ABERDEEN, South Dakota (Reuters) - Democratic presidential front-runner Barack Obama has resigned from Trinity United Church of Christ, his spokesman said on Saturday, further distancing himself from a source of controversy as he gears up for the general election.
Controversial sermons at Obama’s longtime church in Chicago have plagued the Illinois senator, who is close to clinching the Democratic nomination to run against Republican John McCain in the November election.
Obama’s spokesman, Robert Gibbs, gave no details, but said Obama had sent a letter resigning from the church he has attended for 16 years. Obama, who would be the first black U.S. president, was expected to make some comments on his decision later in the day, Gibbs said.
Last month, Obama cut ties with his former pastor, Jeremiah Wright, who angered many with anti-American and racially charged sermons.
Just as controversy over Wright had died down, a Roman Catholic priest mocked Obama’s rival Hillary Clinton during a guest appearance at Trinity United.
In his sermon the priest, Michael Pfleger, screamed and imitated Clinton and accused her of espousing “white entitlement.” Pfleger later apologized for his comments and was condemned by Obama and the archbishop of Chicago.
The decision to quit the church appeared to be a sign that Obama wants to put the issue behind him ahead of the November general election.
Obama has attended Trinity United since 1992 and Wright presided over Obama’s marriage and baptized his two daughters.
In an effort to quell the controversy over Wright, Obama gave a widely praised speech in March calling for racial healing and offering a nuanced view of Wright, denouncing the pastor’s remarks but declining to disown him.
But then Wright made a series of public appearances and stood by his inflammatory comments. He has blamed the U.S. government for the spread of the AIDS virus, declared “God damn America” and blasted the country’s history of racism.
Obama was reportedly furious and finally cut ties with Wright last month. He condemned the minister’s comments as “outrageous” and “appalling.”
Wright’s comments posed problems for Obama because they contradicted one of his campaign’s central messages — that he can transcend past divisions such as those involving race.
Obama, the son of a white woman from Kansas and a black man from Kenya, has attracted strong support in some heavily white states such including Wyoming, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Political analysts questioned whether Obama’s links to Wright might hurt him in the general election.
Editing by Todd Eastham