May 5, 2008

The Obamas and the TUCC Bulletins — A May 5 Series

Inflammatory rhetoric and other content in the weekly bulletins of the Trinity United Church of Christ have the credibility of the claims by Barack and Michelle Obama that they have not been aware of the objectionable beliefs of their pastor and of his theology for the 20 years they have been church members hanging by a thread.


  • (link) “The TUCC Bulletins: ‘European Dominance’ and the Church’s Black-Power Roots.” The quick answer to the question, “Is TUCC another mainline denomination with just a smidge of ethnic emphasis, or, as Mark Steyn described it today, the home base of a “a neo-segregationist huckster?” Uh, it’s the latter.
  • (link) “Selected History and Economics Lessons from the Wright-TUCC Bulletins.” Highlights include “the most heinous act of terrorism since chattel slavery (was) the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” “Pat Buchanan’s ancestors did not build this country; they stole this country,” and other gems.
  • (link) “MORE Selected History and Economics Lessons from the Wright-TUCC Bulletins.” Includes “lack of respect given to Black people is still America’s pastime,” “Since 1619 …. not much has changed either when it comes to the rights of Africans living in this country,” and much more.
  • (link) “Selected Quotes from Others in the Wright – TUCC Bulletins.” Features “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” “the firestorm of racism is far from over,” and other choice items.

(If you are on the home page, click on “more” to get to the body of this post, which is about the motivation for it and provides some background.)


This is for the 30% of those polled by Rasmussen last week, and other Americans who agree with them — folks who have somehow bought Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama’s April 29 statement, in reaction to Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s appearance the previous day at the National Press Club, that the Illinois senator was “outraged by the comments that were made and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday” — as if Obama, and by inference his wife Michelle, had never heard them, or comments like them, while attending services at Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) in Chicago.

But this is also for the 58% who told that same Rasmussen poll, and other Americans who agree with them, that Obama “denounced the Pastor for political convenience.” The forthcoming reinforcement of just how correct you likely are will be very helpful.

This is also for Salon’s Joan Walsh, who understands what Frank Rich and Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite don’t, or won’t, as Newsbusters’ Noel Sheppard reported Sunday:

It is a different relationship. Hagee deserves a lot of criticism. But, you know, he’s gotten it. McCain deserves more criticism for embracing Hagee and going after his endorsement, but he is not his pastor. So, I really don’t think it’s comparable.

Yes, this is for Reverend Wright himself — “furious” as he might be. It is for the pastoral staff at TUCC, most especially Wright’s successor, Rev. Otis Moss III (March 19 NPR audio, where he would not repudiate the Wright claim that the government has been involved in spreading AIDS in the black community, is here; HT WND), and the recently ordained promoted Rev. Reginald “To Do Justice” Williams. Each appears to be proceeding even further down the ugly road Wright has paved.

It is also for the Rev. Wright’s backward-looking “pastoral,” racial-opportunist brethren at other churches and in civil-rights leadership positions — important positions of national visibility and leadership that they continue to abuse. This is in the remote hope that when all of them they see the assemblage of awfulness just one of the so-called “Black Liberation Theology” churches has authored, fostered, and engendered, they will realize what they have done to poison African-American hearts and minds and to inflame racial relations, rethink what they have been doing, and reevaluate what they believe in. Perhaps these folks will consider the possibility that it’s not about what it is to be a black Christian in America, it’s about what it is to be a American Christian who happens to be black.

And finally, this is for Barack (“The fact he’s my former pastor I think makes it a legitimate political issue“) Obama and his wife, Michelle (“We’ve got to move forward“) Obama. Both of them seem to believe that this is 1992 — that letting the sympathetic press run interference for them when things get tough, and that wrapping themselves around their kids (not even “the children,” but THEIR children) will successfully put any and every controversy behind them within a few days.

I don’t think so, or at least I have the audacity to hope not. Not in 2008.

As noted, the candidate himself has acknowledged that this is “a legitimate political issue.” His supposed “repudiation” Tuesday, and the charm offensive that followed it, did nothing to eliminate the questions about the previous 20 years.

* * * * * * * *

On March 14, Barack Obama said this to Fox News’s Major Garrett about his church attendance:

GARRETT: As a member in good standing, were you a regular attendee of Sunday services?

OBAMA: You know, I won’t say that I was a perfect attendee. I was regular in spurts, because there was (sic) times when, for example, our child had just been born, our first child. And so we didn’t go as regularly then.

Most of the guidance I’ve read tells me that the people who study church attendance define “frequent” or “regular” attendance as once a week. Let’s give Obama the benefit of the doubt on this, and assume that his definition of “regular” was, on balance, close to half the time.

If that’s the case, you would have to expect that:

  • There is a 50-50 chance that both Barack and Michelle Obama received or shared each of the church bulletins, as those bulletins are, according to a TUCC person I spoke to who claimed to be in a position to know, distributed to attendees before services.
  • There is a reasonably high likelihood that Barack Obama opened the bulletin at each service he attended to take notes in the blank “Sermon Notes” pages provided in each. That’s because, as reported in March 2007 by then-New Republic reporter Ryan Lizza, Obama was indeed seen taking notes (backup link here; bolds are mine; more background here):

    On this particular Sunday, the sea of black worshippers is dotted with a few white folks up in the balcony, clutching copies of The Audacity of Hope they’ve brought for Obama’s book-signing later. Obama, sitting in the third row with his wife and two daughters, Malia and Natasha, stands, claps, prays, and sways along with the rest of the congregation. During the sermon, he watches the preacher carefully and writes notes. When asked by Wright to say a few words, Obama grabs the microphone and stands. “I love you all,” he says. “It’s good to be back home.” The 150-person choir breaks into a chorus of “Barack, Hallelujah! Barack, Hallelujah!”

