Rev Jeremiah Wright to retire in 'white suburb'
The fiery African-American pastor whose incendiary outbursts on race have dented the prospects of Barack Obama becoming the first black US president is to retire to an upmarket suburb where almost all of the residents are white.
03 May 2008
By Philip Sherwell in New York
Grateful parishioners of Rev Jeremiah Wright, 66, are building him a $1 million, 10,400 sq ft mansion, next to a country club and golf course in the prosperous Chicago suburb of Tinley Park. In the 2000 census, just two per cent of Tinley Park’s 48,400 residents were black and 93 per cent were white.
Rev Wright built up his Chicago mega-church over 36 years on the principles of black liberation theology under the bold slogan, “Unashamedly Black and Unapologetically Christian”, and Mr Obama was among his most enthusiastic parishioners - until he was forced to disavow him completely last week.
The Trinity United Church of Christ is located in the heart of the city’s rundown and predominantly African-American South Side, and worshippers are instructed to live by its self-proclaimed Black Value System. Among the tenets is “Disavowal of the Pursuit of 'Middleclassness’.”
But Rev Wright will not be living among his flock following his recent retirement. Instead, he is leaving them in pursuit of distinctly middle class - indeed upper-middle class - environs.
According to building plans reviewed by Chicago newspapers, Mr Wright and his wife Ramah will not be the poor relations in their new and overwhelmingly white neighbourhood. The property will boast four bedrooms, a whirlpool, butler’s pantry, elevator, exercise room, circular driveway and four-car garage.
Real estate records show that Rev Wright bought the empty land in 2004 and sold it two years later to Trinity, the current owner, which later took out a $1.6 million mortgage on the property.
During his 36 years at its helm, Rev Wright built up Trinity from a church with 87 members to a congregation of 10,000 that includes many of the most influential figures in black Chicago. By joining its ranks, Mr Obama overcame some of the local doubts he faced as the Harvard-educated son of a white woman and Kenyan man who had been brought up in Hawaii.
But his former spiritual mentor’s rants against white America are dogging his campaign. Video clips of Rev Wright bellowing “God Damn America” are expected to feature prominently in Republican attack ads if, as expected, Mr Obama secures the Democratic nomination.
Rev Wright turned Trinity into one of the most powerful and well-funded institutions in Chicago’s South Side with the help of contributions from adherents such as the Obamas who gave the church $26,000, according to their 2007 tax returns.
And in America, it is not unusual for pastors of such financially successful churches to be rewarded for their accomplishments with rather more than a carriage clock or wristwatch at retirement. It is the ethnic/racial breakdown of Rev Wright’s preferred home for his retirement years that has caused surprise.
Trinity did not respond to a request for comment by The Sunday Telegraph. The national United Church of Christ has said that it is for local congregations to decide how to spend their funds and that it is appropriate for local churches to provide housing for long-time pastors when they retire.