Obama Resigns 20-Year Church Membership

Democratic presidential hopeful, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., listens to questions at a town hall meeting in Kissimmee, Fla., Wednesday, May 21, 2008. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)
AP
Barack Obama has resigned his 20 year membership in the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago in the aftermath of inflammatory remarks by his longtime pastor the Rev. Jeremiah Wright and more recent fiery remarks at the church by another minister.

Obama campaign communications director Robert Gibbs said Obama had submitted a letter of resignation to the church and would discuss his decision in a session with reporters later Saturday.

It happened "over the last few days," Gibbs said.

In the letter, obtained by CBS News, Obama told Rev. Otis Moss III he made the "decision with sadness," noting it was the place he and wife Michelle were married and where the couple's children were baptized.

"But as you know," wrote Obama, "our relations with Trinity have been strained by the divisive statement of Reverend Wright, which sharply conflicts with our own views."

The letter was signed by both Obama and his wife.

In a statement released by the church, Moss wrote, "we are saddened by the news, we understand that it is a personal decision."

Comments by Wright have inflamed racial tensions and posed an unwanted problem for Obama, front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, as he seeks to wrap up the nomination.

More recently, racially charged remarks from the same pulpit by another pastor, the Rev. Michael Pfleger, has kept the controversy alive and proved the latest thorn in the side of Obama.

Pfleger earlier this month mocked Obama rival Hillary Rodham Clinton as a guest speaker at Obama's church.

Obama has condemned comments by both Wright and Pfleger, but the controversy has persisted.

For months, Obama has been hamstrung by the rhetoric of Wright, whose sermons blaming U.S. policies for the Sept. 11 attacks and calls of "God damn America" for its racism became fixtures on the Internet and cable news networks.

Initially, Obama said he disagreed with Wright but portrayed him as representing a part of him he couldn't disown. The preacher had officiated at Obama's wedding and been his spiritual mentor for some 20 years.

But six weeks after Obama's well-received speech on race, Wright claimed at an appearance in Washington that the U.S. government was capable of planting AIDS in the black community, praised Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and suggested that Obama was acting like a politician by putting his pastor at arm's length while privately agreeing with him.

After that, Obama denounced Wright's comments as "divisive and destructive."

On Thursday, Obama was again forced to reject another man of the cloth, this time Pfleger, who made racially charged comments mocking Clinton in a guest sermon at Trinity United Church of Christ, Obama's church.

Obama made it clear he wasn't happy with the comments - in which Pfleger pretended he was Clinton crying over "a black man stealing my show" - and said he was "deeply disappointed in Father Pfleger's divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which doesn't reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause."

Pfleger, too, issued an apology, saying he was sorry if his comments offended Clinton or anyone else.