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Angie Drobnic Holan
By Angie Drobnic Holan January 11, 2008

Church claims commitment as ethnic heritage

An anonymous chain e-mail warns its readers that the church Barack Obama belongs to has a "nonnegotiable commitment to Africa." That is an accurate statement from the church's Web site. But the e-mail implies that that commitment is anti-American, which we find is not the case. (Read our story about the whole e-mail here .)

Obama belongs to Trinity United Church of Christ, which is considered among the larger black megachurches in the United States. The presidential race has kept him away from the church recently, but he typically attends when he's in Chicago, according to his campaign.

Trinity preaches a Bible-based message of black self-reliance. Its motto is "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian."

Trinity's commitment to Africa appears to be more a statement of philosophical orientation than of political support for any particular African country. The church offers classes about the continent and sponsors trips there. Its Web site, www.tucc.org, says it seeks to represent the concerns of Africa in the United States and compares its allegiance with other mainstream immigrant groups:

"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."

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Obama's father is from the nation of Kenya on the continent of Africa.

Trinity defended its teachings in a statement responding to the recent attacks:

"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," it said.

The e-mail is correct that the Web site espouses a "nonnegotiable commitment to Africa," and a nonnegotiable commitment is pretty strong language. But the e-mail implies there's something politically sinister about this and that it somehow supersedes a commitment to America. We find no evidence for that contention. For these reasons, we rate the claim Mostly True.

UPDATE: Barack Obama resigned from Trinity United Church of Christ on May 31, 2008, after church pastor Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. made controversial remarks about U.S. foreign policy and other matters. Obama said he intends to join another church after the election.

Our Sources

Web site for Trinity United Church of Christ

Statement from the Trinity United Church of Christ

Statement from the Barack Obama campaign

Interview with Martin E. Marty , retired historian

Interview with Dwight Hopkins of the University of Chicago

Interview with Michael Cromartie, vice president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center

Interview with John C. Green of the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life

Hannity & Colmes, Obama's Pastor: Rev. Jeremiah Wright , March 2, 2007

New York Times, A candidate, his minister and a search for faith , April 30, 2007

Associated Press, Obama's activist church enters spotlight , March 20, 2007

New York Times, Disinvitation by Obama Is Criticized , March 6, 2007

Chicago Tribune, Pastor inspires "audacity to hope" , Jan. 21, 2007

Barack Obama Senate office, Call to Renewal Keynote Address , June 28, 2006

Read the full text of the anonymous e-mail here .

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Church claims commitment as ethnic heritage

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