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Kinnamon: NY Times, CBS poll on race
stresses need for 'sacred conversations'

New York, July 16, 2008 – A recent New York Times/CBS News poll revealing deep national divisions along racial lines is an urgent reminder of the need for “sacred conversations on race,” the head of the National Council of Churches said today. 

The poll indicated that a large majority of African Americans – nearly 60 percent – believe race relations in the United States are “generally bad,” the Times reported today. Forty percent of blacks said racial discrimination is as bad as ever, while one out of four whites said there is too much emphasis on discrimination. Seventy percent of blacks and half of Latinos said they have been targets of racial discrimination. 

“These figures are discouraging but not surprising,” said the Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, General Secretary of the NCC.  “Last April our churches called for a ‘sacred conversation on race’ in American pulpits, and this poll shows how badly those conversations are needed.” 

The call for sermons on race was issued April 3 by the Rev. John H. Thomas, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, and promptly endorsed by Kinnamon and other church leaders. Thomas made the call as church leaders gathered on the steps of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ and defended the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, then the target of a storm of criticism for remarks deemed unpatriotic and radical by critics. 

Wright attracted attention because Democratic presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama was a member of Trinity, and media reports fanned the flames of wild rumors about what Wright and church members believe. 

At the time, Kinnamon dismissed notions that Trinity’s congregation is a “radical sect” as “nonsense,” and pointed out that many of Wright’s criticisms of American racism were accurate. “This country has  made important strides in confronting its racist past – but, surely, no one thinks that racism has been eradicated,” Kinnamon said in April. 

Speaking today from his New York office, Kinnamon noted that the Rev. W. Sterling Cary, a UCC clergyman who was NCC president 1972-75, has warned that Obama’s successful campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination obscures the fact that there are still “huge problems” among races in the U.S. 

In an interview last month with NCC News, Cary said the racism Wright preaches about “is still with us. My greatest concern about the current presidential campaign is that the rhetoric gives people the impression that they can ignore the past and celebrate the future, but there are a lot of serious problems that cannot be glossed over – and this is especially pronounced in terms of race." 

The Times/CBS poll showed marked divisions in voter preference for president. Nearly 90 percent of black voters favored Obama while 2 percent favored Republican Senator John McCain. White voters chose McCain over Obama by 46 percent to 23 percent. Latino voters chose Obama by 62 to 23 percent.

 “Many white Americans tend not to recognize the racism that persists in our society while persons of color say they feel it acutely and persistently,” Kinnamon said. “It’s very painful to realize how divisive race continues to be, but it’s a reality the churches cannot ignore. We have to confront racism honestly, directly, and in Christ’s spirit of love and reconciliation.” 

Originally the Sunday designated for sacred conversations on race was May 18, Trinity Sunday. 

“But the pain of racism continues and the sacred conversations must continue,” Kinnamon said.  

The NCC is the ecumenical voice of America's Orthodox, Protestant, Anglican, historic African American and traditional peace churches. These 35 communions have 45 million faithful members in 100,000 congregations in all 50 states. 

NCC News contact: Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228, 

Pictures of praying people are from the American Baptist Churches Web site,

NCC News contact:  Philip E. Jenks, 212-870-2228,

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