March 17, 2008 — -- Officials at Sen. Barack Obama's church have taken offense at the controversy born out of the fiery statements made by their senior pastor who sermonized that black Americans should sing "God Damn America" instead of "God Bless America."
Since last week's media eruption after the controversial sermons of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright of the Trinity United Church of Christ, Wright left the campaign's African American Religious Leadership Committee and Obama distanced himself from his pastor of 20 years.
"I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have [been] the subject of this controversy," Obama said, saying that he'd never heard any of them personally.
"One of them I had heard about after I had started running for president and I put out a statement at that time condemning them," he continued.
But more than a year ago, Obama disinvited Wright from speaking at his candidacy announcement. Wright told The New York Times then that Obama told him, "You can get kind of rough in the sermons. … It's best for you not to be out there in public."
Church member and University of Chicago theology professor Dwight Hopkins says Wright's message has been taken out of context.
"The whole point to Dr. Wright's sermons is to how do you make America a better America. If anything he's a true patriot," Hopkins said.
He also argues that the furor surrounding Wright smacks of a general attack against the idea of a black church born during slavery.
"It tries to be a healing balm in the midst of some very challenging situations in the inner city and ghettos," Hopkins said. "If we took a field trip to a thousand black churches across the country on Sunday, you would have a very serious wake-up call on the nature of those messages."
The Illinois senator is considering giving a speech this week on race.
Referencing the tight delegate race ahead for the Democratic candidates, Democratic strategist Donna Brazile called the Wright focus "a distraction" to the campaign.
"He's running to be commander in chief, not preacher in chief, and I understand that Sen. Obama had to both distance himself and to denounce those types of statements. … I would hope that Obama and for that matter Sen. [Hillary] Clinton who also had to distance herself from some controversial remarks from some of her supporters, I will hope they get back on the issues so that the Democrats have a fighting chance to win in November."
Regardless, ABC News consultant Juan Williams says the Wright fallout has left an imprint that's not going away.
"This has caught him up in the middle of a very racial dispute," Williams said on "Good Morning America" today. "One that seems to separate black and white and suggested that [Obama] came into that community wanting to be identified with the black community, at a time when he was questioned as to whether or not he was authentically black. Now, he's trying to distance himself from that very church and say he didn't know things that he obviously had to know."