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Profile: Dwight Hopkins
Dwight Hopkins was a participant or observer in the following events:
The sanctuary of Trinity United Churco of Christ. [Source: Chocolate City (.cc)]PolitiFact, the nonpartisan, political fact-checking organization sponsored by the St. Petersburg Times, investigates claims that Democratic senator Barack Obama (D-IL), a presidential candidate, belongs to “a racist, anti-American church.” The investigation concludes that Obama’s church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, “teaches black empowerment, not racism, and that it claims Africa as its ethnic heritage.” Anonymous emails “ricocheting around the Internet” claim that Obama should not be president because his church is “anti-American” and “scary,” and, somewhat contradictorily, that Obama is not a Christian, but a “covert Muslim” (see December 19, 2007 and January 11, 2008). The emails began within hours of Obama’s Democratic primary win in the Iowa caucuses. One email declares: “If you look at the first page of their Web site, you will learn that this congregation has a nonnegotiable commitment to Africa. No where [sic] is AMERICA even mention [sic]. Notice too, what color you need to be if you should want to join Obama’s church… B-L-A-C-K!!!” PolitiFact writes: “It’s the latest salvo in the email wars—anonymous missives launched into cyberspace seeking to frighten voters away from presidential candidates in the guise of friendly warnings. Typically they use kernels of truth, then launch into falsehood.” Chicago historian Martin Marty, a white religious expert who has attended Trinity United services in the past, says: “There’s no question this is a distortion.… Whites are highly accepted. They don’t make a fuss over you, but you’re very much welcomed.” PolitiFact finds that Trinity United is one of the larger black “megachurches” in the US, preaches a message of black self-reliance, and has as its motto, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian.” The church does have a “nonnegotiable commitment to Africa.” However, it has no racial standards for its members, and does have white and other non-black members. Obama is a member who has attended regularly for years, though with the travails of recent presidential campaigning, his attendance has fallen off in recent weeks. The main focus of the email vitriol, aside from Obama, is Trinity’s senior pastor Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., who preaches passionately and focuses on what he calls “black liberation theology.” Obama has written in his memoir, The Audacity of Hope, that it was Wright’s preaching that inspired him to convert from a secular agnosticism to Christianity during the 1980s. He titled his memoir after one of Wright’s sermons. PolitiFact finds, “Trinity’s commitment to Africa appears to be more a statement of philosophical orientation than of political support for any particular African country,” and notes that the church’s Web site states, “Just as those of Jewish heritage advocate on behalf of the state of Israel, and those of Irish heritage advocate on behalf of Ireland, and those of Polish descent for Poland, so must we of African descent care about the land of our heritage—the continent of Africa.” Divinity professor Dwight Hopkins, an African-American member of Trinity, describes the church as “highly evangelical and Bible-based.” The preaching, he says, tends to be “common-sense folk wisdom laced with theological sophistication.… There’s singing and shouting and people get happy. It’s an old-fashioned, mainstream down-home church that somehow is captured in this 8,000-person congregation.” John C. Green, a political science professor, says scholars do not view black liberation theology as racist, but some outsiders may hold that opinion. “A black empowerment theology could be seen as having a racist element because it isn’t neutral in regards to race,” he says. “The person who wrote this email obviously has very strong feelings about this.” In February 2007, Obama said of his church and his faith: “Commitment to God, black community, commitment to the black family, the black work ethic, self-discipline, and self-respect. Those are values that the conservative movement in particular has suggested are necessary for black advancement. So I would be puzzled that they would object or quibble with the bulk of a document that basically espouses profoundly conservative values of self-reliance and self-help.” In recent weeks, Obama has distanced himself somewhat from Wright and Trinity, because, his campaign says, he wishes to avoid bringing an overwhelming influx of media attention onto the church. The campaign said in a statement, “[B]ecause of the type of attention it was receiving on blogs and conservative talk shows, he decided to avoid having statements and beliefs being used out of context and forcing the entire church to defend itself.” Fox News talk show host Sean Hannity has called Trinity’s teachings “divisive,” and engaged in what PolitiFact calls “a spirited debate” with Wright on one of his broadcasts. Conservative ethicist Michael Cromartie agrees with Hannity, saying: “It’s too strong to call it racist but at the same time, it is a form of identity politics or identity theology, which insists you white people can come to this church, but you won’t get it.” Trinity has stated: “There is no anti-American sentiment in the theology or the practice of Trinity United Church of Christ. To be sure, there is prophetic preaching against oppression, racism, and other evils that would deny the American ideal.” Green is reminded of the 1960 presidential election, when many opponents of candidate John F. Kennedy attacked Kennedy for being Catholic. “But we didn’t have the Internet back then,” he says. “This kind of communication has always gone on, but it moves much faster now.” [St. Petersburg Times, 1/6/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 1/6/2008; St. Petersburg Times, 1/11/2008]
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