Problems at Rev. Wright 's Church Joyce Bristow has attended Trinity United Church of Christ for ten years. She tells Madeleine Brand that the Rev. Wright controversy is negatively affecting her spiritual life and is overtaking the work of her congregation.
NPR logo

Problems at Rev. Wright 's Church

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Problems at Rev. Wright 's Church

Problems at Rev. Wright 's Church

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This is Day to Day. I am Alex Chadwick.


I am Madeleine Brand. Senator Barack Obama says he is outraged at recent speeches by his former pastor Jeremiah Wright.

(Soundbite of speech)

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois): When I go to church it's not for spectacle. It's to pray and to find a stronger sense of faith.

BRAND: The church Senator Obama attended for more than 20 years is Trinity United Church of Christ on Chicago's Southside. We called a member there to see how the national media spotlight is affecting the congregation. Joyce Bristow is a retired area superintendent in Chicago's public schools, and she has attended Trinity for the past ten years. Welcome to the program.

Ms. JOYCE BRISTOW (Member, Trinity United Church of Christ): Well, thank you very much.

BRAND: How are you handling all this attention?

Ms. BRISTOW: Well, it is a buzzword at church constantly. I do feel that many of us are distracted somewhat by talking about what the media is saying, and what's going on, rather than the sermon that we just heard. It's a little discouraging a lot of times when you go to church and you see cameras all the time outside of the church, or you see messages on the door that say any media please report to the office first. So, it's a lot of that going on, but you know, we still are happy have our sermons, and to hear our programs that are going full strength at the church.

BRAND: Have the recent comments by Reverend Wright, and the reaction yesterday from Senator Obama, have these changed your opinion or your feelings at all for Reverend Wright or for the church itself?

Ms. BRISTOW: Well, I'm a little disappointed in some of the comments and the ways that Reverend Wright responded. I will say that. I would rather him have come out to be more of a pastor and making pastoral comments rather than just trying to defend his name, because this is a much bigger picture than Reverend Wright. But I'm still a Trinitarian, and I still go to church, and politics is not talked at church the way the media comes out with it on a regular basis. This is certainly not the emphasis in our church at all.

BRAND: Because if you do follow this, at least in clips on the evening news or on YouTube, you would think that the Reverend Wright does talk a lot about politics.

Ms. BRISTOW: Right, and that is not at all - that is not the case at all. We certainly go to church and hear wonderful sermons that uplift you spiritually and emotionally, and that's why all of us attend the church. But it's not for politics, and that certainly isn't the main thrust in the church at all.

BRAND: Now, the Reverend Wright said that he went on this tour to speak out, and in the last three days, basically to defend the name of the church. And do you feel that that was necessary?

Ms. BRISTOW: To me it seemed like he was defending his name more, and it just had a backlash to me on Obama, and I think that's the bigger picture. So no, I didn't feel that it was necessary.

BRAND: So, you are an Obama supporter?

Ms. BRISTOW: Absolutely.

BRAND: Are you worried that this will hurt him?

Ms. BRISTOW: I am very worried. I am very worried that this reignited some fears of people that have a fear of even thinking about an African-American as president, and when pastor came out with some of his comments and his words, I just think that reinitiated uncomfortable feelings that people had about Obama. So, I do feel that this was going to have a backlash on him and a negative one.

BRAND: Negative feelings on the part of whites, you mean?

Ms. BRISTOW: Oh, absolutely.

BRAND: What do you mean by negative feelings?

Ms. BRISTOW: Well, I think this makes white America very worried about the type of person Obama is, and if he can't deal with a controversy such as Reverend Wright, how is he going to deal with national controversies?

BRAND: Senator Obama has had to break from the church because of the Reverend Wright and his public comments, his more controversial comments. He has said he was outraged by the recent speeches that Pastor Wright has given, and I'm just wondering, you know, as a member, as a congregant, do you feel that that is a shame in any way that he has had to break so forcefully and so publicly with this man that he's known for the past 20 years?

Ms. BRISTOW: Well, yeah, I do feel that this has hurt Obama personally that Reverend Wright came out with some of these comments. And that he would just absolutely have to distance himself from it, not only for his campaign, but probably because of his own philosophies and feelings in general. And it is unfortunate.

BRAND: Does it make you think, well, maybe I should look somewhere else?

Ms. BRISTOW: I will say that I wish that Reverend Wright had talked about ways to unite all of the world. And how we should try to bridge the gap, and hold hands, and pray and have peace together, but Reverend Wright is no longer the senior pastor at Trinity Church. I continue to feel that there is a place for me at Trinity Church.

BRAND: And do you talk about this with other members of the church? Are they also...

Ms. BRISTOW: Yeah, there are pros and cons both. I mean, I was actually even in the beauty shop yesterday and there was a big argument. Several people felt that Reverend Wright was absolutely right in defending himself, and saying things to clear his name up or to respond to whatever the questions were the way he felt was appropriate. And there was another group, which I was on, that felt that he should have been bigger than that and responded more like he does at church every Sunday. And they felt that he had a right to say whatever he wanted to, and I felt that the picture was bigger than Reverend Wright. I felt that the backlash would be on Obama.

BRAND: Well, Joyce Bristow, thank you very much for speaking with us today.

Ms. BRISTOW: Well, thank you for calling me.

BRAND: That's Joyce Bristow, she's a member of Senator Barack Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.