Obama Explains Why He Quit Church

Jun 1, 2008 4:54am

ABC News’ Sunlen Miller Reports: Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., held a long press availability in Aberdeen, South Dakota Saturday night to discuss his resignation from Trinity United church.

"Michelle and I told Rev Otis Moss that we were withdrawing as members of Trinity. It’s a decision that Michelle and I had discussed for quite some time after the National Press Club episode. I had discussed it with Rev. Moss. We had prayed on it. We had consulted with a number of friends and family members who are also connected to the church. And so this is not decision I come to lightly, and frankly it is one that I make with some sadness," Obama said in prepared remarks.

Obama praised the current pastor of Trinity, Rev. Moss and said that he continues to admire the work that Rev. Jeremiah Wright did in building up the church.

He insisted that Trinity itself is not a church worth denouncing. "I’m not denouncing the church and I’m not interested in people who want me to denounce the church, because it’s not a church worthy of denouncing, and so if they’ve seen caricatures of the church and except those caricatures despite my insistence that that’s not what the church is about, then there’s not much I can do about it."

But the presidential candidate made clear that because of the scrutiny that some of the people at the church have been subjected to because of his association with Trinity that seperatation from the church is best for all parties involved.

"It’s clear that now that I’m a candidate for president, every time something is said in the church by anyone associated with Trinity including guest pastors, the remarks will be imputed to me even if they totally conflict with my long held views, statements and principles. We obviously saw an example of that in the recent statements by Father Pfleger, who is somebody who I’ve know, who I consider a friend, who has done tremendous work in Chicago but made offensive statements that have no place in our politics and in the pulpit that unfairly mocked and characterized Senator Clinton in ways that I think are unacceptable."

Obama said Trinity has suffered with the controversies: sighting news organizations harassing members, and picking at the current sermons, "It’s not fair to the other members of the church who seek to worship in peace.

Obama said that had the letter he wrote not been leaked he would have just made a simple statement about their resignation, in an attempt to minimize the fallout.

"This was a pretty personal decision and I wasn’t trying to make political theater out of it."

Obama said he sat down with his wife and had a long conversation about the future of their relationship with the church, a conservation that started back in April and continued with the recent Pfleger controversy, "My suspicion at that time, and Michelle shared this concern, it was going to be very difficult to maintain membership there so long as I was running for president. The recent episode with Father Pfleger just reinforced that."

Obama said that at the start of the campaign he never would have expected this much scrutiny to be put on his faith, "which we knew there was going to be some things that we didn’t see coming, this was one. You know I did not anticipate my fairly conventional Christian faith being subject to such challenge and such scrutiny. Initially with emails suggesting that I was a Muslim, later with you know the controversy that trinity generated."

Obama made clear the search for a new church would not be easy, and he insinuated his family is not in a rush to settle on one.

"Michelle and I, our lives are fairly unsettled right now. We don’t know how this nomination is going to go; we don’t know how the remainder of this election is going to go. I am traveling all the time anyway, so I am gone of Sundays often times, so probably wont make a firm decision on this until January where when we know what our lives are going to be like," Obama said and added that they will visit other churches in Chicago in the meantime.

"The important thing is I’m not going to approach it with the view of figuring our how to avoid political problems. That’s not the role of church." Obama said repeatedly.

Obama said in no way is his faith being tested by this split, "my faith is not contingent on the particular church that I belong to. I don’t think that I’m going through a religious test."

Obama said that God will lead his family to the right church, "This is where you trust in God’s will. I assume that he will lead us to a place where we can worship him and do good work but it does raise an important point.

Obama made a larger point about the need for separation between a candidates thoughts and words and that of what is preached from their church, "My hope would be that any presidential candidate can go to a church and hear a sermon and even hear some controversial statements without those views being imputed to him and subjected to the same exacting political tests that a presidential candidate or that presidential candidate statements would be. Now we’ll see how this works out going forward."

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