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Obama leaves church after controversy about pastor’s remarks

US Democratic Party presidential hopeful Barack Obama has resigned his long-standing membership in Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, a move that came just months after Obama distanced himself from the retiring pastor of the church, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

"I have no idea how it will impact my presidential campaign but I know it was the right thing to do for me and my family," Obama said in an announcement on 31 May. "This was a pretty personal decision, and I was not trying to make political theatre out of it."

Comments made by Wright had dogged Obama for months. These included critical, often harsh references to US foreign and domestic policies. Videos of the pastor’s sermons containing these remarks have appeared on the Internet, and in US television news programmes.

Wright presided at the marriage of Barack and Michelle Obama, and baptised their two daughters.

Obama initially said he disagreed with Wright but would not disown him. In April, however, Obama condemned as, "divisive and destructive" remarks made by Wright at the National Press Club in Washington, when he included a suggestion that the US government was capable of planting AIDS in the black community.

More recently, a visiting Roman Catholic priest, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, added to the controversy by mocking Obama’s rival, Hillary Clinton, from the pulpit of Trinity church.

Obama told journalists he hoped for a less controversial church environment in the future. "I want to be able to take Michelle and my girls, sit in a pew quietly, hopefully get some nice music, some good reflection, praise God, thank him for all of the blessings he has given our family, put some money in the collection plate, maybe afterwards go out and grab some brunch, have my girls go to Sunday school," he said. "That’s what I am looking for."

Obama also described the kind of pastor he wants. "I would expect that I would have a pastor who would not shy away from speaking out on issues when he or she saw fit," he said. "It’s a very personal decision for Michelle and me to find somebody who reflects a wisdom that ultimately is about reconciliation and unifying people, and expressing a spirit of mercy along with a spirit of justice, a spirit of understanding along with a sense of righteous indignation about injustice."

The Rev. John H. Thomas, the general minister and president of the 1.2-million-member United Church of Christ, released a statement saying he hoped Obama and his family would remain with the Cleveland-based denomination.

Thomas also acknowledged the difficulty for candidates and public officials to be active members of congregations. "Faith is rooted in community," Thomas said. "Persons in public office should have the same opportunity as the rest of us to experience the worship, prayers and close personal friendships that congregational participation affords."