Sen. Barack Obama’s chief political strategist sits on the finance committee of the Chicago church led by controversial pastor Michael Pfleger, who claimed in a sermon last weekend Sen. Hillary Clinton cried in public because she thought being white entitled her to the Democratic presidential nomination.
Pfleger, whose remarks about Clinton were condemned by Obama, several times hosted at his church Nation of Islam head Louis Farrakhan. Pfleger practices black liberation theology, is a regular guest speaker at Trinity United Church of Christ, and was identified by Obama as a key source of spiritual guidance.
David Axelrod, Obama’s top strategist, serves on the finance board of Pfleger’s St. Sabina Catholic church, which is seeking to raise $1 million to offset the costs of reconstructing sections of the cathedral found to have structural problems.
Axelrod is listed on the church’s official website alongside an open letter from Pfleger asking for contributions.
“St. Sabina needs your help to bring one of the most beautiful sanctuaries in the Archdiocese back to the community. It is estimated that the additional costs will be $1 million dollars, which will fall squarely on the shoulders of St. Sabina, a community not made up of vast wealth but of tremendous faith,” writes Pfleger.
Pfleger hosted Farrakhan at his church a number of times, including a one-hour sermon last May, his first public appearance since Farrakhan announced in 2006 he had been suffering from prostate cancer and was seriously ill.
According to reports, Pfleger, a public defender of Farrakhan’s, spent hours with the Nation of Islam chief during his illness. Pfleger previously enlisted Farrakhan’s support for several of his initiatives, including an anti-gun protest last year.
Pfleger’s sermons at St. Sabina’s routinely include rants against the U.S. government, white people and the Bush administration and calls for reparations for slavery, according to a profile of the parish featured in Trumpet Magazine, which was founded by Obama’s former pastor, Jeremiah Wright.
“I got very educated by the [Black] Panthers – very educated,” Pfleger told Trumpet.
Pfleger has a YouTube trail evidencing some of his anti-white and anti-American sermons.
Further connection between Axelrod and Pfleger was revealed this weekend by the Chicago Sun-Times, which reported Obama’s strategist was engaged in a project to film a documentary about Pfleger.
Axelrod confirmed to the Sun-Times by e-mail the film project has “been dormant for much of the last two years due to other commitments.”
The controversy surrounding Pfleger began after a video surfaced last week of Pfleger delivering a guest sermon at Trinity church in which he implied Clinton was a white supremacist who believed she would win the nomination because of “white entitlement.”
Obama denounced Pfleger’s rhetoric as “divisive” and “backward-looking,” but did not condemn the pastor himself.
Over the weekend, Obama announced he is leaving Trinity church, stating he regrets “all the attention that my campaign has visited on” the church.
“We had reporters grabbing church bulletins and calling up the sick and the shut-in,” he said. “That’s just not how people should have to operate in their church.”
Obama said he has “tremendous regard” for the Trinity community, but he told reporters he was upset with a situation in which everything said in the church, including comments by a guest pastor, “will be imputed to me, even if they conflict with my long-held, views, statements and principles.”
In his guest sermon at Trinity last weekend, Pfleger was introduced by Rev. Otis Moss III, who was Obama’s new pastor until the presidential candidate announced he left Trinity. Moss called Pfleger a “brother beloved, he is a preacher par-excellence, he is a prophetic powerful pulpiteer.”
After Pfleger’s remarks about Clinton, Moss thanked Pfleger repeatedly.
Pfleger told the Trinity congregation, “We must be honest enough to expose white entitlement and supremacy wherever it raises its head.”
He continued: “Reverend Moss, when Hillary was crying, and people said that was put on, I really don’t believe it was put on. I really believe that she just always thought, ‘This is mine. I’m Bill’s wife. I’m white. And this is mine. I just got to get up and step into the plate.’
“And then out of nowhere came, hey, I’m Barack Obama. And she said, ‘Oh damn, where did you come from? I’m white. I’m entitled. There’s a black man stealing my show.’”
Pfleger then mimicked Clinton crying as the audience erupted into applause and gave Pfleger’s remarks a standing ovation. Clinton has become emotional during several interviews this year, and some media commentators have questioned her sincerity.
In his sermon, Pfleger added, “She wasn’t the only one crying. There was a whole lot of white people cryin’.”
Apparently realizing his remarks might attract media attention, Pfleger stated, “I’m sorry. I don’t want to get you into any more trouble.”
Moss then took the stage, stating, “We thank God for the message, and we thank God for the messenger. We thank God for Father Michael Pfleger. We thank God for Father Mike.”
Moss assumed the leadership of Trinity earlier this month following the retirement of Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr., whose controversial sermons have raised questions about Obama’s judgment and beliefs.
Pfleger is a regular guest lecturer at Trinity and has been featured a number of times in Wright’s Trumpet magazine, which drew some media attention after it honored Farrakhan. The June/July 2007 issue of Wright’s Trumpet magazine describes Pfleger as “Afrocentric to the core.”
Obama has appeared on at least three Trumpet covers and last year gave an exclusive interview to the magazine. Obama’s wife, Michelle, also recently talked with Trumpet.
Obama identified Pfleger in a 2004 interview with the Chicago Sun-Times as a key source of spiritual guidance. The Sun-Times piece, which was among the first in which Obama outlined his faith, includes quotes from Pfleger praising Obama.
“Faith is key to his life, no question about it,” Pfleger told the Sun-Times. “It is central to who he is, and not just in his work in the political field, but as a man, as a black man, as a husband, as a father. … I don’t think he could easily divorce his faith from who he is.”
WND reported last week, Obama’s campaign scrubbed from its official website a testimonial by Pfleger.
“Obama is calling back those who have given up and lost hope in the political system both young and old in the belief that we can fix it. He has the intellect for the job, and I haven’t heard anyone since Robert F. Kennedy who is causing such an emotional and spiritual awakening to the political possibilities,” read Pfleger’s official campaign testimonial.
ABC News reported Obama’s relationship with Pfleger spans decades. In September, the Illinois senator’s campaign flew Pfleger to Iowa to host one of several interfaith forums for the campaign.
The Chicago Tribune reported Pfleger has given money to Obama’s campaigns and that as a state legislator Obama directed at least $225,000 towards social programs at Pfleger’s church.
Pfleger’s highly political remarks last week are unusual for him.
Wright’s Trumpet magazine reported last year Pfleger “manages to weave into the midday homily at Trinity … his deep and abiding dislike for President George W. Bush. And with this mostly African-American congregation, Pfleger is in good company.”
According to a profile of Pfleger in Trumpet, the pastor “counts the mighty as close confidants and friends,” specifically Wright, Farrakhan and Obama.
To interview Aaron Klein, contact M. Sliwa Public Relations by e-mail, or call 973-272-2861 or 212-202-4453.