From CBS News' John Bentley
CHICAGO -- Barack Obama's Chicago church fired back at media reports they believe have taken comments by their senior pastor, Jeremiah Wright, out of context. "Nearly three weeks before the 40th commemorative anniversary of the murder of Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.," read a release from the Trinity United Church of Christ, "the Reverend Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.'s character is being assassinated in the public sphere."
Wright has received criticism for comments he's made from the pulpit, such as saying that blacks should condemn America for "treating our citizens as less than human," and that the U.S. brought 9/11 on itself because of its foreign policy.
"If you don't know the context, it can be very shocking, very disturbing," said University of Chicago professor Dr. Dwight Hopkins, who is a friend of both Rev. Wright and Obama. "If we see the entire sermons, we would see the context of those 10 snippets that we've seen…all of his sermons fall within the social gospel." Hopkins added that Wright is emblematic of black ministers across the country, not an anomaly. "You could go to thousands of black churches, but you're going to hear the same thing," he said.
That apparently doesn't mean Obama has heard the controversial comments, though. He repudiated Rev. Wright and removed him from the campaign's spiritual advisory council, saying he was unaware of Wright's rhetoric. "If you have a professional career that keeps you on the road so many weekends during the year, it's possible, and very probable, that one won't hear all of those sermons," Hopkins said, after being asked several times how Obama could claim he was unaware of Wright's sermons after being a member of the church for nearly 20 years.
Hopkins did not believe Wright's comments would hurt Obama's chances to secure the Democratic nomination, however. "It's hard to say Rev. Wright has damaged Senator Obama in any significant way," Hopkins said. "I don't think that any preacher that speaks about the spiritual needs of his congregation puts anybody's profession at risk."