The Religion News Service sat down recently with the president of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. John Thomas, to ask about the controversies in which the UCC has been caught up in the last few weeks.

Q: What are people around the UCC saying about the controversy surrounding [the Rev. Jeremiah] Wright?

A: Some people are quite upset and outraged at what they heard on these brief little clips on the news. Others are angry because they feel Rev. Wright’s views have been taken out of context — it doesn’t reflect the man who’s so well known in the UCC. By and large, there’s a lot of pain for what he’s going through and anger that he’s not being treated fairly.

I have no doubt that there are a lot of people in the UCC who are responding in the latter fashion. What’s predictable is that Thomas barely¬† acknowledges the existence of people who think that Wright is a bigoted conspiracy-monger who makes the UCC look to the rest of the country like a collection of crackpots (you can see lots of their comments in response to UCC/Thomas propaganda about Wright here and here).

Q: Do you think there are legitimate reasons to be concerned over some of his remarks and the fact that he’s been a longtime spiritual leader to a major presidential candidate?

A: You have to assess the whole body of his preaching and not phrases here and there, like what you’ve heard on the television. You want to listen to the entire sermon and also look at the congregation he’s shaped over the years. It’s not shaped around hatred, it’s been very supportive of a predominantly white denomination. It’s fair game to assess the background of a candidate’s spiritual life, but it needs to be a fair assessment.

Thomas persists in the fraud that all that’s out there is a handful of brief video clips, no doubt taken out of context, that are being twisted by those who are either out to get Barack Obama or who dislike liberal Christianity. What he ignores is the growing body of evidence taken from Wright’s sermons, his column in the weekly Trinity Church bulletin, and his actions (giving an award to Louis Farrakhan says a lot to me, for instance) that the YouTube videos are by no means isolated instances of bizarre stuff. To its credit, RNS goes straight for the jugular, asking about the AIDS/genocide allegations:

Q: Do you agree with Rev. Wright’s remarks about AIDS — that it was invented by the U.S. government to oppress minorities?

A: While I’m reluctant to comment on any one sentence in a sermon lifted from its context, and particularly reluctant in light of the clear intent of many in recent days to attack the integrity of Dr. Wright using this kind of citation, if the question posed is “Do I think the U.S. government invented AIDS to oppress minorities?” my response would be “no.”

The only word of that answer that was necessary was the last one. The rest is a combination of obfuscation, attack on the messengers who brought this particular piece of lunacy to light, and vocalized pause.

Q: Had you ever heard him say things as controversial as those now circulating in sermon blips, such as the AIDS reference?

A: No, I never heard that kind of language firsthand.

Q: What was your first reaction when you heard it on the news?

A: My first reaction was: This does not reflect Jeremiah Wright or his preaching. It’s so clearly taken out of context. I’m more shocked by the attempts to discredit Rev. Wright than I am shocked by the language (he) used.

If Wright had mentioned the AIDS nonsense in the context of discrediting it, I would agree. As it is, he passed along that piece of twaddle (as well as the equally ridiculous idea that’s been floating around the African-American community for twenty years now that the U.S. government is deliberately channeling drugs to inner cities to kill off blacks) as if it was a accepted fact. Thomas is more shocked–shocked, I say!–by the “attempts to discredit” Wright than he is by the full-throated moonbattery the latter served up to his congregation, the largest in the UCC. What that says about the head of a major mainline denomination is what I find really shocking.