

 migrated in, while non-mobile blacks remained in the South Side.

Meanwhile, by 1960, the Nation of Islam national spokesperson Malcolm X
Malcolm X
Malcolm X , born Malcolm Little and also known as El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz , was an African American Muslim minister and human rights activist. To his admirers he was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, a man who indicted white America in the harshest terms for its...

 had founded Mr. Muhammad Speaks in Chicago to help the continued spread of the Nation of Islam message. The newspaper achieved a circulation of over 600,000, making it one of the most prominent black American newspapers of the time. By this time, Nation of Islam ideology held a quite significant sway over Chicago blacks.

1961 through 1966: under Kenneth B. Smith


Trinity marks its beginning on December 3, 1961, when twelve middle-class black families, most of whom were descendants of migrants to Chicago during The Great Migration of African Americans
Great Migration (African American)
The Great Migration was the movement of 6 million blacks out of the Southern United States to the Northeast, Midwest, and West from 1910 to 1970. Some historians differentiate between a Great Migration , numbering about 1.6 million migrants, and a Second Great Migration , in which 5 million or more...

, met for worship in a Chicago elementary school gymnasium. Prior to the recent migration of whites to the suburbs, blacks had found it extremely difficult to move into middle-class surroundings in Chicago due to segregated housing
Racial segregation in the United States
Racial segregation in the United States, as a general term, included the racial segregation or hypersegregation of facilities, services, and opportunities such as housing, medical care, education, employment, and transportation along racial lines...

 patterns and homeownership discrimination (also see Racial steering
Racial steering
Racial steering refers to the practice in which real estate brokers guide prospective home buyers towards or away from certain neighborhoods based on their race...

). At the time of the 3 December meeting, Chicago's Halsted Street
Halsted Street
Halsted Street is a major north-south street in the American city of Chicago, Illinois.-Location:In Chicago's grid system, Halsted street marks 800 West, one mile west of State Street, from Grace Street in Lakeview south to the city limits at the Little Calumet River in West Pullman...

 marked "the color line".
Sidenote:
Congregationalist worship at Trinity, 1960s


During the late 19th century, Congregationalist missionaries, working through the American Missionary Association
American Missionary Association
The American Missionary Association was a Protestant-based abolitionist group founded on September 3, 1846 in Albany, New York. The main purpose of this organization was to abolish slavery, to educate African Americans, to promote racial equality, and to promote Christian values...

, established numerous black colleges and universities throughout the U.S. south and north. They insisted that educated blacks eliminate displays of emotion during singing and preaching. This practice widely persisted through much of the 1960s and was carried over into black Congregationalist churches; some AMA-derived churches in the UCC still use a more restrained liturgy to this day. Worship services at Trinity during the 1960s followed the standard order of service for Congregationalist churches: prayers, followed by liturgy
Liturgy
Liturgy is either the customary public worship done by a specific religious group, according to its particular traditions or a more precise term that distinguishes between those religious groups who believe their ritual requires the "people" to do the "work" of responding to the priest, and those...

 and hymns from The Pilgrim Hymnal, followed by a well-organized homily
Homily
A homily is a commentary that follows a reading of scripture. In Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Eastern Orthodox Churches, a homily is usually given during Mass at the end of the Liturgy of the Word...

, followed by a benediction
Benediction
A benediction is a short invocation for divine help, blessing and guidance, usually at the end of worship service.-Judaism:...

, confined to one hour in total. There was no shouting, hand waving, or displays of emotions. One of Trinity's black ministers once stated from the pulpit, "We will have no 'niggerisms' in
our services."

Trinity's first pastor, Kenneth B. Smith
Kenneth B. Smith
The Rev. Kenneth Bryant Smith, Sr. was a Chicago-area community leader and minister.Smith came to Chicago in the late 1950s to attend Bethany Theological Seminary, then located outside the city. He was ordained by the United Church of Christ and began his career as an associate pastor at the...

