Several local LGBT people have come out in support of Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama's controversial former pastor following media uproar over short clips from his past sermons.
Pictured: Sherri Jackson supports Trinity UCC's stances on gays and HIV/AIDS. Ronald Wadley. Photos by Hal Baim
Media frenzy and a flood of criticism over past comments made by Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who recently retired from leading Chicago's 8,000-member Trinity United Church of Christ ( UCC ) , have caused some unease among Americans, including members of the LGBT community. Some activists have second-guessed Obama out of fear that the man he labeled as his 'spiritual mentor' might be anti-gay after seeing the short clips. Since media outlets started showing video clips of racially charged past sermons, Wright has received a high amount of criticism. Even Obama has tried to distance himself from Wright.
However, there are many who vocally support Wright, saying he has been nothing but supportive of the LGBT community over the years. His supporters say three-minute clips taken out of context and shown by the media mar a lifetime of sermons filled with inclusive messages. Others say the uproar over the clips also show a misunderstanding of Black theology and the Black church.
'I have only the highest regard for Trinity and Rev. Wright,' Equality Illinois Political Director Rick Garcia e-mailed to Windy City Times. 'It is so sad that a man of faith, a man of justice, a man of fairness is being vilified and that his church is being portrayed as controversial, racist, separatist and marginal. Nothing is farther from the truth.'
Garcia described both Trinity UCC and Wright as a 'Chicago treasure.'
'It disgusts me that rank politics is disparaging the Reverend and his church's exemplary work,' Garcia added.
During a recent speech, Obama said that while he does not agree with the message shown in the video clips shown by media, Wright is still a part of his identity and he does not denounce the man. His speech also tried to shed light on how race has become a divisive issue in the run for the White House.
The Rev. Otis Moss II has replaced the recently retired Wright.
While not everyone may fully support the messages of the former reverend shown in the clips, many, including some members of Chicago's LGBT community, have come forward out of anger that video 'sound bites' of the former Trinity UCC pastor's sermons have been taken out of context by mainstream media to further divide Americans on issues of race and even sexuality as the race for the Democratic nod drags on. Both Obama and rival Sen. Hillary Clinton have been battling for every vote, including the LGBT vote.
Over the years, Wright has included LGBT-inclusive sermons, and has also been very welcoming to HIV-positive individuals. Trinity had one of Chicago's first church-run HIV/AIDS ministries. Toward the end of 2007, Wright voiced his opposition and disgust of anti-gay violence in a sermon following news of the murder of Trinity's openly gay choir director Donald Young, according to congregation members.
Former congregation member and current minister Sherri Jackson said that although she has 'outgrown' Trinity, she had several positive experiences while there.
'I'm grateful for that part of the journey, and to have been under Wright's leadership, and his spiritual guidance, his scholarly teaching of liberation theology and Black theology—that's what I was in search for,' Jackson, an out lesbian, said.
She appreciated the church's work in HIV/AIDS ministry, same-gender-loving ministry and on domestic violence issues, noting that many churches avoid addressing those issues from the pulpit.
'It has always been a very welcoming place for LGBT individuals to come,' said Ronald Wadley, who has been a member of Trinity since 1987, and has participated in the church's same-gender-loving ministry program. He said he has had nothing but positive experiences with the church and Wright.
Prior to coming to Trinity, Wadley said he was raised in a Baptist church that taught anti-gay messages. He applauds the leadership at Trinity for refusing to 'gay-bash from the pulpit.'
'I'm a very vocal, very political, African-American gay man, and being able to also go to church and worship God and not have to feel like I'm going to hell because of who I am and who God created me to be is very important,' Wadley added. 'What I love about Trinity is I never have to step in that door and wonder, 'Oh God, what's the pastor going to say about gay folks today that's not welcoming?''
Although Wright has been inclusive during his years of service, there have been inconsistent moments. In a 2005 article titled 'Maybe I Missed Something!' Wright spoke out against the UCC's decision to endorse same-sex marriage. He wrote, 'Are 44 million Americans with no health care insurance less important than 'gay marriage'?' he wrote. 'Why aren't Black Christians in an uproar about that? Maybe I am missing something!'
Jackson said she was very upset by the 2005 article. 'He and I had discussions about that,' she said. 'That article, from a political standpoint, if you are out and active, can be taken in many ways.'
She said that Wright should have had more dialogue with more political, out people, because LGBT people are also victims of racial disparity.
However, Wright was vocal about his opposition to a federal marriage amendment around the same time. Some say the article has also been taken out of context, and say he wasn't attacking gay marriage so much as stating his priorities for issues impacting the Black community.
Others have voiced their disappointment that Wright never accepted the invitation to join UCC's Open and Affirming Program. Open and affirming churches have publicly stated that they welcome LGBT people.
'It does bother people,' Jackson said. 'Not everyone, but it does bother some people.'
However, according to the UCC Coalition for LGBT Concerns board member Rev. Mike Schuenemeyer, Trinity's failure to hop on board is very common. In fact, there are several thousand churches that have not accepted the invitation over the years.
According to Schuenemeyer, the Open and Affirming Program is a movement within the denomination, and there has been a steady increase of church's adopting open and affirming policies over the years. However, in order to be recognized as an open and affirming church, a church has to vote in an inclusive policy, and they can do that in a number of ways.
'We have a lot of churches that may offer a welcome, but just don't have it in their culture, in general, to vote an action on anything, much less an action about sexual orientation,' Schuenemeyer said.
'Just because they have voted on it doesn't mean that they haven't been working at it, and there haven't been folks in leadership who haven't been trying to help the congregation build toward an understanding of values and fusing their sense of values with what it means to be welcoming to people who are lesbian, gay and bisexual,' Schuenemeyer said. 'That's a cultural shift, and you have to respect the culture of a congregation.
'When you look at the positive things Jeremiah Wright has said in support of LGBT rights, you can know that he was working his leadership of the church in a very radical way, trying to move things along in that congregation,' he continued, adding that he has witnessed sermons of Wright's that have addressed his opposition to a federal ban on same-sex marriage, his opposition to anti-gay violence and his support of those living with HIV/AIDS.
Schuenemeyer recognizes there are congregation members who are frustrated that it isn't moving forward as quickly as they'd like. 'But it's also okay to say that steps have been made,' said Schuenemeyer. 'It may happen at some time, and even if it doesn't, there are people who find themselves welcome at that congregation.'
Wadley said Trinity and Wright do not support separatism, and as an out, gay man, he supports Trinity '100 percent.' 'You have people who don't look like us judging what is being said,' Wadley said.
'People just don't get it,' he added. 'People are judging that he teaches Black theology, which is nothing more than preaching about standing on your own two feet in society. Immediately people don't understand, so they think it's racist. It's not racist, it's believing in one's self. … Why do we have to follow someone else's framework?'
Jackson described as being 'very hurt' by how Wright has been portrayed by the media, as well as the attacks on Obama. 'I was there for that service, and the sermon has been totally blown out of context. … I was very upset by it because of what we have not talked about, and what it's become. It was always going to be a race and gender issue in this election, and now we see how it's really becoming a race issue.
' … They picked five minutes and 15 seconds of a sound bite, without politically and spiritually addressing what the whole sermon was all about and what was he really saying,' Jackson added. 'Instead, he looks like a madman.'
Jackson hopes that some good can come of this, and that much-needed discussions can take place, especially in the Black church, about racial disparities and LGBT issues.
'But we're afraid to do that behind the pulpit,' she said.