On the brink of the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama announced Saturday evening that he had resigned from his controversial Chicago congregation, Trinity United Church of Christ, “with some sadness.”
Obama told reporters he didn't want his "church experience to be a political circus — I think most American people will understand that, and wouldn't want to subject their church to that, either." He said it has been "months" since he has attended Trinity.
At a news conference in Aberdeen, S.D., after the news emerged on the blog of a black journalist in Chicago, Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, had notified the church in a letter Friday that they “were withdrawing as members of Trinity,” in part because of “a cultural and a stylistic gap.”
Obama said he also regrets “all the attention that my campaign has visited on” the church.
“We had reporters grabbing church bulletins and calling up the sick and the shut-in,” he said. “That’s just not how people should have to operate in their church.
Obama said he began contemplating such a move after the "National Press Club episode" in which his former pastor and longtime spiritual mentor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., made comments that the senator later denounced as offensive.
“We had prayed on it. We had consulted with a number of friends and family members,” Obama said. “Frankly, it’s one that I made with some sadness. Trinity was where I found Jesus Christ, where we were married, where our children were baptized.”
This week, Obama had to distance himself from a guest preacher at Trinity, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, who last Sunday made comments that seemed to accuse Hillary Rodham Clinton of acting “entitled” because she is white.
Obama said he has “tremendous regard” for the church community, but said he could not live with a situation where everything said in the church, including comments by a guest pastor, “will be imputed to me, even if they conflict with my long-held, views, statements and principles.”
The decision, which will momentarily provoke heavy coverage of an issue the campaign would love to forget, represents an effort by Obama to put a nagging impediment behind him as he moves into head-to-head combat with John McCain.
Comments by Wright, repeatedly replayed on television, were criticized as anti-American by conservatives and hurt Obama with some of the disaffected Republicans who had been attracted by his historic candidacy.
Obama, who could clinch the nomination as soon as Tuesday, said he hopes to join a new church soon.
“I’m confident we’ll be able to find a church that we’re comfortable with,” he said. “We probably won’t make any firm decision on this until January, when we know what our lives are going to be like.”
“My faith is not contingent on the particular church that I belong to,” he added. “I don’t think I’m going through a religious test.”
The move completes Obama’s slow walk away from a church that began receiving huge scrutiny late in the campaign’s primary season.
Obama has said he was not present for the most controversial sermons, and said he did not know about them until he began running for president.
“Our faith remains strong and I expect that we will find another church home for our family,” Obama said. “We understand that our faith is something that we apply each and every day. We wish only the best for our friends and the wonderful people at Trinity. They’ll be in our thoughts and our prayers.”
Trinity said in a statement: "Though we are saddened by the news, we understand that this is a personal decision. We will continue to lift them in prayer and wish them the best as former members of our Trinity cmmunity. As in the prayer for the Ephesians, our entire Trinity family asks that the nation entrust Barack, Michelle, Malia and Natasha to God's care and guidance so that Christ may continue to dwell in their lives, in their hearts and their work. We ask now for God's peace to be with them."