Obama Says Controversial Pastor Gone From Campaign; Church Fires Back

Sen. Barack Obama's church, the Trinity United Church of Christ, denounced the media coverage of its retired pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, saying his "character is being assassinated in the public sphere because he has preached a social gospel on behalf of oppressed women, children and men in America and around the globe."

"It is an indictment on Dr. Wright's ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30- second sound bite," the church's current pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss III said. "This is an attack on the legacy of the African American Church which led and continues to lead the fight for human rights in America and around the world," he added.

Meanwhile, Sen. Obama said he "obviously disagrees" with his pastor of 20 years who said black Americans should sing "God Damn America" instead of "God Bless America."

Reacting to an ABC News story about the sermons of Rev. Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Obama told the Pittsburg Tribune-Review, "I haven't seen the line. This is a pastor who is on the brink of retirement who in the past has made some controversial statements. I profoundly disagree with some of these statements."

But, like his church, he defended Rev. Wright's overall record, accusing ABC News of "cherry picking" statements of the man with a 40-year career.

"There are times when people say things that are just wrong. But I think it's important to judge me on what I've said in the past and what I believe," he told the paper.

Rev. Wright was part of the Obama campaign, as a member of the candidate's religious advisory board.

But, as reported by ABC News' Sunlen Miller, during an interview Friday with MSNBC's Keith Olberman, Sen. Obama confirmed that Rev. Wright is no longer on the Obama campaign spiritual advisory committee.

When asked if the decision came from the campaign or from Rev. Wright, Obama was short on specifics, saying only, "I think there was a recognition that he's on the verge of retirement, he's taking a sabbatical and that it was important for him to step out of the spotlight in this situation."

Obama said that he did not know the extent of Rev. Wright's controversial comments until recently. He confirmed that he was not in the church when Rev. Wright made the comments that were reported this week, a point he reiterated in another interview with CNN. "I didn't know about all these statements," he said. "I knew about one or two of these statements that had been made. One or two statements would not lead me to distance myself from either my church or my pastor...If I had thought that was the tenor or tone on an ongoing basis, then yes, I don't think it would have been reflective of my values."

But Obama did say that in light of Rev. Wright's retirement, "I have no intention of leaving the church itself."

As reported previously on ABC News, Rev. Wright has a long history of what even Obama's campaign aides concede is "inflammatory rhetoric," including the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own "terrorism."

An ABC News review of dozens of Rev. Wright's sermons, offered for sale by the church, found repeated denunciations of the U.S. based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans.

"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," he said in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

In addition to damning America, he told his congregation on the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001 that the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism.

"We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Rev. Wright said in a sermon on Sept. 16, 2001.

"We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America's chickens are coming home to roost," he told his congregation.

Sen. Obama told the New York Times he was not at the church on the day of Rev. Wright's 9/11 sermon. "The violence of 9/11 was inexcusable and without justification," Obama said in a recent interview. "It sounds like he was trying to be provocative," Obama told the paper.

Rev. Wright, who announced his retirement last month, has built a large and loyal following at his church with his mesmerizing sermons, mixing traditional spiritual content and his views on contemporary issues and is considered one of the country's 10 most influential black pastors, according to members of the Obama campaign.

In a statement to ABCNews.com Thursday, Obama's press spokesman Bill Burton said, "Sen. Obama has said repeatedly that personal attacks such as this have no place in this campaign or our politics, whether they're offered from a platform at a rally or the pulpit of a church. Sen. Obama does not think of the pastor of his church in political terms. Like a member of his family, there are things he says with which Sen. Obama deeply disagrees. But now that he is retired, that doesn't detract from Sen. Obama's affection for Rev. Wright or his appreciation for the good works he has done."

ABC News' Sunlen Miller contributed to this report.

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