, had been appointed by the Chicago Congregational Christian
Congregational Christian Churches
The Congregational Christian Churches were a Protestant Christian denomination that operated in the U.S. from 1931 through 1957. On the latter date, most of its churches joined the Evangelical and Reformed Church in a merger to become the United Church of Christ. Others created the National...

 Association of the United Church of Christ
United Church of Christ
The United Church of Christ is a mainline Protestant Christian denomination primarily in the Reformed tradition but also historically influenced by Lutheranism. The Evangelical and Reformed Church and the Congregational Christian Churches united in 1957 to form the UCC...

 (formed only in 1957) to expand the denomination toward southern Chicago, where blacks had recently begun to migrate from the "Black Belt" of Chicago's South Side to the more southerly urban areas whites had recently abandoned for the suburbs. The expressed vision of the Association was to raise up a church for middle-class blacks, who would later merge with a congregation of suburban whites and have white and black co-pastors; in other words, an explicitly integrationist aim. Two successful African-American Congregational churches, Good Shepherd and Park Manor, had been started earlier in the 20th century some distance to the north in the older South Side neighborhoods, so officials were probably expecting Trinity to emulate those previous developments. Smith came to the new church project, in fact, from an associate pastorate at Park Manor.

Although the vision was bold for the time, and although a similar vision had been followed by other pockets of blacks both inside and outside of Chicago, it at the same time produced apprehension within Trinity's upwardly mobile
Economic mobility
Economic mobility is the ability of an individual or family to improve their economic status, in relation to income and social status, within his or her lifetime or between generations...

 blacks, since some blacks in Chicago had had their homes burned for transgressing the color line. Moreover, the vision failed to address the many blacks who were still unable to reach upward mobility
Social mobility
Social mobility refers to the movement of people in a population from one social class or economic level to another. It typically refers to vertical mobility -- movement of individuals or groups up from one socio-economic level to another, often by changing jobs or marrying; but can also refer to...

—those still on the South Side, those in the projects on the other side of Halsted Street, blacks who did not figure into the Association's vision because they were not considered "the right kind of black people". Considerably later, the first African American conference minister of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. Dr. W. Sterling Cary, discussed the Association's disinterest in more detail. He explained, "Historically, the Association made special efforts to seek out 'high potential' churches within the black community," which he said were understood as groups of blacks likely willing to be culturally assimilated
Cultural assimilation
Cultural assimilation is a socio-political response to demographic multi-ethnicity that supports or promotes the assimilation of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture. The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. New...

 into the forms and functions of worship of the Chicago Congregational Christian Association, with its strong Puritan
Puritan
The Puritans were a significant grouping of English Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries. Puritanism in this sense was founded by some Marian exiles from the clergy shortly after the accession of Elizabeth I of England in 1558, as an activist movement within the Church of England...

 heritage. American religion historian Julia Speller summarizes, "It was this racial reality that informed the planting of Trinity on the South Side of Chicago."

With the church's vision still maturing, Kenneth B. Smith remained as pastor and led the still growing congregation, while noting two things. Firstly, he said the church's affiliation with a white denomination provided his congregants with a sense of unity and purpose within the mainline religious tradition of America (see Origins of the United Church of Christ). Secondly, the congregation began to find a kindred spirit with the denomination's commitment to justice and equality, as congregant activism began to emerge. Smith pointed to the march from Montgomery to Selma in 1965
Selma to Montgomery marches
The Selma to Montgomery marches were three marches in 1965 that marked the political and emotional peak of the American civil rights movement. They grew out of the voting rights movement in Selma, Alabama, launched by local African-Americans who formed the Dallas County Voters League...

 under Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for being an iconic figure in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world, using nonviolent methods following the...

 as an event that fueled that activism, noting how his congregants made picket signs and joined a Chicago area march in symbolic solidarity with southern blacks. However, Speller notes that the congregation's concern for the voting rights of southern blacks "stood in stark contrast to their obvious blind spot of the Association's position on church growth among African Americans in Chicago—one that supported only middle-class churches".

