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Priest Again Apologizes For Remarks In Sermon

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The Rev. Michael Pfleger, a guest pastor at Sen. Barack Obama's Chicago church, mocks rival presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton from the pulpit, saying her attitude is she's white and entitled to the job. Video by AP

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By Shailagh Murray and Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, June 2, 2008

The Rev. Michael L. Pfleger again apologized yesterday for controversial statements he had made in a guest sermon at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, a day after Sen. Barack Obama announced he is leaving the congregation that he has been an active member of since 1992.

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Obama's decision to leave Trinity was not mentioned during services yesterday, according to parishioners and church officials. But the Rev. Otis Moss III, who took over for the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. earlier this year, passed out a six-page "declaration of interdependence" that was delivered about a month ago, shortly after Obama split with Wright. In it, Moss described the Trinity community as a "wounded" people and asked parishioners to "imagine a church on the other side of this public moment."

Renee Carter, a Trinity member who attended services yesterday, welcomed the pastoral letter. "Our church has received bomb threats, our members have been harassed, and our pastors have received threats on their lives," she said.

Dwight N. Hopkins, a theology professor at the University of Chicago and a Trinity parishioner, said he was surprised by Obama's departure, especially since the Democratic presidential candidate "suggested and implied" that he did not fault Trinity for Wright's inflammatory comments.

Hopkins said he thinks public debate over the pastor controversy has been overblown. "No candidate should be judged by what his or her pastor or clergyman says," he said, adding that he is upset by Obama's departure. "Of course, anytime someone leaves the church after so many years, it's like a member of the extended family leaving."

Obama said late Saturday that he and his wife, Michelle, had been discussing leaving the church since late April, when Wright, his former pastor, made a controversial appearance at the National Press Club. Obama faced new questions about his church last week, after Pfleger said during a May 25 sermon that he intended to expose "white entitlement and supremacy wherever it raises its head" and mimicked Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) as weeping over "a black man stealing my show."

At St. Sabina's Catholic Church in Chicago, where Pfleger is pastor, the Associated Press reported him as telling parishioners yesterday: "I apologize for anyone who was offended and who thought it to be mockery. That was neither my intent nor was it my heart."

Leaving Trinity was the candidate's latest effort to distance himself from what had become one of his campaign's biggest liabilities.

Even before Obama announced his candidacy, Wright emerged as a problem. Obama had initially asked Wright to stand on stage with him in front of thousands and deliver the invocation at his February 2007 speech announcing his presidential candidacy. The offer was withdrawn when the campaign learned of a forthcoming article quoting inflammatory statements made by Wright, and the pastor's role was limited to a private prayer with the candidate and his family.

Wright told the New York Times at the time that Obama had explained: "You can get kind of rough in the sermons, so what we've decided is that it's best for you not to be out there in public."

Wright remained largely out of the public eye for more than a year, but he quickly became a major liability for Obama when video surfaced of the minister blaming the United States for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the Sunday after they took place. The snippet brought scrutiny of other controversial statements by Wright, including his assertion that the federal government helped spread AIDS.

The controversy erupted just as Obama was struggling to recover from a bigger-than-expected loss in Ohio while facing a showdown with Clinton in Pennsylvania.


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