Despite split, S. Side church revels in Obama win

  • By Amy Lee
  • November 10, 2008 @ 9:00 AM

During the presidential race last spring, when faith and politics clashed on the road to the White House, Barack Obama “with some sadness” ended his 20-year affiliation with Trinity United Church of Christ on the South Side.

Evidence of that split was hard to find yesterday at the Washington Heights church, though. 

During Sunday morning services, many of the church's nearly 2,500 members  sang, danced and shouted “Yes we did!,” celebrating Obama's election as the country's first black president.

Many Trinity members yesterday wore Obama campaign T-shirts and buttons.

One man sold shirts decorated with a portrait of the Obama family in front of the White House. Trinity also ran short of copies of its new commemorative bulletin with photos of African-American leaders, including Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

“This is a long time coming. We have much to be proud of,” the Rev. Otis Moss III told the thundering crowd, whose jumps and shouts of joy caused the floorboards to reverberate several times throughout the three-hour service yesterday.

“We as a nation must recognize that the election of President Barack Obama is not an anomaly. This will be a trend,” Moss says. “We rejoice today.”

Obama worshipped at Trinity, 400 W. 95th St., for two decades. The Obamas were married in the church's crimson-carpeted sanctuary and both their children where baptized there.

However, the longtime relationship became strained earlier this year when comments made by the church’s former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright, sparked public outrage.

Segments of several of Wright’s sermons were shown by news networks and on the Internet. One, which showed Wright encouraging blacks to say “God damn America!” instead of "God bless America" from the pulpit, drew particularly sharp commentary.

In May, Obama resigned from the church, saying it was a difficult decision, but one that would remove Trinity from the spotlight.

Wright and Trinity parishioners have said the reverend's comments were taken out of context. Wright was unavailable for comment. He has been on a tour of the East Coast, speaking to church congregations and organizations there.

"The world doesn't know about my 41 years of ministry, or my writing of books, because it was all taken down to a 10-second sound bite that the media chose to show about a sermon that was delivered seven years ago," Wright said last week during an event sponsored by the Theological Institute of Hartford, Conn. "The media didn't care about the whole sermon and what it was about. They just used those 10 seconds and used it as a weapon of mass destruction against [Obama's] campaign."

Yesterday, Trinity parishioners said they harbor no ill will toward Obama for his decision.

“It’s sad he had to let go of his church,” says Tiffany Hogan, 38, who attended morning service with her daughter and nephew. “But I understand because sometimes, some things, some decisions, are bigger than just you.”

Fellow church-goer Jon Trice, 19, agreed.

“We still have a really big connection to him because he comes up from here,” Trice says. “And he’s family, and family’s family no matter what.”

Moss yesterday acknowledged the not-always-welcome media spotlight, saying he hopes Wright can “retire in peace” and not be judged by “people who do not know him.”

Wright, Moss says, was traveling yesterday and could not attend the service.

During the service yesterday, Moss gave a "shout out" to the Obama family, acknowledging the 20-some years the president-elect developed his spiritual consciousness at Trinity.

“No other church can claim that legacy,” Moss said, drawing thunderous applause. “If God can take a young man who is sitting in these pews, stir his soul and put him on the path to the presidency, I don't know what God is going to do. But maybe there's another president here.”