As Obama Severs Ties, County Pastors Voice Dismay

By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 5, 2008

The decision by Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to leave Trinity United Church of Christ after more than 15 years is not sitting well with some African American pastors and scholars in Prince George's County.

The senator from Illinois announced Saturday that he was leaving the church after a video surfaced showing a Chicago priest in Trinity's pulpit appearing to mimic a tearful Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). The Rev. Michael L. Pfleger, a guest speaker during a May 25 sermon on race, charged that Clinton, Obama's opponent for the Democratic nomination, felt entitled to the presidency because she is white.

The Rev. Barbara Reynolds, a Prince George's resident and Howard University School of Divinity lecturer, decried the media coverage of the incident, which she said is fueling the controversy.

"I think this is a new low," said Reynolds, a close associate of Trinity's retiring pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, whose remarks sparked controversy for Obama earlier in the campaign. "If a politician wants to move up in government, they can come to church and jump and shout, but it is not okay to go to church where they are speaking truth to power and talking about racism, sexism and capitalism."

Reynolds, a former USA Today columnist, found her motives under scrutiny after she helped organize a recent appearance by Wright at the National Press Club. Critics questioned whether Reynolds, who has announced her support for Clinton, intentionally tried to hurt Obama by keeping Wright in the spotlight, speculation that Reynolds has denied.

The Rev. Grainger Browning, pastor of Ebenezer African Methodist Episcopal Church in Fort Washington, said Obama's candidacy and the controversy surrounding his relationship with the pastors is causing ministers to "rethink how our message of liberation is being communicated."

"I am saddened that all things could not have worked together for the greater good," Browning said. "I am sure that he is disappointed, and the church is disappointed. No one is happy how this scenario has played out.

Pfleger was one of three white ministers who preached at Trinity as part of a Sacred Dialogue on Race, an event that had been encouraged in the nation's 5,700 United Church of Christ congregations. Pfleger apologized Sunday for his remarks.

Ron Walters, a University of Maryland political science professor, said of Obama's decision to leave his church, "I think that it was inevitable because Dr. Wright was not out of the mainstream of American black preaching.

"It is probably a good thing for [Obama] not to have a home church because they have found a way to use statements that come from the black perspective to paint him as an African American candidate.

"Barack Obama is running for president in a country where 70 percent of the people are white, and they demand that he align himself to their dominant view."

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