This period of the church culminated when plans to merge with a white congregation fell through—"whites were not much interested in integration" at the time, as Jason Byassee notes—and the black congregation moved into its first church building in 1966. Seating two-hundred, it was located among the growing community of southern Chicago's middle-class blacks, east of the color line. Meanwhile, the Association continued its push for the church to focus ministry toward middle-class blacks.

After leaving Trinity, Smith would go on to become pastor of Good Shepherd Church (above) and president of Chicago Theological Seminary
Chicago Theological Seminary
The Chicago Theological Seminary is a seminary of the United Church of Christ. It prepares women and men for leadership in the church and society through Master of Divinity , Master of Arts in Religious Studies , Master of Sacred Theology , Doctor of Ministry , and Doctor of Philosophy programs...

.

1966 to 1971: under Willie J. Jamerson

Sidenote:
A view of race in 1968 Chicago


"Following the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr...our family moved into a racially changing Chicago community, where the vestiges of racism literally stood in our way. Racism manifested itself in insurance redlining
Redlining
Redlining is the practice of denying, or increasing the cost of services such as banking, insurance, access to jobs, access to health care, or even supermarkets to residents in certain, often racially determined, areas. The term "redlining" was coined in the late 1960s by John McKnight, a...

, predatory lending
Predatory lending
Predatory lending describes unfair, deceptive, or fraudulent practices of some lenders during the loan origination process. While there are no legal definitions in the United States for predatory lending, an audit report on predatory lending from the office of inspector general of the FDIC broadly...

 practices and religious authorities working to maintain a line of segregation. The local activist Catholic priest declared no 'nigger
Nigger
Nigger is a noun in the English language, most notable for its usage in a pejorative context to refer to black people , and also as an informal slang term, among other contexts. It is a common ethnic slur...

s' were allowed across Ashland Avenue... Out of this experience of brokenness and spiritual hope...black liberation theology
Black liberation theology
Black liberation theology, sometimes shortened to black theology, is a relatively new theological perspective found in some Christian churches in the United States. It maintains that African Americans must be liberated from multiple forms of bondage — political, social, economic, and religious...

 emerged. The irrationality of racism and injustice provided the roots of an African-American theology focused on life in the present world.... The political, social and economic realities of African-American people get merged into the religious experience and are articulated through a message that is spiritual and social-speaking to the whole person." —Larry Pickens
Larry Pickens
Larry Pickens holds a master of theology degree and master of divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, a doctorate in ministry from Chicago Theological Seminary, and a juris doctor from DePaul University College of Law. Larry is the former general secretary of the General...


Trinity's second pastor arrived a short time later, just as the U.S civil rights movement reached its peak. The Rev. Willie J. Jamerson, who came from Howard Congregational Church (UCC) in Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville, Tennessee
Nashville is the capital of the U.S. state of Tennessee and the county seat of Davidson County. It is located on the Cumberland River in Davidson County, in the north-central part of the state. The city is a center for the health care, publishing, banking and transportation industries, and is home...

 (a church founded by the American Missionary Association
American Missionary Association
The American Missionary Association was a Protestant-based abolitionist group founded on September 3, 1846 in Albany, New York. The main purpose of this organization was to abolish slavery, to educate African Americans, to promote racial equality, and to promote Christian values...

), brought "a desire to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable", while "perhaps being more drawn to the role of prophet than that of priest", as he said, although Jamerson wound up doing much more comforting as a priest than afflicting as a prophet
Prophet
In religion, a prophet, from the Greek word προφήτης profitis meaning "foreteller", is an individual who is claimed to have been contacted by the supernatural or the divine, and serves as an intermediary with humanity, delivering this newfound knowledge from the supernatural entity to other people...

. As Jamerson recounted, the church continued its decline in membership, due to the constriction of vision that resulted from what he described as the church's continued major purpose to affirm the middle-class Congregationalism of its members. According to Speller, this foundational focus experienced another significant crack when Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King, Jr. was an American clergyman, activist, and prominent leader in the African-American Civil Rights Movement. He is best known for being an iconic figure in the advancement of civil rights in the United States and around the world, using nonviolent methods following the...

 was assassinated in 1968
Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination
Martin Luther King, Jr., a prominent American leader of the African-American civil rights movement and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968, at the age of 39...

