- The Washington Times - Monday, April 14, 2008

NORFOLK — The Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., former pastor of presidential candidate Barack Obama who is at the center of a controversy on race, preached about perseverance and compassion and did not make any incendiary rhetoric during a visit to a packed church here yesterday.

Mr. Wright used much of his 40-minute sermon at Norfolk’s Bank Street Memorial Baptist Church to speak on the importance of overcoming personal troubles, although he made no direct mention of the recent media scrutiny and public outcry regarding some comments that have been called racist and anti-American.

“There is no such thing as a trouble-free life,” Mr. Wright repeated several times at the church where his late uncle, John Bennett Henderson, served as pastor for more than 25 years. “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been saved, and it doesn’t matter how big your Bible is. … You will have some trouble in your life. And if you don’t believe me, just keep on living.”

Mr. Wright, who has called the U.S. government racist and described the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks as “America”s chickens are coming home to roost,” briefly accused Fox News, Ann Coulter and others in the media of unfair treatment but didn’t elaborate.

He then asked the several members of the media in attendance to stand and identify themselves and instructed ushers to hand them a one-page statement that thanked the church for his invitation to preach. He declined to grant interviews after the service.

As head pastor at Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, he said blacks should not sing “God Bless America” but instead call for God’s wrath upon the U.S. for its history of slavery, racism and oppression against its black residents.

Mr. Obama has been criticized on the campaign trail for his association with Mr. Wright, whom the Illinois senator has considered somewhat of a mentor.

Mr. Obama borrowed the title of one of his books, “The Audacity of Hope,” from a Wright sermon, and the minister presided over the marriage of Mr. Obama and his wife, Michelle.

But Mr. Obama has distanced himself from the pastor and called some of his sermons “inflammatory and appalling.”

“I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies,” he wrote last month on the liberal Web site HuffingtonPost.com.

Mr. Wright has kept a low profile since many of his controversial comments became widely publicized. But the Chicago Sun-Times reported that during a funeral service in the city Saturday, Mr. Wright revisited the topic of America’s mistreatment of blacks, saying that the Founding Fathers “planted slavery and white supremacy in the DNA of this republic” and that Thomas Jefferson wrote, “God would punish America for the sin of slavery.”

Angela Jones, publisher of the Hampton Roads Messenger, which serves the area’s black community, said she doubted that Mr. Wright’s sermon yesterday and its theme of overcoming difficulties was a reference to the firestorm that his comments have created.

“It’s a pretty common sermon — that’s definitely one of the favorites of African-American pastors,” she said. “Probably 25 percent of the African-American churches might have had the same type of sermon Sunday.”

Meanwhile, E.W. Jackson Sr., pastor of Exodus Faith Ministries in nearby Chesapeake, scheduled a service to counter what he called Mr. Wright’s “black liberation theology.”

“As an African-American and an African-American minister, I love my country, and I am deeply offended by someone who would damn my country,” said Mr. Jackson on Friday.

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