Church calls for conversation on race

CHICAGO Officials at Trinity United Church of Christ spoke out for the first time since controversial sermons from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright surfaced.

They say the church and its members have been subjected to threats and today issued a plea for the media to leave the church alone.

Barack Obama's church has been inundated with threatening phone calls and emails in the firestorm of controversy following the airing of Reverend Wright's most inflammatory remarks on TV and radio. And in fact, Wright himself has cancelled all public appearances in recent days. So on Thursday, the United Church of Christ, 400 W. 95th St., is calling for a national day of racial healing in May. And the new pastor of Trinity in Chicago is declaring his "Sacred Ground" off limits to the media.

"Lately, our sacred space has been besieged upon and compromised. As a church, we say no more. Enough is enough," said Rev. Otis Moss III, Trinity United Church of Christ.

The new pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ spoke out publicly for the first time Thursday with the support of clergy from all over the country. He says the church's property, inside and out, is now off limits to the media unless they've made prior arrangements. They say reporters have allegedly been harassing parishioners on the way into church, in the middle of services and even in their hospital beds.

As the controversy over the incendiary, anti-American comments of the church's former pastor, Jeremiah Wright Jr., escalated as the verbal clips were played over and over on television, forcing the church's most prominent member, presidential candidate Obama, to condemn the remarks and deliver a major speech on racism.

"There have been phone threats and written threats to the congregation. And we want to stand and say absolutely no to that in all places of worship, in all of our settings, but of course, in places of worship," said Rev. Dr. Michael Kinnamon, National Council of Churches.

Trinity is the largest African American church in the 1.2 million member United Church of Christ denomination, which is more than 90 percent white. And Thursday, leaders of the denomination want their 10,000 pastors to conduct a "sacred conversation" on May 18 in all 5,700 churches around the country.

"It is time. It is time for a nationwide sacred conversation about race," said Rev. John Thomas, United Church of Christ president.

Church officials at Trinity say they've also been inundated with calls and e-mails condemning but also praising Reverend Wright's remarks, which, according to most at Thursday's news conference, were truthful and accurate when taken in context.

The ministers are also defending Reverend Wright's comments in the context of the entire sermons they're part of. They admit the most inflammatory clips are troubling when they're played over and over. But, they add, if you take the time to listen to the entire sermons, they're passionate, provocative and true as they relate to America's history of slavery, racism and, at times, military aggression.
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