, which subsequently brought many changes within black communities—another of Trinity's contextual backdrops.

As Speller explains, "The failure of the civil rights movement to usher in an era of genuine integration and harmony between the races turned into a search for an alternative experience of purpose and belonging
Ontological security
Ontological security is a stable mental state derived from a sense of continuity in regard to the events in one's life. Giddens refers to ontological security as a sense of order and continuity in regard to an individual’s experiences. He argues that this is reliant on people’s ability to give...

 for many African Americans." Corresponding with this search, a small rift began to form among Trinity's congregants, one that was also occurring in other predominantly black churches in the U.S. at the time. As the influence of the civil rights movement began to diminish in wake of King's assassination, the Black Power movement
Black Power
Black Power is a political slogan and a name for various associated ideologies. It is used in the movement among people of Black African descent throughout the world, though primarily by African Americans in the United States...

 rushed in to fill the void, and some blacks, including a few at Trinity, became attracted to the validation the movement gave to their life and religious experiences. Other blacks, however, including most at Trinity, felt that a strategy of gradualism
Gradualism
Gradualism is the belief in or the policy of advancing toward a goal by gradual, often slow stages.-Politics and society:In politics, the concept of gradualism is used to describe the belief that change ought to be brought about in small, discrete increments rather than in abrupt strokes such as...

 would eventuate in an America that honored achievements regardless of race. According to Speller, the majority of Trinity's congregants sided with gradualist notions, and "held tenaciously to their Congregational
Congregationalist polity
Congregationalist polity, often known as congregationalism, is a system of church governance in which every local church congregation is independent, ecclesiastically sovereign, or "autonomous"...

 tradition, finding unity in their connection to American Protestantism and purpose in the lifestyle of black 'middle-classness'."

By 1972, however, Trinity's membership had dwindled from its peak of 341 (in 1968-69) down to 259 members (perhaps 100 of them active), and no one could pinpoint the cause. Jamerson soon resigned to take a position as a schoolteacher, and Trinity was faced with possibly closing its doors.

1971 to 1972: under Reuben A. Sheares II


The church instead opted to bring on the Rev. Reuben A. Sheares II as interim pastor. According to Speller, Sheares's brief tenure with Trinity marked an important shift in the congregation's sense of purpose. Together with Trinity's remaining leaders, Sheares sought to discover the reasons behind Trinity's dramatic decline in membership and then work a remedy. As recounted by a key Trinity lay leader
Laity
In religious organizations, the laity comprises all people who are not in the clergy. A person who is a member of a religious order who is not ordained legitimate clergy is considered as a member of the laity, even though they are members of a religious order .In the past in Christian cultures, the...

 at the time, Vallmer E. Jordan, the small core of leaders concluded that "for years we had prided ourselves on being a middle-class congregation within a mainline denomination, but suddenly the values within the black community had shifted. Aspirations for integration
Racial integration
Racial integration, or simply integration includes desegregation . In addition to desegregation, integration includes goals such as leveling barriers to association, creating equal opportunity regardless of race, and the development of a culture that draws on diverse traditions, rather than merely...

 and assimilation
Cultural assimilation
Cultural assimilation is a socio-political response to demographic multi-ethnicity that supports or promotes the assimilation of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture. The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. New...

 were being replaced by those of black pride
Black pride
Black pride is a slogan indicating pride in being black. Related movements include black nationalism and Afrocentrism.The slogan has been used in the United States by African Americans to celebrate heritage and personal pride. The black pride movement is closely linked with the developments of the...

 and separation." Byassee fills in details by pointing out that Chicago had long since become an organizing center for militant black religious groups like The Nation of Islam and The Black Hebrew Israelites, who strenuously argued that "black" and "Christian" were contradictory terms. Many blacks had been leaving Christianity as a result.

