Obama Quits Longtime Church Over Inflammatory Comments

The Post's Hamil Harris speaks with Rev. Michael L. Pfleger on April 28, 2008 following a speech by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Video by Hamil Harris/The Washington Post
By Derek Kravitz and Keith B. Richburg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, June 1, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) and his wife, Michelle, announced yesterday that they have left their longtime Chicago church, Trinity United Church of Christ, after racially charged comments by a visiting pastor last week dragged them into yet another controversy over religion and race.

The resignation came Friday in a letter Obama sent to the church's head pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss III.

"We make this decision with sadness. Trinity was where I found Christ, where we were married and where our children were baptized," the letter said. "But as you know, our relations with Trinity have been strained by the divisive statements of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflict with our own view."

Obama held a news conference last night during a campaign stop in Aberdeen, S.D., after news of the resignation began to spread.

The Democratic presidential candidate said he and his wife had been discussing leaving the church since his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., made a theatrical and controversial April 28 appearance at the National Press Club.

"We had consulted with a number of friends and family members who are also connected to the church, and so this is not a decision I came to lightly, and frankly it's one that I make with some sadness," Obama said.

Obama's split with Trinity, where he had been an active parishioner since 1992, came after his campaign was dogged by new questions about a guest sermon made last Sunday by a Roman Catholic clergyman, the Rev. Michael L. Pfleger.

During that speech, Pfleger said he intended to expose "white entitlement and supremacy wherever it raises its head," and he mimicked Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) weeping over "a black man stealing my show."

When the priest's videotaped comments hit YouTube, Obama immediately said he was "deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger's divisive, backward-looking rhetoric." Pfleger apologized, saying the "words are inconsistent with Senator Obama's life and message."

Obama said Pfleger's comments "just reinforced that view that we don't want to have to answer for everything that's stated in a church."

He also said his heightened profile was drawing unwelcome attention to the church. "It's also clear that Reverend Moss and the church have been suffering from all the attention my campaign has visited on them."

Obama acknowledged that joining another black church, where "there's a different religious tradition or a worshiping style" might be equally problematic as his membership in Trinity. He said he probably will not make a decision about a new church until January.

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