Concerned about possible harm the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. did to Barack Obama's Democratic presidential campaign, 30 Chicago-area African American pastors came together Friday to support the Illinois senator.
The pastors, who represented the Pentecostal, Baptist and Episcopal faiths, gathered at historic Quinn Chapel A.M.E. Church on the South Side and said it was time to get back to the real issues of the campaign.
The Rev. Leon Finney Jr., pastor of Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church, said Wright and his sermons had been "politicized" to divert attention from the nation's problems, including the Iraq war, rising unemployment and the mortgage crisis.
Finney did not criticize Wright but said he hoped to shift people's attention to more pressing matters.
"We're not here to comment on the sermons of Rev. Wright," he said. "As a matter of fact, we want to make sure that we help to turn the interest and focus not on Rev. Wright or what he said, but on the real issues. American people are hurting. We're in a crisis at this particular point.
"Sen. Barack Obama best represents our hopes and aspirations."
In comments to the National Press Club on Monday, Wright equated criticism of him with an attack on the black church and repeated other controversial remarks. Obama denounced him the next day. Obama is a longtime member of Trinity United Church of Christ, from which Wright is retiring as pastor this month.
Bishop Arthur Brazier, pastor of the Apostolic Church of God, said the pastors felt they needed to let the public know that the black church supports Obama. "The black church was unfortunately brought into this, but the black church has nothing to do with this," he said.
Brazier said many church members had expressed concern about the political effect of the Obama-Wright dispute. "Every African American I know is concerned. . . . We are concerned that this controversy arose at a most crucial time," he said.
Bishop Horace E. Smith, senior pastor of Apostolic Faith Church, said that several members of his congregation were worried that the controversy could harm Obama's campaign.
Smith said that if the focus remained on Wright, it could cost the Democratic Party the election.
"I see people every day struggling with healthcare and education. Do we really care what an ex-pastor said when we're going to choose the leader of the free world? Oh, please! We're not that stupid," Smith said. "And for us to continue to focus on this would be a monumental mistake."
The Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church said he feared the black community could lose a chance to make history.
"That's why it's so important that we help people to lift their sights," Hatch said. "There's a saying we have in the black church that we really offer to everybody: Keep your eyes on the prize."