For any spiritually minded, up-wardly mobile African-American living in Chicago in the mid-1980s, the Trinity United Church of Christ was—and still is—the place to be. That's what drew Oprah Winfrey, a recent Chicago transplant, to the church in 1984. She was eager to bond with the movers and shakers in her new hometown's black community. But she also admired Trinity United's ambitious outreach work with the poor, and she took pride in upholding her Southern grandmother's legacy of involvement with traditional African-American houses of worship. Winfrey was a member of Trinity United from 1984 to 1986, and she continued to attend off and on into the early to the mid-1990s. But then she stopped. A major reason—but by no means the only reason—was the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.Now, Oprah's reasons might indeed have nothing to do with Wright, this is true.
According to two sources, Winfrey was never comfortable with the tone of Wright's more incendiary sermons, which she knew had the power to damage her standing as America's favorite daytime talk-show host. "Oprah is a businesswoman, first and foremost," said one longtime friend, who requested anonymity when discussing Winfrey's personal sentiments. "She's always been aware that her audience is very mainstream, and doing anything to offend them just wouldn't be smart. She's been around black churches all her life, so Reverend Wright's anger-filled message didn't surprise her. But it just wasn't what she was looking for in a church." Oprah's decision to distance herself came as a surprise to Wright, who told Christianity Today in 2002 that when he would "run into her socially … she would say, 'Here's my pastor!' " (Winfrey declined to comment. A Harpo Productions spokesperson would not confirm her reasons for leaving the church.)
But doesn't this put a pin in the story of Obama's "Oh, I never heard him say anything untoward!" lame dismissal?
See, this is what I don't understand: I've attended services at any number of black churches, for any number of different occasions: weddings, funerals, Sunday service, major holidays like Easter and even one or two standard services.
I've heard some of the fire and brimstone speechifying. And I've even heard some parts that made me, a typical white person, cling tightly to my religion and guns, frustrating me and making me feel a bit bitter for being white.
And I'm not a regular attendee of a large black congregation, so how in the world did Obama miss some of Wright's more...colorful...sermons?
Did he maybe sleep through them? Not likely. It's hard to sleep in a black church. Pastors usually don't drone on.
Now, it's likely true that Obama, who came to the church as an agnostic/lapsed Baptist (parental religions), found a different kind of fulfillment from it than Oprah did. A guidance, if you will.
I don't know. Maybe he never attended service. Maybe his indoctrination into the religion happened over late night poker games in the rectory. Hey, it could happen!
But I find it hard to believe that a black politician fro Chicago's South Side had never heard Wright sermonize or speak words of hate about America.
The GOP is waiting to spring this issue in the fall, that much seems certain, and the way Obama has shifted his story..."Well, I would have quit the church if Rev. Wright hadn't retired by the time I came to that decision"...is just ripe for a swiftboating by the same people who broadcast over and over John Kerry's "I voted for the war before I voted against it."
And frankly, I don't want to have to sit through that film again.