Rev. Wright on Obamas: ‘Church Is Not Their Thing’

Fred Lucas | May 29, 2012 | 5:07pm EDT
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( – In speaking about Barack and Michelle Obama, their longtime pastor, the Rev. Jermiah Wright said, “Church is not their thing. It never was their thing.”

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President Obama and the first lady were married by Rev. Wright, and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia, were baptized by the controversial pastor. As head of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, Ill., Wright sometimes delivered sermons critical of U.S. foreign policy and asked whether God should bless or damn America.  (Rev. Wright is now pastor emeritus of the church.)

The issue of the relationship between Rev. Wright and Barack Obama recently resurfaced because of a new Obama biograpny, The Amateur, by former New York Times Magazine Editor Edward Klein. He conducted a nearly three-hour interview with Rev. Wright for the book. The audio of that interview was released by Klein’s publicist.

During the interview, Rev. Wright talked about the first couple’s time in his church, and rejected the premise that they attended because Michelle Obama wanted to attend.

President Barack Obama and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. (AP Photo)

“Well, people that go to church, the brides normally have their wedding at their church, which is why I think Michelle joined,” Wright told Klein. “Now that’s been my sneaking suspicion because she didn’t grow up in the church. Where have you heard or read about her family raising her in the church?”

Wright continued, “That’s my point. My point has been – and that’s it, I haven’t said this publicly to anybody -- that, like, you talk about Toni Morrison, or you talk about Maya Angelou, you talk about these black women, they grew up in a church, most of them. She didn’t. She grew up in a Hyde Park kind-of Jack and Jill, links, middle income, who think they’re middle-class, environment. She didn’t go to church.”

“And when she came to the church, both of them came to the church -- their kids weren’t raised in the church like you raise other kids in Sunday school,” Wright said. “No. Because church is not their thing, it never was their thing. We knew it wasn’t his but she was not the kind of black woman whose mamma made her go to church, made her go to Sunday school. … She wasn’t raised in that kind of environment, so the church was not an integral part of their lives.”

This discussion is in chapter five of the book and is about one hour and 52 minutes into the interview. The interview is on the record, and it begins with Klein explaining to Wright that he will provide him a written transcript of the interview before publication with the opportunity to make changes.

Wright continues, “ … [S]o the church was not an integral part of their lives before they got married, after they got married.”

Klein says, “But the church was an integral part of his politics?”

Wright says, “Yeah.”

When Obama ran for U.S. Senate in 2004, he gave an interview to Chicago Sun-Times religion writer Cathleen Falsani on March 27 of that year.

In the interview, Obama said, “One of the churches that I became involved in was Trinity United Church of Christ. And the pastor there, Jeremiah Wright, became a good friend. So I joined that church and committed myself to Christ in that church.”

Obama began attending the church in 1988 and formally joined Trinity in 1992. Falsani asked, “Do you still attend Trinity?”

President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama. (AP Photo)

Obama said, “Yep. Every week. 11 o’clock service. Ever been there? Good service. I actually wrote a book called Dreams from My Father, it’s kind of a meditation on race. There's a whole chapter on the church in that, and my first visits to Trinity.”

Obama credited the title of his second book, The Audacity of Hope, to a sermon by Rev. Wright.

Wright’s comments seem consistent with what Newsweek reported in its July 21, 2008 issue.

“After his stint as an organizer, Obama went to Harvard Law School (1988-1991). He didn't officially join Trinity until several years later, when he returned to Chicago as a promising young lawyer intent on becoming a husband, a father and a professional success,” Newsweek reported.

Barack Obama and Michelle LaVaughn Robinson were married on Oct. 3, 1992 by Rev. Wright at the Trinity United Church of Christ. Their first daughter, Malia, was born in 1998; the second daughter, Natasha (Sasha), was born in 2001.

Newsweek continued: “Around the time Obama was baptized, he says he studied the Bible with gifted teachers who would ‘gently poke me about my faith.’ As young marrieds, Barack and Michelle (who also didn't go to church regularly as a child) went to church fairly often -- two or three times a month. But after their first child, Malia, was born, they found making the effort more difficult.”

“‘I don't know if you've had the experience of taking young, squirming children to church, but it's not easy,’ he [Obama] says,” Newsweek reported. “‘Trinity was always packed, and so you had to get there early. And if you went to the morning service, you were looking at -- it just was difficult. So that would cut back on our involvement.’”

"The Amateur" by Edward Klein, former editor of The New York Times Magazine. (AP Photo)

Even with sparse attendance, Klein does not believe Obama’s assertions in 2008 that he did not hear some of the more controversial sermons given by Rev. Wright.

“One, he did attend the church, even though not frequently, apparently, and you can’t attend that church for 20-some-odd years without hearing some of those sermons,” Klein told “Two, those sermons were available on video and audio tape for sale by the church; in fact, that’s how they got out eventually. Three, the Rev. Wright made it very plain to me in this interview that I did with him for The Amateur that Barack Obama visited him hundreds of times in his home. Now, he also used the Rev. Wright as a political mentor as well as a spiritual mentor. And it seems to me to be impossible for them to have not had conversations about politics.”

Though church was not their thing, according to Wright, the pastor believes that Barack Obama is a Christian. He recalled that when he met Obama, the future president communicated with him as a community organizer. Wright remembered that Obama asked him to help study Christianity.

“I think I convinced him that it was okay for him to make a choice in terms of who he believed Jesus is,” Wright said. “And I told him it was really okay and not a putdown of the Muslim part of his family or his Muslim friends.”

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