Reverend Jeremiah Wright, Sen. Barack Obama's former pastor has cancelled appearances in Texas over the weekend and all appearances in the near future. A church in Florida Tuesday abruptly cancelled a sermon that was scheduled because the local police couldn't guarantee Reverend Wright's safety.
The beleaguered pastor's own family in Chicago pulled the plug on the series of appearances in Texas, all of which set the stage for Obama to talk extensively, once again, about Wright and religion in the context of his life and a tough political campaign.
"I'm a Christian. And what that means for me is that I believe that Jesus Christ died for my sins," Obama said.
Obama's talking about a faith that is rooted in the spiritual warmth of Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side where he's been a member for nearly two decades.
"Everybody is welcome to come to Trinity United Church of Christ on 95th Street. It is a wonderful, welcoming church," Obama said.
Obama reminded an audience in North Carolina that he condemns the over-heated anti-American rhetoric of his former pastor. But he says that focusing on a few remarks while ignoring 30 years of Wright sermons is more of a political distraction than a relevant issue.
"We cannot solve the problems of America if every time somebody somewhere says something stupid that everybody gets up in arms and we forget about the war in Iraq or we forget about the economy," said Obama.
Meanwhile, the controversy is creating a sour note at several churches in Texas that are cancelling scheduled appearances by Wright at the request of his family, not local law enforcement officials.
"Because of all of the national media drama and the information that's being passed, to the church and to him personally, that he's going to suspend all of his engagements for this season, for this time being," said Rev. Marcus Cosby, Wheeler Ave. Baptist Church, Houston.
Reverend Wright is reportedly back in Chicago after a brief vacation of his own in Puerto Rico. But neither of his daughters, who work at the church, is returning phone calls.
Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that she wouldn't have joined or stayed in a church where the pastor made inflammatory anti-American remarks like Reverend Wright's, adding that you can't choose your family but you can choose your pastor.
Obama said again Wednesday that he never heard most of Wright's offensive remarks in person or by word-of-mouth until recently. But he said four sound bites in 30 years of sermons don't reflect the overall message of his former pastor. Wright had been expected to be in North Texas over the weekend to be honored by the Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, but it was unclear whether he would still be attending.
"His schedule is pending," Joan Harrell, minister of communications for Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where Wright was pastor for nearly four decades, told The Dallas Morning News for its Tuesday online editions. The newspaper said that she wouldn't elaborate.
Videos of remarks Wright has made have been circulating widely on the Internet and news programs. Wright's sermons to his predominantly black congregation have included him shouting "God damn America" for its treatment of minorities. He has said the U.S. government invented AIDS to destroy "people of color" and has also suggested that U.S. policies in the Middle East and elsewhere were partly responsible for the 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.
"I think we have taken Dr. Wright out of context with sound bites," Cosby said. "After all these years, I am not going to kick him to the curb over sound bites."
In North Texas over the weekend, Wright is supposed to speak at a Saturday luncheon at Paul Quinn College in Oak Cliff and be honored that night at Friendship-West Baptist Church in the Red Bird area.
Frederick Haynes III, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist, said Tuesday night that the Dallas events are "all systems go," but he acknowledged that security issues could keep Wright away.
"We're going to honor him," he said. "The question is, basically, regarding his presence."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.