Obama Severs Ties to Trinity Church

Sen. Barack Obama has decided to leave the Trinity United Church of Christ — the Chicago church he joined 20 years ago. The decision comes amid controversy over statements made from the church pulpit by two ministers with whom Obama had long personal relationships.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, host:

And joining us now for some analysis and to discuss another big political story is NPR news analyst Juan Williams. Good morning, Juan.

JUAN WILLIAMS: Good morning, Audie.

CORNISH: Now, with all the commotion going on with the DNC rules committee meeting last night, there came the news that Barack Obama has resigned from Trinity United Church of Christ, and that's the Chicago church he joined 20 years ago. We're going to talk about that in a minute.

But first I want to get your reaction to the seating of the delegates of Florida and Michigan with half the power, half the votes.

WILLIAMS: Well, the key here is that both parties walk away feeling as they had been treated fairly. And the reason I say that so key is because so many people at this point in the party hierarchy want a settlement. They want this whole primary process to come to an end and the focus to go to the general election and on John McCain, the likely Republican nominee.

And you can just imagine, Audie, the frustration among people at the top of the party - Howard Dean, but also the likes of Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House. People are just frustrated at the idea that this would somehow be a never-ending political game.

CORNISH: Yeah, after all this yesterday it seems that the sense that it's still unfinished business, it's still hanging over everything. In the other news from last night, there's Barack Obama saying that he's resigned from his Chicago church and this comes after controversial remarks by his former pastor, former pastor of the church, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, and more recent inflammatory comments from a visiting priest.

And Obama also said that the church membership at this point may be better off without him. Let's hear from him here.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois, Presidential Candidate): We've had news organizations harassing members at their homes and their work places. We had reporters grabbing church bulletins and calling up the sick and the shut-in in an attempt to get news about the church.

CORNISH: Juan, your reaction.

WILLIAMS: Well, you know, politicians are really something, Audie. This is nothing about the sick and shut-in or about people being pestered on their way after church. This is all about Barack Obama's campaign for president, and the comments last week by Reverend Michael Pfleger, a visiting Catholic minister who went on mocking Hillary Clinton and talking about white entitlement and the whole notion of divisive anger, even racial hatred, between blacks and whites in this country and playing to the church in such a way that it got tremendous ovations, and then that ended up on the Internet and all over cable news.

And it is exacerbating the worst elements of the appeal to racial dysfunction in the country, the kind of thing Barack Obama has stood in contradiction to.

CORNISH: Now, last night we reached Professor Dwight Hopkins. He's a professor of theology at the University of Chicago. He's also a member of Trinity United, and we asked him how he thought people in the community would be reacting to the news this morning.

Professor DWIGHT HOPKINS (Theology, University of Chicago): I think people will have a mixture of feelings in reaction to Senator Obama officially leaving the church. I'm sure some people will be confused, some people will be saddened, some people will be hurt.

CORNISH: Now, that's the word from a member of the church but looking ahead, Juan, tell us does this at all put an end to the controversy for Senator Obama and do you think it will continue?

WILLIAMS: Well, let me just say quickly, Audie, that what you heard from Professor Hopkins is important because in the black community there are going to be some people who wonder why he's turning away from a black church, a church that he's been a member of for more than 20 years. It's a delicate, very delicate balance for Senator Obama because people could say, well, goodness gracious, you joined this church; enjoy the company of the church, the credibility of the church, the credibility of Reverend Wright when you were trying to build your political career.

Now that there's a problem, now that there's criticism from the outside community you decide to leave. Barack Obama, I don't think, is going to lose support from the black community because he is the first African-American with a legitimate chance to be a president. But it's going to cost a lot of back talk, a lot of people shaking heads. I don't think Barack Obama needs that at this moment. But it's not going to be a part of his reality.

CORNISH: Well, Juan, thank you for talking with us this morning.

WILLIAMS: You're welcome, Audie.

CORNISH: NPR news analyst Juan Williams.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: