If you happen to be in Cleveland tomorrow, you might want to drop by the denominational headquarters of the United Church of Christ. As part of the UCC’s celebration of Black History Month, HQ will be welcoming a special speaker:

The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. is a man of faith, a homiletic genius, a theological scholar and a pastor’s pastor.

As senior pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where he served 36 years, Wright combined his studies of African traditional religions, African music, African-American music and the African-American Religious Tradition with his studies of Judeo-Christian thought to create ministries that addressed the needs of the community and enriched the lives and faith of his congregants by moving ministry, as stated in his own words, “from theory to praxis.”  Describing Wright’s preaching style, the Rev. Otis Moss III, the pastor of Trinity and Wright’s successor, says, “The weight of the holy is upon his words.”

Wright said in a published article: “I have tried to bring those two different worlds together [the academy and the pew] in the context of pastoral ministry in an effort to move an ignored people from hurt to healing and from hate to hope. My mission at Trinity has been to bring those worlds together by using the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the life of Christ as a model for what is possible, of what might be, and of what our faith really is —‘the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen.'”

Wright’s efforts made Trinity –– long considered in theological circles as a model for the Black church –– one of the most politically active and socially conscious churches in the nation. When he retired, the church had more than 50 active ministries with social justice advocacy at the core of its theological perspective.

One can understand why the UCC would want to bring in such an important speaker when one considers some of his greatest hits (from Dana Milbank of the Washington Post):

Speaking before an audience that included Marion Barry, Cornel West, Malik Zulu Shabazz of the New Black Panther Party and Nation of Islam official Jamil Muhammad, Wright praised Louis Farrakhan, defended the view that Zionism is racism, accused the United States of terrorism, repeated his view that the government created the AIDS virus to cause the genocide of racial minorities, stood by other past remarks (“God damn America”) and held himself out as a spokesman for the black church in America.

Wright seemed aggrieved that his inflammatory quotations were out of the full “context” of his sermons — yet he repeated many of the same accusations in the context of a half-hour Q&A session this morning.

His claim that the September 11 attacks mean “America’s chickens are coming home to roost”?

Wright defended it: “Jesus said, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles.”

His views on Farrakhan and Israel? “Louis said 20 years ago that Zionism, not Judaism, was a gutter religion. He was talking about the same thing United Nations resolutions say, the same thing now that President Carter’s being vilified for and Bishop Tutu’s being vilified for. And everybody wants to paint me as if I’m anti-Semitic because of what Louis Farrakhan said 20 years ago. He is one of the most important voices in the 20th and 21st century; that’s what I think about him. . . . Louis Farrakhan is not my enemy. He did not put me in chains, he did not put me in slavery, and he didn’t make me this color.”

He denounced those who “can worship God on Sunday morning, wearing a black clergy robe, and kill others on Sunday evening, wearing a white Klan robe.” He praised the communist Sandinista regime of Nicaragua. He renewed his belief that the government created AIDS as a means of genocide against people of color (“I believe our government is capable of doing anything”).

Yep, that sounds like UCC leadership all over.