CHICAGO (AP) – The new pastor of Barack Obama's South Side church said during Easter Sunday services that recent national scrutiny of the church is a test that will make the congregation stronger.
“Any time you go through a crucifixion experience … eventually they have to lift you up,'' said the Rev. Otis Moss III, who did not shy away from the controversy surrounding his predecessor at Trinity United Church of Christ, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr.
Wright retired from Trinity's pulpit last month but retains the title of senior pastor. Video from some of his more inflammatory sermons have surfaced online and on television in recent weeks.
Moss said Sunday that Wright's critics and the news media “are just lifting us up to give us the opportunity to speak love to this situation.”
Obama, a Democratic presidential candidate, has responded to the flap by condemning Wright's statements but expressing admiration and support for the pastor who officiated at his wedding, baptized his two daughters and inspired the title of his best-selling book, “The Audacity of Hope.”
In a speech last week that took the country's racial divide head-on, Obama – the son of a white woman from Kansas and a Kenyan father – said black anger persists over injustice in America, and whites shouldn't be surprised about the way it's expressed in sermons.
“The fact that so many people are surprised to hear that anger in some of Reverend Wright's sermons simply reminds us of the old truism that the most segregated hour in American life occurs on Sunday morning,” Obama said.
Obama did not attend the Easter Sunday service.
Trinity describes itself as “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian,” a declaration some consider separatist and even racist. In recent days, a CBS News poll indicated most voters have heard at least something about Wright's comments, and about a third said that made them feel more negative.
But at the church itself, the “unashamedly black” identity can be seen in the African and African-American art on the walls and windows, as well as in the traditional African clothing of the choir. It can be heard in references to rapper Tupac Shakur in Moss' Easter Sunday sermon, which was titled “Gangster's Paradise.”
Linda Thomas, a professor of theology and anthropology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, has been a member of Trinity since 1997. She said she hopes people will realize Wright's comments have been taken out of context.
“A sound bite cannot capture… a whole sermon,” Thomas said, urging people to “use this as an opportunity to learn about the historic traditions of the African-American church.”