Barack Obama said today he had resigned his 20-year church membership “with some sadness” in the aftermath of inflammatory remarks by his long-time pastor the Rev Jeremiah Wright and fiery remarks by another minister.
“This is not a decision I come to lightly ... and it is one I make with some sadness,” the Democrat presidential hopeful said at a press conference in Aberdeen, South Dakota, after campaign chiefs released a letter of resignation sent to the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, on Friday.
He said he and his wife has been discussing the issue since Mr Wright’s appearance at a Press Club appearance in Washington that reignited the furore over remarks he had made in various sermons at the church.
“I suspect we’ll find another church home for our family,” Mr Obama said.
He said it was clear that since he was a presidential candidate, any remarks made at Trinity by any speaker “will be imputed to me even if they conflict” with his stated views and values.
Mr Obama said he had “no idea” how the resignation would “impact my presidential campaign, but I know its the right thing to do for the church and our family”.
“This was a pretty personal decision and I was not trying to make political theatre out of it,” he said.
Mr Obama said weeks ago that he disagreed with Mr Wright but initially portrayed him as a family member he could not disown. The preacher had officiated at Mr Obama’s wedding and had been his spiritual mentor for some 20 years.
But six weeks after Mr Obama’s well-received speech on race, Mr Wright claimed at the Press Club appearance that the US government as capable of planting Aids in the black community, praised Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and suggested that Mr Obama was acting like a politician by putting his pastor at arm’s length while privately agreeing with him.
After that, Mr Obama denounced Mr Wright’s comments as “divisive and destructive”.
Comments by Mr Wright inflamed racial tensions and posed an unwanted problem for Mr Obama, as he seeks to wrap up the Democratic presidential nomination.
More recently, racially-charged remarks from the same pulpit by another pastor, the Rev Michael Pfleger, kept the controversy alive and proved the latest thorn in the side of Mr Obama.
Mr Pfleger mocked Mr Obama’s rival Hillary Clinton when he was a guest speaker at Mr Obama’s church.
Although Mr Obama condemned comments by both pastors, the controversy persisted.
For months, Mr Obama has been hamstrung by the rhetoric of Mr Wright, whose sermons blaming US policies for the September 11 2001 terror attacks and calls of “God damn America” for its racism became fixtures on the internet and cable news networks.
On Thursday, Mr Obama was again forced to reject another man of the cloth, this time Mr Pfleger, who made racially-charged comments mocking Mrs Clinton in a guest sermon at Mr Obama’s church.
Mr Obama made it clear he was not happy with the comments – in which Mr Pfleger pretended he was Mrs Clinton crying over “a black man stealing my show” – and said he was “deeply disappointed in Mr Pfleger’s divisive, backward-looking rhetoric, which did not reflect the country I see or the desire of people across America to come together in common cause”.
Mr Pfleger later issued an apology, saying he was sorry if his comments offended Mrs Clinton or anyone else.
The timing of Mr Obama’s decision broke late on a Saturday and while most of the political attention was focused on the Democratic National Committee’s struggle to seat delegates from Florida and Michigan.
Republican John McCain has also had his woes with religious leaders.
Earlier this month, Mr McCain rejected endorsements from two influential but controversial televangelists, saying there was no place for their incendiary criticisms of other faiths.
Mr McCain spurned the months-old endorsement of Texas preacher John Hagee after an audio recording surfaced in which the preacher said God sent Adolf Hitler to help Jews reach the promised land. Mr McCain called the comment “crazy and unacceptable”.
He later repudiated the support of Rod Parsley, an Ohio preacher who has sharply criticised Islam and called the religion inherently violent.