Boston Globe : Obama strongly rejects remarks by former pastor

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Obama strongly rejects remarks by former pastor

Cleric's rhetoric renews turmoil for candidate

March 15, 2008

Responding to growing criticism, Senator Barack Obama yesterday issued a forceful repudiation of controversial remarks by the former pastor of his Chicago church, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whose rhetoric caused renewed turmoil this week for Obama's presidential campaign.
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Wright recently retired as pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, a large, vibrant, mostly black church on Chicago's South Side. But given Obama's long personal relationship with Wright, the cleric's past remarks have drawn new scrutiny from ABC News and other news media, including his assertions that the United States invited the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and a recent sermon in which he said Senator Hillary Clinton, as a white woman, has it far easier than Obama ever would.

"Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people," Wright said in a video recording of a December sermon posted on YouTube. "Hillary can never know that." Clinton has never been subjected to racial epithets, he said.

In a statement posted yesterday on The Huffington Post, a liberal political website, Obama responded by rejecting what he said were Wright's "inflammatory and appalling remarks."

"I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies," Obama wrote. "I also believe that words that degrade individuals have no place in our public dialogue, whether it's on the campaign stump or in the pulpit. In sum, I reject outright the statements by Rev. Wright that are at issue."

The Obama campaign said last evening that Wright is no longer part of the campaign's African American Religious Leadership Committee.

Obama told MSNBC last night that he would not repudiate the man, but what he said.

"The comments that have been played are ones that are contrary to what I believe, what I think of this country, the love that I have for this country, and, you know, are ones that anger and distress me," he said. "I would describe it as a member of your family who says something that you really disagree with. They don't stop being a member of your family, but you have to speak out forcefully on the issue."

Obama faced calls to explain his relationship with Wright and renounce the cleric's remarks broadcast on ABC and elsewhere.

The Rev. Eugene F. Rivers III, the pastor of Boston's Azusa Christian Community and codirector of the National Ten Point Leadership Foundation, told an interviewer on MSNBC that Obama "has to answer legitimate questions" on why he didn't break with Wright earlier. "He can't be given a pass on this," Rivers said. "This will not go away until Senator Obama sends the right kinds of signals."

The controversy is the latest in a series of instances in which surrogates, associates, or supporters of Clinton and Obama have gotten their candidate in hot water.
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Obama's relationship with Wright is a deep one. Wright officiated at the wedding of Obama and his wife, Michelle, baptized their two daughters, and has led the South Side church Obama has called home for two decades. Obama also drew the title of his second book, "The Audacity of Hope," from one of Wright's sermons.

But ever since Obama launched his presidential bid a year ago, Wright's words have caused Obama headaches.

Wright was scheduled to deliver the invocation at Obama's campaign kickoff in Springfield, Ill., in February 2007, but Obama withdrew the invitation after Wright's comments on white racism and other subjects drew criticism. Earlier this year, Obama was forced to distance himself from his church after it came to light that the church magazine had given its "Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award" to Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who is known for his anti-Semitism.

Obama defended Wright, to some extent, in yesterday's Huffington Post piece, saying he served "with honor" in the Marines, is a "respected biblical scholar," and has taught and lectured at seminaries across the country. He also praised his church for its active social service programs. But, Obama wrote, Wright "has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor."

"The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach while I sat in the pews of Trinity or heard him utter in private conversation," Obama wrote.

"When these statements first came to my attention, it was at the beginning of my presidential campaign. I made it clear at the time that I strongly condemned his comments. But because Rev. Wright was on the verge of retirement, and because of my strong links to the Trinity faith community, where I married my wife and where my daughters were baptized, I did not think it appropriate to leave the church."

Obama concluded by noting that the church had a new pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, and Obama said that he and his wife "look forward to continuing a relationship with a church that has done so much good."

"While Rev. Wright's statements have pained and angered me," Obama wrote, "I believe that Americans will judge me not on the basis of what someone else said, but on the basis of who I am and what I believe in; on my values, judgment and experience to be president of the United States."

Scott Helman can be reached at

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