ANDREA SEABROOK: It's Easter Sunday, the holiest day on the Christian calendar, and it's been a day of rest for the presidential hopefuls. Barack Obama, perhaps more than Hillary Clinton and John McCain, could use a breather. Obama's campaign has found itself in a controversy surrounding the inflammatory remarks of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright. The dissemination of those statements and Obama's speech about race in America were on the minds of many black worshipers as they attended Easter services today. NPR's Audie Cornish is in Nashville, Tennessee.

And Audie, I know you've been speaking with black church leaders, what have they been telling you about the controversy and the nature of the discussion that it sparked?

AUDIE CORNISH: Well, what's interesting is that I've been speaking to pastors here in Nashville, a lot of whom are rooted in civil rights history, many of them even came to this area because of it. And others who grew up after, in the post civil rights movement - even the era of sort of the Black Power movement, where the kind of theology that Reverend Wright has talked about preaching. I talked to Reverend Raymond Bowman, he's a pastor of the Spruce Street Baptist Church in Nashville. And he told me that they agree with the central tenets of what the pastor says, and they don't see themselves changing because of what's been happening this past week.

Reverend RAYMOND BOWMAN (Pastor, Spruce Street Baptist Church; Nashville, Tennessee): It's just like people on the other side, basically support, well, Falwell, you know, or Pat Robertson. As people get to know them, then they have a different view.

CORNISH: Bowman was interesting because he described himself as a little more conservative, compared to Reverend Wright, but said that he felt that many pastors - it would be very easy to find moments like the kinds of snippets you heard this past week, and that it's very easy to take sermons out of context.

SEABROOK: So, Audie, does that mean that these pastors are saying that the reverend's comments were taken out of context - or that he was accurately portrayed, but widely misunderstood?

CORNISH: It's interesting because they're essentially saying both. They're saying that it's very easy to take a sermon out of context, particularly one in which you are using very strong and fiery language, but they're also saying that he's also misunderstood - that it's not just about taking out of context. And I think that that gets at an issue a lot of parishioners had about how familiar the wider culture is with the black church.

SEABROOK: Audie, I know you attended services today, where did you go? What did you hear?

CORNISH: I went to the Greater Bethel AME Church in Nashville. The Obama controversy did not come up in the sermon, although the pastor had mentioned that he might. As one reverend told me, Obama is not bigger than Jesus. But when you talk to the parishioners, they were very quick to talk about this issue. And I want to play a piece of tape here from Rhonda Blackman, who's the youth ministry director - who talked about the fact that she felt the larger community, specially white America, simply doesn't understand the black church.

Ms. RHONDA BLACKMAN (Parishioner, Greater Bethel AME Church): As an African-American, I've visited many types of churches. I've been to Episcopal churches, Catholic, and other denominations, and just kind of understand how they worship and respect that. So I just charge anyone of another culture, who hasn't visited the black church, to do so.

CORNISH: Another thing parishioners talked about was how much they really liked the speech. How well he did in walking the line between addressing the concerns of maybe white voters, but not denouncing the black church through denouncing Reverend Jeremiah Wright.

Here's Christina Dickerson, who's a Vanderbilt grad student.

Ms. CHRISTINA DICKERSON (Vanderbilt University): Reverend Wright, he's not just a person, he kind of represents this larger black community - at least in the eyes of the nation. And I think he understood, rightly, that to completely reject him would be kind of to reject us. And I think he recognized that and was able to rise above that situation.

SEABROOK: Very interesting. NPR's Audio Cornish in Nashville, Tennessee. Thanks very much.

CORNISH: Thank you for having me.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org 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.



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.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from