Trinity's leaders had thus discovered the reasons for its decline in membership. As a congregation, Trinity would thus need to inaugurate a "shift" in how it viewed both itself and its mission—they needed to let blacks know, both those inside and outside its walls, that Christianity was not at all just a religion for whites. To begin this change, Sheares coined the motto
Motto
A motto is a phrase meant to formally summarize the general motivation or intention of a social group or organization. A motto may be in any language, but Latin is the most used. The local language is usual in the mottoes of governments...

 "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian". Contextualizing the motto, Speller, herself black, informs that shame about being black
Black shame
Black shame is a term used to describe how some people of African descent view themselves among societies in which they are a minority and feel oppressed...

 has been "part and parcel of the black experience in America", and that blacks have historically hid their shame behind a variety of coping strategies and behaviors. Martin E. Marty
Martin E. Marty
Martin Emil Marty is an American Lutheran religious scholar who has written extensively on 19th century and 20th century American religion. He received a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1956, and served as a Lutheran pastor from 1952 to 1962 in the suburbs of Chicago...

, an emeritus
Emeritus
Emeritus is a post-positive adjective that is used to designate a retired professor, bishop, or other professional or as a title. The female equivalent emerita is also sometimes used.-History:...

 professor of religious history, further explains, "For Trinity, being 'unashamedly black' does not mean being 'anti-white.' [...] Think of the concept of 'unashamedly': tucked into it is the word 'shame'." Underlying the idea, according to Marty, is a diagnosis "of 'shame', 'being shamed', and 'being ashamed' as debilitating legacies of slavery
Atlantic slave trade
The Atlantic slave trade, also known as the trans-atlantic slave trade, refers to the trade in slaves that took place across the Atlantic ocean from the sixteenth through to the nineteenth centuries...

 and segregation in society and church." Marty also explains that the Afrocentrism contained in the statement "should not be more offensive than that synagogue
Synagogue
A synagogue is a Jewish house of prayer. This use of the Greek term synagogue originates in the Septuagint where it sometimes translates the Hebrew word for assembly, kahal...

s should be 'Judeo-centric' or that Chicago's Irish parish
Parish
A parish is a territorial unit historically under the pastoral care and clerical jurisdiction of one parish priest, who might be assisted in his pastoral duties by a curate or curates - also priests but not the parish priest - from a more or less central parish church with its associated organization...

es be 'Celt
Celt
The Celts were a diverse group of tribal societies in Iron Age and Roman-era Europe who spoke Celtic languages.The earliest archaeological culture commonly accepted as Celtic, or rather Proto-Celtic, was the central European Hallstatt culture , named for the rich grave finds in Hallstatt, Austria....

ic-centric'." Speller informs that the motto "has remained as a reminder of not only who [Trinitarians] are but Whose they are, continuing to emphasize both meaning and belonging".

In addition to Sheares's new motto, Jordan crafted a new mission statement
Mission statement
A mission statement is a statement of the purpose of a company or organization. The mission statement should guide the actions of the organization, spell out its overall goal, provide a path, and guide decision-making...

 that encapsulated the church's new vision to be

a source of spiritual sustenance, security, and inspiration; that those participating in our spiritual-social process [may] be strengthened in their commitment...to serve as instruments of God and church in our communities and the world, confronting, transforming and eliminating those things in our culture that lead to the dehumanization
Dehumanization
Dehumanization is to make somebody less human by taking away his or her individuality, the creative and interesting aspects of his or her personality, or his or her compassion and sensitivity towards others. Dehumanization may be directed by an organization or may be the composite of individual...

 of persons and tend to perpetuate their psychological enslavement.


As Trinity sought a new pastor to lead growth, they gave the mission statement to each applicant.

1972 to early 2008: under Jeremiah Wright


Jeremiah Wright
Jeremiah Wright
Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr. is Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ , a megachurch in Chicago exceeding 6,000 members...

, the son of a long-tenured Philadelphia Baptist minister, interviewed for the Trinity pastorate on December 31, 1971. Jordan recalls that Wright exuded excitement and vision for the church's new mission statement, and that Wright's response to the question "How do you see the role of the Black Church in the black struggle?" indicated he was the only possible candidate for Trinity. With the church also impressed with Wright's educational credentials—Wright held graduate degrees in English studies
English studies
English studies is an academic discipline that includes the study of literatures written in the English language , English linguistics English studies is an academic discipline that includes the study of literatures written in the English language (including literatures from the U.K., U.S.,...

 and Divinity
Divinity (academic discipline)
Divinity is the study of Christian and other theology and ministry at a school, divinity school, university, or seminary. The term is sometimes a synonym for theology as an academic, speculative pursuit, and sometimes is used for the study of applied theology and ministry to make a distinction...

 and was studying for a doctorate in religious history—he was shortly confirmed as the new pastor.

Context and challenges


Speller points out that Wright's arrival at Trinity coincided with the height of the U.S. Black Consciousness Revolution (also see South African Black Consciousness Movement
Black Consciousness Movement
The Black Consciousness Movement was a grassroots anti-Apartheid activist movement that emerged in South Africa in the mid-1960s out of the political vacuum created by the jailing and banning of the African National Congress and Pan Africanist Congress leadership after the Sharpeville Massacre in...

) and additionally contends that Wright was keenly aware of the challenges that this deeply racialized context presented to Trinity. During graduate school Wright, as Bayassee notes, argued strenuously against radical black Islamic groups who had been drawing blacks away from Christianity by asserting that the religion was inherently racist and only for whites. To recontextualize the Christian message for the new context and time in which Wright perceived the church itself in, Wright, the author claims, anticipated that he would need to co-opt the positive elements of the Black Power
Black Power
Black Power is a political slogan and a name for various associated ideologies. It is used in the movement among people of Black African descent throughout the world, though primarily by African Americans in the United States...

 message, while rejecting its philosophies of separation and black superiority—an idea around which a larger Christian theological movement had been forming, as evidenced by a full-page New York Times ad entitled "Black Power" run in November 1967 by the National Committee of Negro Churchmen, and Black Theology and Black Power published in 1969 by James H. Cone.
Youth choir

The first change occurred in late 1972 when Trinity's youth lobbied for a greater role in the church. Under a dynamic new choir director the youth brought in, they led musical worship using gospel music
Gospel music
Gospel music is music that is written to express either personal, spiritual or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music....

 (also see Urban contemporary gospel
Urban contemporary gospel
Traditional black gospel is music that is written to express either personal or a communal belief regarding Christian life, as well as to give a Christian alternative to mainstream secular music...

) for the first time, while incorporating dramatic visual props. As Speller describes it, the youth choir "ushered in a new day at Trinity Church, and through their music they ignited the flame that would burn off the dross of black shame
Black shame
Black shame is a term used to describe how some people of African descent view themselves among societies in which they are a minority and feel oppressed...

 to reveal the refined gem of self-love
Self-love
Self-love is the strong sense of respect for and confidence in oneself. It is different from narcissism in that as one practices acceptance and detachment, the awareness of the individual shifts and the individual starts to see him or herself as an extension of all there is...

." However, with call and response
Call and response
Call and response is a form of "spontaneous verbal and non-verbal interaction between speaker and listener in which all of the statements are punctuated by expressions from the listener."...

 increasing and the Pilgrim Hymnal no longer in favor, some of Trinity's congregants left because of what Wright described as "fear of change—change in the style of worship but, more importantly, change in the kind of members that would desire to join our church."
From social enhancement to God-consciousness

As Wright philosophized of this period some thirty years later, 'Having a witness among the poor and having a ministry to the poor is one thing, but making the poor folks members of your congregation is something else altogether." Wright further explained, "Failure to have the black poor at the table with you as equals means you are doing missionary work
Missionary
A missionary is a member of a religious group sent into an area to do evangelism or ministries of service, such as education, literacy, social justice, health care and economic development. The word "mission" originates from 1598 when the Jesuits sent members abroad, derived from the Latin...

