Barack Obama has severed ties with the controversial Chicago church he attended for nearly two decades, as he seeks to protect himself against Republican attacks ahead of November’s general election.
By Andrew Ward in Washington
The Democratic presidential frontrunner said he had concluded with “sadness” that it would be impossible to continue worshipping at the Trinity United Church of Christ after the furore surrounding “anti-American” sermons by Jeremiah Wright, its former pastor.
The church created fresh embarrassment for Mr Obama last week when a guest preacher accused Hillary Clinton, his presidential rival, of feeling a sense of entitlement because she is white.
Mr Obama and his wife, Michelle, formally resigned from the church, where they were married and had their children baptised, in a letter on Friday.
“Our relations with Trinity have been strained by the divisive statements of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflict with our own views,” they wrote. “These controversies have served as an unfortunate distraction for other Trinity members who seek to worship in peace.”
Mr Obama’s ties to the church threatened to derail his presidential campaign in March after video emerged of Mr Wright blaming the US for bringing the September 2001 terrorist attacks upon itself and accusing the government of creating the HIV virus to kill blacks.
Critics used the controversy to raise doubts about Mr Obama’s judgment and patriotism, which have emerged as two of the main lines of Republican attack against him.
Addressing reporters on Saturday, however, Mr Obama said his resignation should not be mistaken as a denunciation of the church, which he praised for its “extraordinary works” in its local community. “This is where I found Jesus Christ,” he said. “It’s not a church worthy of denouncing.”
Mr Obama said he wanted to end the “political circus” that had surrounded his faith in recent month.
He acknowledged his decision was reinforced by reports last week that a guest preacher at the church had mocked Mrs Clinton for crying before the New Hampshire primary. Rev Michael Pfleger, a catholic priest, said Mrs Clinton was upset because she felt “I’m white and [the nomination] is mine”.
Mr Obama condemned the remark as “divisive and backward-looking” and said he did not wish to “answer for everything that’s said in a church” for the remainder of the presidential campaign. He said he would wait until after the election before choosing a new church.