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Pastor could be big liability for Obama

Latest update : 2008-03-15

A history of controversial statements made by pastor Reverend Jeremiah Wright have forced presidential hopeful Barack Obama to speak out publicly against the man who has acted as his 'moral guide' for the last 20 years. (Story: O.Fairclough)

After nearly two decades serving as a mentor and moral guide to presidential hopeful Barack Obama, Reverend Jeremiah Wright may become his biggest liability as he closes in on the Democratic nomination.
  
Obama on Friday was forced to publicly denounce Wright's controversial remarks in video clips of his sermons of months and years past, after they threatened to turn into a major campaign issue.
  
"I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy," Obama wrote in a blog post on the Huffington Post website, calling Wright's comments "inflammatory and appalling."
  
While pundits expressed shock and horror at Wright's statements that the September 11 attacks were brought on by American "terrorism" and that African-Americans should sing "God Damn America" to protest their treatment, they should not have come as a surprise for Obama.
  
The dashikis-wearing pastor has been a lightning rod of controversy for decades. He even traveled to Libya with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan to meet Moamer Kadhafi in the 1980's.
  
He has used his pulpit to denounce "white arrogance" and preach social justice and black liberation theology, which some brand as separatism and even reverse racism.   
  
He has also been criticized for equating Zionism with racism and for recently giving Farrakhan, who has sparked condemnation for his anti-Semitic remarks, an award for his work rehabilitating former convicts.
  
Wright, who made Trinity United Church of Christ's motto "Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian," took the helm of the congregation of 92 people in 1972, at a time when many African Americans were rejecting Christianity as a religion imposed by slaveholders.
  
He built the church into a powerhouse and became one of the most influential black pastors in the country with his embrace of the civil rights movement, message of empowerment and celebration of African roots.
  
Trinity's present congregation of more than 8,500 now draws followers from both nearby public housing projects and the Who's Who of the black community, including celebrities like Oprah Winfrey.
  
Wright, who recently preached his last sermon as he heads into retirement at age 66, was not available for an interview. But he has long expected that his controversial views might become a problem for the candidate.
  
"When (Obama's) enemies find out that in 1984 I went to Tripoli to visit Colonel Kadhafi with Farrakhan, a lot of his Jewish support will dry up quicker than a snowball in hell," Wright said shortly after Obama announced his candidacy.
  
"If Barack gets past the primary, he might have to publicly distance himself from me," Wright told The New York Times with a shrug. "I said it to Barack personally, and he said yeah, that might have to happen."
  
But it is not clear how much distance Obama will be able to create. Wright's influence on his life, and his politics, runs deep.
  
Obama's 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention that thrust him onto the national stage was based on a 1988 sermon by Wright called "The Audacity of Hope," which is also the title of Obama's latest book outlining his hopes to change US politics.
  
It was Wright who turned the young agnostic into an avid churchgoer who often peppers his speeches with references from his Christian faith.
  
Obama has also credited Wright with helping to shape his African-American identity, after he spent much of his youth in Indonesia with his white mother and her family. He only met his Kenyan father once.
  
Obama, who had previously called Wright a "sounding board," wrote Friday: "he has never been my political advisor; he's been my pastor."
  
"And the sermons I heard him preach always related to our obligation to love God and one another, to work on behalf of the poor, and to seek justice at every turn."

Date created : 2008-03-15

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