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Jeremiah Wright and Otis Moss Clarify the Reasons for the Delay in Rev. Moss’s Installation as Senior Pastor

By Mark D. Roberts | Wednesday, June 11, 2008

On Monday I put up a post having to do with the delay in the retirement of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright from Trinity United Church of Christ. My post was based largely on an article from the TIME website called “The Unretirement of Reverend Wright.” According to this article, Rev. Wright used his power to delay both his retirement and the promotion of Rev. Otis Moss III as the new Senior Pastor. The claims and tone of the TIME piece suggested that Rev. Wright was doing what was best for himself, not for the church or Rev. Moss.

In my post, I admited that “there is much I don’t know about this situation.” I’m well aware of the tendency in the secular media to misunderstand or misrepresent things happening in churches. One of my blog readers told me that TIME had badly erred in this story. His source was a streamed portion of last Sunday’s worship service at Trinity Church. So I went to the Trinity website to see what I could discover. There, on the home page, was a new link called “Click Here to Read the Pastors’ Response to the Times/CNN Article.” I did click and was taken to a PDF version of a letter sent jointly from Rev. Wright and Rev. Moss.

One thing I noted right away was the letterhead. It was Trinity United Church of Christ letterhead, and included the following names and titles:

Rev. Otis Moss III, Pastor
Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr. Pastor Emeritus

I’ll summarize what is found in the two-page, single-spaced letter:

1. The recent media reports about the leadership transition are “divisive and distorted.”

2. The Trinity Church faces “a congregational moment, where we lay claim on our charge to be a community totally committed to Chirst. We call our congregation to family meditation and prayer and now we arm you with the facts.”

3. Trinity Church follows the polity of the United Church of Christ. According to these guidelines, Rev. Moss cannot be fully vested with the authority as the church’s pastor until he has jumped through all of the required UCC hoops. This will happen in the fall of 2008. So the delay in Rev. Moss’s installation is not a matter of Rev. Wright’s hubris, but rather a requirement of Trinity’s denomination.

4. Even before his full installation, Rev. Moss “has been assigned full pastoral, administrative and management responsibilties.”

5. Rev. Moss will be given the honorary title of “Senior Pastor” just like Rev. Wright, even though this is not an official UCC title.

6. Curiously enough, the closing of the letter included the title “Senior Pastor-Elect” under Rev. Moss’s name, rather than “Pastor,” as on the official letterhead.

So, according to this official communication from Trinity Church and its leaders, there is no potential schism among leaders or the church. Rev. Wright is not seeking his own gain. The delay in Rev. Moss’s installation is not Rev. Wright’s fault. The transition between these two pastors is going well.

Given some of the eccentric things Rev. Wright has said from the pulpit and in recent public appearances, one might be inclined to doubt his truthfulness in this letter. But, though I have cringed at some of Rev. Wright’s statements, I what is said in this letter. Why? For one thing, though Jeremiah Wright has said some exceedingly odd things at times, he has demonstrated over the years a true love for the Trinity Church. Moreover, though I don’t know much about Otis Moss III, what I do know has been most impressive to me. On top of that, if this letter contained serious falsehoods, this would be obvious to the lay leadership of Trinity Church, and would not be acceptable to them.

But, more than this, I have seen time and again how the secular media gets things wrong when it comes to the church. Sometimes this reflects ill intent. Perhaps the TIME reporter wanted to “get” Jeremiah Wright. But, more often, the failure of the mainstream media to tell the truth about churches is a result of ignorance. It may be that the TIME reporter didn’t know much of anything about United Church of Christ polity, or relied on unreliable sources, or . . . you name it.

Of course there might very well be still another side to this story. I hope not, however. The good folk of Trinity Church have been through hard times recently. They need a time out of the spotlight, and they desperately need a smooth transition between Rev. Wright and Rev. Moss.

So, as of this moment I withdraw what I had said about Rev. Wright’s unwillingness to let go of his church. Of course this is just another way of saying that I was wrong. For the sake of Trinity Church and the church of Jesus Christ, I hope I really was wrong, and that I continue to be wrong.

Topics: Church Life |

6 Responses to “Jeremiah Wright and Otis Moss Clarify the Reasons for the Delay in Rev. Moss’s Installation as Senior Pastor”

  1. John Says:
    June 11th, 2008 at 1:02 am

    I confess to never having heard of Trinity before the Wright-Obama issue. But I can say I was not impressed with Wright’s Press Club speech. His attitude and behavior toward the moderator and questioners bordered abusive. I don’t see or hear the Holy Spirit through that kind of arrogance and anger.

  2. kozak Says:
    June 11th, 2008 at 9:21 am

    Those “good folks” at Trinity are also the ones who applauded Wright’s paranoid and racist rantings, Rev. Roberts.