    The first bolded item should disabuse people of the notion, bought into by, among others, Hugh Hewitt, that Barack and Michelle Obama had their kids safely spirited away at Sunday school while services were being conducted, and that they were thus shielded from Wright’s rants. Apparently, not so.

    The unanswered question in the second bolded item, of course, is where Obama was taking notes. It seems reasonable, and therefore reasonably likely, that he was taking notes in the convenient “Sermon Notes” page or pages provided. Three separate phone messages left for Lizza, who is now with the New Yorker, over the past three weeks, have gone unreturned.

* * * * * * * *

I have obtained and reviewed over 125 of the roughly 200 TUCC church bulletins issued between May 30, 2004 (the earliest issue I have seen) and March 23, 2008 (as I understand it, the last bulletin issue TUCC has published in digital form).

In those bulletins, I found over 150 items that I believe many, if not most, would consider either racially inflammatory, politically divisive, historically inaccurate, and/or theologically questionable. Jeremiah Wright was the author or writer in roughly 1/3 of the cases. Reginald Williams was responsible for a bit more. Guest writers and columnists made up the rest. While many bulletin issues had little or nothing of controversy, quite a few others had multiple instances. Many items that others might consider controversial didn’t make my “cut.”

If Barack or Michelle Obama actually read the TUCC bulletins they received when they attended services, the idea that they were not aware of TUCC’s generally outrageous outlook and Wright’s over-the-top statements — things that supposedly and suddenly became unacceptable on April 29 — verges on the absurd.

But you may not even need to prove that Barack or Michelle Obama opened up the TUCC bulletins, or that if they did, they looked at pages other than those containing those blank “Sermon Notes.”

What if, on any given Sunday, TUCC’s bulletin content has generally supported or mirrored sermons delivered that same day by Wright, and perhaps others?

After all, at many churches, it is not unusual for the cleric who gives the homily or sermon to work to ensure that Saturday or Sunday bulletin content reflects or supplements what he or she will say from the pulpit. As multimedia message reinforcement, it makes sense that Wright would have done this.

As noted above, TUCC bulletin content is often consistent with the hostile tone of the worst of Wright’s known sermons — often enough, I contend, that if Wright made the effort to have his sermons, and those of others, in sync with bulletin content each Sunday, the likelihood that the Obamas heard objectionable sermons — sermons the candidate claim not to have heard — increases significantly. This is the case, even if the Illinois Senator and his wife rarely looked at bulletin pages other than the blank ones for taking notes, or for that matter even if they never cracked open the bulletins at all.

* * * * * * *

The fact is that a lot of people don’t believe that Barack and Michelle Obama didn’t know what was going on in their church. What will be revealed in posts throughout the day Monday will provide quite a few more reasons not to believe.



  1. Thank you for your work on this issue. I think you are very right about the impossibility of the Obamas not being aware of, and ‘encouraged’ by the teaching of this church. Since it is obvious from the videos that the congregation accepts and cheers for the message and the way it is delivered, how could they possibly form any meaningful relationships with other members of this congregation without engaging in conversations where these kind of ideas would be discussed? They can’t get away with saying that now that old Uncle Jeremiah is retired, things will be different. As you have pointed out, this is the way the entire pastoral staff thinks and teaches. They have to be of the same mind or they would have never been hired–that’s the way it is in all churches. It’s in the Bible. It’s called “being of one mind”. Maverick leaders are not tolerated for very long because they bring division to the congregation and cause churches to break apart. Last week they actually had a celebration of Trinity “Unity Day.” Click on message from Otis Moss.
    Last night while I was doing a search on Reginald Williams, I came across another page put together by Trinity with a long list of people who had spoken at Trinity and cds of their messages. One of them, from February 4, 2007, caught my eye called “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” by Asa G. Hilliard III (now deceased). I discovered by researching his name, he had written extensively on how to educate the AFRICAN-American child and had also co-authored a book with one of the education researchers (Hale) that Wright referenced at the NAACP speech and probably is a source or at least a contributor to Wright’s strange educational theories.

    The service that was written about that described Obama taking notes was January 28, 2007. There was a notice on the TUCC Home Page during the week of Jan. 21-28 that there would be a book-signing with Obama after the 11:00 am service.
    Can you check out the bulletin for that week? On that list of speakers that I found, I hoped there would be one from Jan. 28, 07 but for some reason there are no cds on the list. Hmmm—strange isn’t it?

    Comment by CTM — May 6, 2008 @ 12:36 pm

  2. #1, thanks.

    The 012807 bulletin has an item in Williams’s “To Do Justice” about the Cook County budget, a tribute by Wright to a Dr. Waldo Johnson. Johnson is head of this org:

    I would characterize it, based on a quick review, as a friendly-appearing enemy of the traditional family.

    The 012807 bulletin also has an announcement of Hilliard’s 020407 lecture (not titled) as part of African American Heritage Month.

    Obama’s appearance as a book signer is also full-page-advertised in the 012807 bulletin, as well as the 012107 bulletin.

    Hillard is mentioned or quoted at least occasionally in TUCC bulletins, but I don’t recall an over-the-top quote from her. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

    Comment by TBlumer — May 6, 2008 @ 3:15 pm

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