Security concerns prompt Rev. Wright to cancel trip
Obama's former pastor was set to preach in Houston on Sunday
By SHANNON BUGGS and JENNIFER LEAHY
By SHANNON BUGGS and JENNIFER LEAHY
Security concerns have prompted the Rev. Jeremiah Wright to cancel his appearance at Houston's Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church for the first time in two decades.
Wright, who until February was minister of Sen. Barack Obama's church, Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, was scheduled to preach three guest sermons in Houston on Sunday.
The theologian who Obama has said strengthened his Christian faith has been a regular revival preacher at Wheeler for about 20 years.
Wheeler's pastor, the Rev. Marcus Cosby, said Wright cited three reasons for his cancellation — "the safety of the institution to which he has been invited; ... the safety of his family, which has been placed in harm's way; and for his own safety."
Cosby said he would reverse that order and put the safety of Wright and his family above any thoughts of protecting Wheeler Avenue.
The church had arranged for increased security for Wright's visit, he said, including contacting the Houston Police Department and coordinating a security detail in conjunction with Wright's Chicago church.
The Rev. Myron Cloyd of the Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Houston has known Wright for more than 20 years.
"As much as I hate for him not to come I think it's probably prudent," said Cloyd, noting that Wright does not normally travel with bodyguards or assistants.
"There have been threats against his life and the last thing he would ever want is the potential for someone to be hurt," said Cloyd.
Cloyd, who has had Wright speak at his church in the past, said he wished that Wright could have the opportunity to "set the record straight" to Houstonians.
Widely publicized recorded excerpts from Wright's past sermons, in which he quoted a former Iraq ambassador as saying that U.S. actions prompted the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and that the government created HIV to target people of color and harassed blacks through "three strike" laws, prompted Obama to address race issues in a speech last week.
Obama termed Wright's comments "divisive," but also suggested that the snippets were not representative of the clergyman he has known for more than two decades.
"I think we have taken Dr. Wright out of context with sound bites," Cosby said. "After all these years, I am not going to kick him to the curb over sound bites."
"Dr. Wright has a perpetual invitation to Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church. Whenever he is comfortable traveling, he will be welcome at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church."
The long-standing relationship between the Chicago and Houston congregations and their pastors stretches back to Wheeler's first pastor, the Rev. William Lawson, pastor emeritus at Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church.
A confidant of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Lawson started the tradition of bringing Wright to Wheeler to reinvigorate the congregation during winter revivals with topical sermons that espoused black liberation theology.
"Part of what we do traditionally as African-American preachers is combine current affairs with religious affairs," Cosby said."We put the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other."
Cloyd said Wright's comments come from that tradition and have been taken out of that context.
"As pastors our goal is to teach and inspire and (Wright) uses a variety of strategies— he's certainly very passionate," Cloyd said. "We energize and mobilize not to hate but to recognize injustice, encourage change, to go out and vote, for example."
Wheeler's announcement of the cancellation came the same day that Wright cancelled three days of appearances in Tampa, Fla., security concerns.
The Tampa Tribune reported that the Rev. Earl Mason, pastor of Bible-Based Fellowship Church of Temple Terrace, blamed the cancellation on "hype" and "commotion" surrounding the visit. Mason also said the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office would not provide security for the event, a claim the law enforcement officials denied, the Tribune reported.
Meanwhile, The Dallas Morning News reported the Rev. Wright's scheduled visit to North Texas also was pending.
Wright is scheduled on Saturday to attend luncheon at Paul Quinn College in southeast Oak Cliff, where he's to be honored that night at Friendship-West Baptist Church in the Red Bird area. Both events were moved from Texas Christian University because of security concerns by TCU officials, the News reported.
Remember free speech? Have we ever really had it? I guess speech is OK as long as you don't go against the grain, eh?