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Pastor’s sermons become issue in Obama presidential campaign


Sermons by the former pastor of aspiring presidential candidate Barack Obama’s Chicago church have become a heated issue in the US presidential campaign, triggering varying responses during the past week.

The controversy centres on sermons delivered by Jeremiah A. Wright Jr, the recently retired senior pastor of the church, Trinity United Church of Christ, which is located in a Chicago neighbourhood inhabited mainly by African Americans and other black people.

In excerpts of sermons that have suddenly gained prominence on the Internet and US television because of Obama’s presidential bid, Wright is seen asking church members to sing "God damn America", and he refers to the events of 11 September 2001 as the "chickens coming home to roost".

Responding to the media focus over the sermons, Obama, who is of black and white descent, speaking on 18 March in Philadelphia, on the subject of race in the United States, denounced some of Wright’s comments but also said: "I can no more disown him than I can disown the black community."

Democratic Party Senator Obama noted, "I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother. These people are a part of me. And they are a part of America, this country that I love."

The New York Times in a 19 March newspaper editorial said Obama had succeeded in putting Wright and "his beliefs and the reaction to them into the larger context of race relations with an honesty seldom heard in public life … He [Obama] did not hide from the often-unspoken reality that people on both sides of the colour line are angry."

Wright’s remarks were characterised by The Economist magazine as "not a momentary aberration but part of a pattern of incendiary rhetoric". But the Rev. John H. Thomas, general minister and president of the 1.2-million-member UCC, has argued that media coverage of the story has lacked context.

In a 17 March statement, Thomas said those "who sifted through hours of sermons searching for a few lurid phrases and those who have aired them repeatedly have only one intention. It is to wound a presidential candidate. In the process a congregation that does exceptional ministry and a pastor who has given his life to shape those ministries is caricatured and demonised."

In one analysis of the controversy, Gromer Jeffers Jr and Jeffrey Weiss, Dallas Morning News reporters, wrote that black audiences familiar with Wright’s preaching style "probably hear a more nuanced theology in some of Mr Wright’s quotes than what comes across from the videos filling the newscasts and Web sites".

They described the pastor’s remark condemning the United States as being "part of a longer passage that condemns the US government for a number of transgressions against blacks, including ‘treating our citizens as less than human’."

Ecumenical News International