Chicago_The United Church of Christ, the parent denomination of Barack Obama's church, announced Thursday that it will begin a conversation on racial issues beginning next month in response to sermons by Obama's pastor that were critical of the U.S.
Leaders of Obama's church, Trinity United Church of Christ, meanwhile, asked reporters for respect, saying threats and a media onslaught are disrupting worship at the South Side church. The church has increased security in response to threatening telephone calls, letters and e-mails, they said.
At a news conference, the United Church of Christ's national leadership said the furor over comments by the Rev. Jeremiah Wright demonstrated the complexity of racial issues in the country and the need for churches nationwide to talk about them.
"The members of Trinity United Church of Christ are going through a very difficult time right now. The intersection of politics, religion and race has heightened our awareness of how easy it is for conversations about race to be anything but sacred," said the Rev. John Thomas, the denomination's president.
The Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary of the National Council of Churches, echoed the call for a national discussion, beginning May 18. Kinnamon said he objects to seeing Trinity portrayed as an extremist sect, saying it and the UCC "are part of the wider Christian community."
With more than 8,000 members, Trinity is the largest United Church of Christ congregation in the country.
Wright, whose comments sparked the discussion, did not attend Thursday's news conference. He has remained out of public view since snippets of his sermons began appearing on cable news and the Internet, creating a political problem for Democratic presidential candidate Obama. The clips show Wright saying God should damn the United States and calling the country the "U.S. of KKK-A," among other things.
In response, Obama gave a speech about race in which he denounced Wright's comments but didn't turn his back on his longtime pastor.
The Rev. Otis Moss III, who is replacing Wright when he retires June 1, defended Wright's comments.
"One of the roles of the prophets: Sometimes you offend. You afflict the comfortable but comfort the afflicted," Moss said.
Moss wouldn't provide details about threats to Trinity, but church officials offered one example - a call saying Wright would meet Jesus sooner than he thinks.
The church has stepped up its security. Chicago police are monitoring the situation but have no reason to believe the congregation or the neighborhood are in danger, spokeswoman Monique Bond said.
Moss also complained that some reporters have annoyed Trinity congregants and disrupted worship. They have called sick members at home and bothered others during services, he said, asking that reporters treat the church's "sacred space" with more respect.