," while having "poor black folks" who "sit down at the table as equals" means you are "serious about talking or doing [...] black theology
Black theology
Black theology refers to a variety of Black theologies which have as their base the liberation of the marginalized, especially the injustice done towards Blacks in American and South African contexts...

." As Speller explains, Trinity's congregants "began to slowly move away from the concept of church as a place to enhance and validate their social position to one that appreciated the church as a place for spiritual formation." In sum, Trinity began to more fully move away from its earlier purpose surrounding "middle-classness" to one where devotion to God and the poor took much greater prominence.

God has smiled on us and freed us up to be God's people—unshackled by stereotypes and the barriers of assimilation, unshackled by the fear of joining in the struggle for liberation, and unshackled by the stigmas, defeats, or victories of the past. [God has freed us to be the Church in the world—[God's] Children! Black, Christian and proud of being created in [God's] image and being called by [God's] name.

Speller asserts that the statement indicates that Trinity had journeyed "from assimilation
Cultural assimilation
Cultural assimilation is a socio-political response to demographic multi-ethnicity that supports or promotes the assimilation of ethnic minorities into the dominant culture. The term assimilation is often used with regard to immigrants and various ethnic groups who have settled in a new land. New...

 and fear to liberation and courage", and argues how the freedom expressed concerns a freedom to be black as a matter of cultural identity
Cultural identity
Cultural identity is the identity of a group or culture, or of an individual as far as one is influenced by one's belonging to a group or culture. Cultural identity is similar to and has overlaps with, but is not synonymous with, identity politics....

 (also see Ethnic identity), and to be Christian
Christian
A Christian is a person who adheres to Christianity, an Abrahamic, monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth as recorded in the Canonical gospels and the letters of the New Testament...

as a matter of purpose and belonging to God.

From 1972 to early 2008, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright
Jeremiah Wright
Jeremiah Alvesta Wright, Jr. is Pastor Emeritus of Trinity United Church of Christ , a megachurch in Chicago exceeding 6,000 members...

 was pastor of Trinity UCC. In February 2008, Wright retired, and the Rev. Otis Moss III
Otis Moss III
Otis Moss III is an African American pastor of Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ who espouses black liberation theology and emphasizes reaching inner city black youth. He is married and has two children.-Youth and Education:...

 became Trinity's pastor.

Weekly broadcasts of the church's Sunday service are carried across the US on TV One
TV One (Radio One)
TV One is an American television channel based in Silver Spring, Maryland and primarily owned by Radio One and Comcast Corporation. It targets African American adults with a broad range of programming...

 on Sundays at 7:30 a.m. EST.

Trinity and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright were profiled by correspondent Roger Wilkins
Roger Wilkins
Roger Wilkins is an African American civil rights leader, professor of history, and journalist.-Biography:Wilkins was born in Kansas City, Missouri, and grew up in Michigan...

 in Sherry Jones' documentary "Keeping the Faith" broadcast as the June 16, 1987 episode of the PBS
Public Broadcasting Service
The Public Broadcasting Service is an American non-profit public broadcasting television network with 354 member TV stations in the United States which hold collective ownership. Its headquarters is in Arlington, Virginia....

 series Frontline with Judy Woodruff
Judy Woodruff
Judy Woodruff is an American television news anchor and journalist.Woodruff is a Board Member at the IWMF .-Broadcast journalism career:...

.

Trinity in comparative perspective


Byassee argues that "African Americans have generated distinctly black forms of Christianity since they arrived on these [American] shores" and asserts that "the significance of these forms has been appreciated in mainline seminaries and churches for at least two generations." Speller has discussed the major interpretive frameworks into which black churches have been historically categorized by scholars, as well as several later ones. She does this to place Trinity within a broader understanding of the black church, and all Christian churches, and to trace Trinity's history of movement within several of the frameworks, while also discussing numerous of Trinity's ongoing struggles. Byassee asserts that Trinity is well within the mainstream of the black church, and is remarkable in the mainline world only for its size and influence."

Speller summarizes three interpretive models of black churches that have predominated in scholarly literature from especially prior the 1960s: "The Assimilation Model", "The Isolation Model", and "The Compensatory Model".

