The United Church of Christ has a “news story” up at its Web site regarding Jeremiah Wright’s appearances yesterday. It would tend to indicate that “United Church of Christ” is an anagram for “whitewash”:

God enjoys diversity and desires transformation. That was the message brought by Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. in one of his first public appearances since his sermons stirred up controversy for the presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama….

“These two foci of liberation and transformation have been at the very core of the United Church of Christ since its predecessor denomination, the Congregational Church of New England, came to the moral defense and paid for the legal defense of the Mende people aboard the slave ship Amistad,” said Wright, speaking to a crowd of vocal supporters and a multitude of reporters at a National Press Club breakfast, part of a two-day symposium put on by the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference.

He went on to say that the theology of the black church is also one of reconciliation, hinging on the idea “being different does not mean one is deficient.”…

While Wright makes no visible effort to be politically correct, he and his supporters say the remarks were taken out of the context of his sermons and of the black church’s traditional prophetic role.

“If you think that’s bad, you oughta read the original Jeremiah,” said Bernice Powell Jackson, UCC clergywoman and World Council of Churches president for North America, referring to the biblical Old Testament prophet in a talk at a teach-in Monday afternoon, part of the Proctor conference events.

“We haven’t done a good job in the United States teaching the difference between patriotism and nationalism in religion,” Powell Jackson said….

Wright came off as defensive, even flippant, in some of his responses. When asked about his comment that America’s chickens had come home to roost in the attacks of Sept. 11, Wright asked the moderator if she had heard the whole sermon. When she admitted she had not, he quipped: “well, that nullifies that question,” before further explaining the comment….
Wright’s talk and comments were met with vigorous applause and at least a few standing ovations from his audience at the press club.

“I thought it was an amazing teaching moment for the broader society,” said John Deckenback, conference minister of the Central Atlantic Conference of the United Church of Christ.

Delores Carpenter, senior minister at Michigan Park Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and a professor at Howard University Divinity School, described the talk as “vintage Jeremiah Wright” in its willingness to critique what is wrong in American society and to stand up for the disenfranchised. “I thought it was just great,” she said.

The speakers shared a strong sympathy for Wright’s situation and an understanding that most Americans have a limited grasp of the history and prophetic tradition of the black church

Many at the conference saw the controversy as an opportunity to clarify who they are and what they believe in. Asked what Wright’s talk would lead to, Carpenter said, “I hope a more enlightened discussion on race.”

Please notice what’s missing here: no Louis Farrakhan, no AIDS conspiracy-mongering, no racial stereotyping, and no hint of anything amiss. This isn’t a news story, it’s a press release.

There has been talk in the media that Wright could sink Barack Obama’s campaign for president. I don’t know about that, but I do believe that when all is said and done, he may have done more damage to the United Church of Christ than all of its previous left-wing political activism and liberal theology put together. The UCC is getting unprecedented publicity, virtually all of it bad, and if this “new story” is any indication, its leadership is utterly clueless about how it is being perceived in the broader culture. It may make them feel good about being “prophetic” (since they assume that the yahoos never get “prophets”), but from an institutional and even missional standpoint, the last couple of months have been nothing less than disastrous. More and more, the UCC is going to be seen as politically extreme, completely out-of-touch with most Americans, and complicit in a racialist agenda that is abhorrent to the vast majority of people. Which is another way of saying that it will be seen for what it really is by people who didn’t previously know much about it or have anything against it.