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Sunday, February 03, 2008

Obama's Protestant Denomination: Church's Cleveland Hdqts. Denounces E-mail Campaign Smear

CLEVELAND (TDB) -- The Cleveland headquarters of the United Church of Christ -- the 1.4 million member Protestant denomination to which Barack Obama belongs -- itself has received queries related to the poison-pen e-mails now circulating about the Illinois senator's Christian faith. One example turned up last week. It appeared in a lengthy series of comments responding to a denunciation of an Internet smear campaign aimed at Obama's home church, Trinity UCC in Chicago. The Rev. John H. Thomas, the general minister and president of the Cleveland-based denomination, on Jan. 11 called the attacks on Trinity "absurd, mean-spirited and politically motivated." His blast at the e-mail smear started the comment chain rolling.

By Thursday, somebody asked the Cleveland headquarters:

"I would only have two things that I would like to be a correct answer: One, was Senator Obama sworn into office using the Koran? Two, Does he not salute, pay homage to, and place his hand over his heart when the Pledge of Allegiance is being recited? I need to know the truth about these concerns."

Somebody fired back:

"NO! That is a lie, spread by right wing web bloggers. He was sworn in on the Bible. He is a Christian and is a MEMBER of THIS church . . . or why would he even be here talking about this? And he ALWAYS places his hand over this heart for the pledge, just like I do. That photo was taken, as far I have heard, just before the pledge started and he had yet to raise his hand. Please folks, these ridiculous lies are ruining our opportunity for honest discourse!"

That was followed by this comment Feb. 2:

"I was planning to vote for Obama, but I have to wonder now. Did I miss something, or has no one mentioned Farrakhan's involvement with the Sudanese slavery issue . . . I admire Obama for really researching his decision regarding the war in Iraq, but did he research this guy (Farrakan)? He would have to be clueless and naive not to know what poison Farrakan is?"

So it looks like the church -- which has some 6,000 congregations -- has been sucked into the maelstrom of the battle for the White House. From what I can tell, there has been no effort to either censor or moderate the comments on its web site.

[UPDATE: 2:56 PM -- Jerid Kurtz at Buckeye State Blog reports the Columbus Dispatch printed a letter to the editor today that slams Obama's church. He's of the opinion it is a slur. The Dispatch letter echoes the debate that has cropped up on the denomination's own online portal. Nobody seems to have paid much notice to the church's top leader, who sees a smear campaign at work. Just to be clear, The Daily Bellwether would like to print what Rev. Thomas says: "Our national offices in Cleveland, as well as other settings of the UCC, have been forwarded countless e-mails that obviously derive from a similar source. They contain misleading statements obviously meant to undermine the integrity of one of our most vibrant, mission-driven congregations." Thomas says the flurry of e-mail messages began after the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses, all claiming that Trinity UCC is a 'racist' congregation, in part, because its motto is Unashamedly Black, Unapologetically Christian.]


  1. Bill:

    I've often wondered about papers publishing LOE containing demonstrably false information. Since the CD is getting much heat for publishing the letter, could you as a retired journalist shed some light on the Ed Page process and the intersection of journalistic ethics and LOE decisions?

  2. Pho --

    Good question. No good answer. Over the years, letters to the editor made my blood boil, especially if they were about things that I had written and which I felt were totally off-base. This was not an uncommon feeling among those in the business, and I have witnessed some very pissed off journalists whose anger was triggered by a letter. On the other hand, I think the editorial page letters editors I have known were conscientious and truly wanted to have a lot of opinion, or tried to have a lot of opinion. They were always trying to weed out the seriously offensive stuff. Of course, there could have been an ulterior motive at work in Columbus -- print a provocative letter and wait for the onslaught to roll in. That would be a good way to stimulate readership and interest in the newspaper, wouldn't it? Of course, to think that anybody on an editorial page would act that way in this era of troubled times for print would be to stoop nearly to cynicism.