Otis Moss (III)

Otis Moss (III)

: Photo from Creative Commons / Author of Photo: LutherSeminary


* Succeeded Jeremiah Wright as pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago
* Views the United States as a nation infested with racism
* Likens the condition of contemporary black Americans to that of the lepers referenced in biblical stories
* Nicknamed the “hip-hop pastor”
* Characterizes the late rap singer Tupac Shakur as a prophetic figure

Born in 1971, Otis Moss III was raised in the affluent Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio. His father, Otis Moss Jr. (born 1935), was a longtime Baptist minister known for his involvement in the 1960s civil-rights movement; the elder Moss was a friend of both Martin Luther King Jr. and Martin Luther King Sr.

Otis Moss III holds a BA degree in religion and philosophy from Morehouse College (1992), a Master of Divinity degree from Yale University (1995), and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Chicago Theological Seminary. Ordained as a Baptist minister in 1995, Moss subsequently pastored the Tabernacle Baptist Church (TBC) in Augusta, Georgia. Following his stint at TBC, he became assistant pastor of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) from 2006-08. When TUCC’s longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright retired in February 2008 amid controversy over his many anti-white, anti-Semitic statements, Moss was named as his successor.

In a 2008 Easter sermon, Moss declared that Wright had been “lynched” by those in the media who were determined to discredit him and his most famous congregant, then-presidential candidate Barack Obama: “No one should start a ministry with lynching, no one should end their ministry with lynching.” Moreover, Moss compared Rev. Wright to Jesus:

“The people [critics] gathered around Jesus, they knew better. But they kept repeating sound bytes from his ministry. They kept saying, you know, things like the last shall be first and didn’t say the first shall be last. They just kept quoting things. Did not talk about his parables. Did not talk about his work. Just there he is on the cross being lynched. No rabbis came to the aid of Jesus during his lynching.”

Moss views the United States as a nation rife with white racism and injustice. In his introduction to a 2007 TUCC newsletter article about the entertainment industry and African Americans, for instance, he wrote: “Currently, there are about eight companies controlling 90% of everything we hear, read, watch on television or view in the movie theater. These companies operate with contempt and disdain for the Black community.”

In a 2008 sermon, Moss likened the condition of contemporary black Americans to that of the lepers referenced in biblical stories:

“Based on their skin condition, they [the lepers] were considered to be second-class citizens. They had a skin issue. They had a skin disease. And the lepers lived in a leper project. The lepers had bad health care. The lepers were disrespected. They had funny names for lepers. The lepers were considered inferior. They had an inferior school system. The lepers lived in a ghetto leper colony. The lepers were segregated from everybody else.”

Moss further implied that whites — who, in his estimation, continued to segregate blacks both socially and economically — were the “enemy” of African Americans.

Also in 2008, a National Public Radio interviewer asked Moss whether or not he accepted Jeremiah Wright’s claim “that the [U.S.] government was involved in the distribution of drugs or in the spread of HIV and AIDS” in the black community. Moss dodged the question by replying: “Well, I think in terms of that particular narrative, I think we need to be very, very honest in terms of that our government has the ability to place a Hubble Telescope in the sky but yet we haven’t had the political will to shut down drugs coming into our community.”

Nicknamed the “hip-hop pastor” by his congregants, Moss has criticized middle-class America for not accepting the “prophetic brilliance” of black so-called “thugs.” “There are times,” Moss said in one sermon, “when our prejudice keeps us from hearing ghetto prophets, who preach a brand of thug theology which keeps us from hearing the truth from their lips because of their coarse language and ragged subject-verb agreement.”

In the same sermon, Moss cited as a prophetic figure the late Tupac Shakur — a “gangsta” rap star with a long arrest record for such offenses as assault-and-battery, sexual abuse, and weapons violations. In Moss’ view, those who fail to recognize Shakur as a prophet are limited by the “bourgeois paradigms” that shape their thinking. “Our society creates thugs,” Moss elaborated. “Children are not born thugs. Thugs are made and not born.”

In yet another sermon, Moss quoted a song — titled Wrong N-gga to F**k With, by the rap artist Ice Cube — which contains the following lyrics:

“Down wit the niggaz that I bail out.
I’m platinum b-tch and I didn’t have to sell out.
F— you Ice Cube, that’s what the people say.
F— AmeriKKKa, still with the triple K.
Cause you know when my nine goes buck,
it’ll bust your head like a watermelon dropped from 12 stories up.
Now let’s see who’ll drop.”

Moss decries what he terms the “invisible racism” that allegedly pervades American society. He cites, for example, “the invisible racism” that: “leads to Voter Photo ID laws that suppress the democratic rights of the elderly, people of color and the poor”; has “made targets of thousands of African American, Latino and working class households, as unscrupulous lenders caused them to lose their homes to foreclosure”; “drives a torrent of anti-immigration laws instead of legislation that provides paths to citizenship”; and “has resulted in more African American men currently in prison or jail, on probation or parole, than were enslaved in 1850, before the Civil War began.”

Moss is a great admirer of Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of Saint Sabina Catholic Church in Chicago. At one TUCC event, Moss described Pfleger as “a friend of Trinity”; “a brother beloved”; “a preacher par excellence”; “a prophetic, powerful pulpiteer”; and “our friend [and] brother.”

Moss is chaplain of the Children’s Defense Fund’s Samuel DeWitt Proctor Child Advocacy Conference, is a board member of the Christian Century magazine, is a life member of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and a supporter of Jesse Jackson‘s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition. He also has been a member of the Metro Denver Black Church Interfaith Progressive National Baptist Convention, the NAACP, and New Era Baptist Churches of the South. He has worked as an adjunct professor at Voorhees College, and as a guest lecturer at Dillard University, Emory University, Harvard University, Howard University, Morehouse College, Paine College, Presbyterian College, and Yale University. And his writings have appeared in numerous left-wing publications, including the Huffington Post and Sojourners magazine.

Additional Information

* Moss has served as an advisor to the Spiritual Project, and as vice president of the Augusta Baptist Ministers Conference.

* The African American Pulpit Journal named Moss as one of the “20 to watch” ministers who likely will shape the future of black religious life. The website Belief.net has similarly identified Moss as a leader destined to impact the faith experience of black Americans.


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