The Assimilation Model


Black churches that have been explained as within The Assimilation Model are those primarily composed of middle-class blacks motivated by a racially integrated society and who are willing to disassociate themselves from their ethnic identity to achieve this, as well as to avoid the stereotyped labels sometimes assigned to blacks by whites. This model has been described as the "demise of the black church for the public good of blacks."

The Isolation Model


The Isolation Model category has been assigned to those black churches composed of primarily lower-class blacks who lack the optimism of middle-class blacks about societal integration between the races. Churches described as within this model hold to theologies that emphasize "other worldliness" and deemphasize social action within "this world."

The Compensatory Model


The Compensatory Model has been a designation of black churches where congregants find acceptance, appreciation, and applause often denied them within dominant society. Motivation stems from a promise of achieving personal empowerment and recognition, i.e., congregants are "compensated" with improved self-esteem as their peers affirm their successes.

The Ethnic Community-prophetic Model


Speller, following the research of Nelson and Nelson in the 1970s, notes how each of the above three models placed black churches within a reactive rather than a proactive mode. Finding that problematic, and unsatisfied that previous interpretive models accurately depicted black churches that emerged in the 1960s, Nelson and Nelson developed a fourth model, The Ethnic Community-prophetic Model. Black churches that have been categorized as such are those that have been marked by blacks who spoke out and undertook activism against economic and political injustices from a heightened awareness of black pride and power.

The Dialectical Model


In her discussion about Trinity, Speller argues for an additional model of the black church, The Dialectical Model, developed by the late Duke University
Duke University
Duke University is a private research university located in Durham, North Carolina, United States. Founded by Methodists and Quakers in the present day town of Trinity in 1838, the school moved to Durham in 1892. In 1924, tobacco industrialist James B...

 sociologist C. Eric Lincoln to explain certain black churches. Corrective to the earlier models by which black churches were susceptible to being rigidly stereotyped, and that barred them from being seen as societal change agents, Lincoln and Mamiya describe the model as holding in "dialectical tension
Dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

" "the priestly and the prophetic; other-worldly versus this-worldly; universalism
Universalism
Universalism in its primary meaning refers to religious, theological, and philosophical concepts with universal application or applicability...

 and particularism
Particularism
Particularism may refer to:* Epistemological particularism, an approach in philosophy* Historical particularism, an approach in anthropology* Literary particularism, a literary genre that emphasizes details...

; communalism
Communalism
Communalism is a term with three distinct meanings according to the Random House Unabridged Dictionary'.'These include "a theory of government or a system of government in which independent communes participate in a federation". "the principles and practice of communal ownership"...

 and privatism
Privatism
Privatism is a generic term describing any belief that people have a right to the private ownership of certain things. There are many degrees of privatism, from the advocacy of limited private property over specific kinds of items to the advocacy of unrestricted private property over everything;...

; the charismatic versus the bureaucratic and resistance versus accommodation." Speller additionally argues that The Dialectical Model is mirrored in W. E. B. Du Bois's concept of "double consciousness
Double consciousness
Double consciousness, in its contemporary sense, is a term coined by W. E. B. Du Bois. The term is used to describe an individual whose identity is divided into several facets...

". Du Bois explained this dichotomy:

The evolution of Trinity


Speller asserts that Trinity in its history has evolved from the Assimilation Model under its pastors Kenneth B. Smith and Willie J. Jamerson, to the Compensatory Model under Reuben A. Sheares II and during the early years of Jeremiah Wright's tenure, and into the Ethnic Community-prophetic Model under Wright to embrace the Dialectical Model also under Wright. She states, however, that the church continues to struggle in varying degrees to balance the dialectic polarities described by Lincoln and Mamiya (see The Dialectical Model, just above), and that the church's greatest challenge has been "mediating the tension
Dialectic
Dialectic is a method of argument for resolving disagreement that has been central to Indic and European philosophy since antiquity. The word dialectic originated in Ancient Greece, and was made popular by Plato in the Socratic dialogues...

between being black and Christian."

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