  3. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    June 11th, 2008 at 11:40 am

    Kozak: True, or at least some did. But if you spend some time on the Trinity Church website, you’ll see that this church is far more than what you see in a couple of short clips. I’m not defending what Wright said or the response of some in the congregation. But my point is that there are lots and lots of fine Christian people in this congregation, and they’re doing lots of fine things in the name of Jesus.

  4. rem Says:
    June 11th, 2008 at 12:31 pm

    Dear Rev. Roberts, I thought you would like the see the attached article. Thank you for correcting the record.
    Chicago Defender
    Rev. Wright’s retirement is firm, Rev. Moss says
    by Kathy Chaney
    The retirement of Rev. Jeremiah Wright still stands, leaving Trinity United Church of Christ under the pastorate of Rev. Otis Moss III, contrary to a published report last week, Moss told parishioners Sunday.
    “Don’t believe everything you hear, everything you read,” Moss said before the conclusion of the church’s 11 a.m. service, referring to a June 4 article by Time magazine that suggested that Wright was reluctant to give up his full duties as pastor, leaving Moss recognized as still as pastor or “senior pastor-elect.”
    “According to sources within Trinity, Wright, 66, who began the process of retirement two years ago, is resisting fully relinquishing his duties as senior pastor, hanging onto power in the church…On church bulletins on June 1, Moss was identified simply as ‘pastor’ rather than ‘senior pastor,’ even as Wright assumed the title ‘pastor emeritus,’” the article stated.
    The article also stated that sources said Moss was told May 27 during a meeting attended by Wright and other pastoral officials that, “Wright suggested the board declare Moss ‘senior pastor-elect’ because the younger cleric needed ‘supervision’–effectively ensuring Wright remains Trinity’s preacherin- chief,” leaving many Trinity members “baffled.”
    Setting the record straight, Moss told parishioners, “On May 30, 2008, Trinity’s board of directors, in response to the enthusiastic request and recommendation of Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, and the pastoral relations committee, by unanimous vote, bestowed upon Rev. Otis Moss III the awesome responsibility and honor of being named senior pastor-elect.
    This was contemplated by the leadership succession plan and adopted by the board of directors in 2005.” “The truth is now out,” a member said after the service, and declined to comment further. Parishioners were asked to not speak to the media regarding church matters.
    Moss, 37, an ordained Baptist minister from Cleveland, Ohio, said the designation as senior pastor- elect is accurate because he must meet certain requirements of the United Church of Christ before he can be installed as head of the church. He expects to fulfill the UCC’s obligations this fall. In the interim, he has been assigned full pastoral and administrative management responsibilities set forth in the bylaws, Moss reiterated during his second service as lead pastor.
    And speaking about the church’s bylaws, Trinity’s new leader said the title “senior pastor” is an informal one and is not reflected in the bylaws. The designation was bestowed upon Wright by the late Rev. Barbara Allen. The title was unofficially adopted by the church, and the board of directors will amend the bylaws at its July board meeting to include “senior pastor” as an official title.
    Wright’s title is also expected to officially become “pastor emeritus” at that meeting, Moss said. Wright could not be reached for comment. Moss, the son of a well-known Cleveland pastor, and heir to the throne of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church there, was handpicked by Wright to succeed him at Trinity.
    Trinity, the largest of the 5,700 UCC congregations, was under national and international microscopes during the presidential campaign. Wright, the former pastor of Obama and his family, has been under fire for months after excerpts of a videotaped sermon delivered about seven years ago surfaced on the popular social Web site, YouTube, and was repeatedly aired on newscasts.
    Obama initially denounced the pastor’s statements, but after Wright’s media appearances in Detroit for the NAACP and in Washington, D.C. in front of the National Press Club, the senator cut his ties with Wright. When the media frenzy’s dust settled around the church, political controversy paid another visit.
    While a guest pastor on May 25, Rev. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Catholic Church on the South Side made accusatory remarks from Trinity’s pulpit about Sen. Hillary Clinton D-N.Y. This time, Obama severed his ties with Trinity, a decision that he and his wife, Michelle, contemplated for a while, he said.

  5. Mark Roberts Says:
    June 11th, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    rem: Thanks for the added info.

  6. Evan Says:
    June 12th, 2008 at 8:49 am

    Trinity Church demonstrates the classic conundrums: How does one gauge the the individual within the mass? What is the relationship between good actions and bad beliefs?

    Much of the theology presented by Jeremiah Wright is problematic, yet many of the actions of the church are laudable. Many people applauded pronouncements that could be criticized as “non-Christian,” but would that necessarily make the people non-Christian? If Mark Roberts were a member of Trinity, should he remain there and try and correct the errors he sees, or should he Get Out of Dodge and shake the dust from his robes?

    These are not easy determinations.

    Jesus noted there would be people who called Him “Lord” and did wonderful works in His name to whom He would say, “I never knew you.” But He also warned about specks and planks in eyes, and noted that many of his sheep would do good works to Him without knowing it was Him they were serving.

    I think a reviling or exculpatory judgment are both to be made very, very cautiously.


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