06/12/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Obama's "Cultural Issues" At Play in Chicago

This week OffTheBus is rolling out introductory columns by some of our star contributors, who will now be writing regular dispatches on their "beats." In her column, "Dateline: Obama's Chicagoland," Windy City resident Christine Escobar covers the national campaign from Obama's hometown, reporting on strategic and cultural developments at Obama headquarters and in the city more generally. For her kick-off she takes up the Trinity United story and gives us some local insight into Obama's former church and Father Pfleger, the preacher at the center of the most recent controversy. --John Tomasic

In the wake of Obama's historic victory Tuesday as the presumptive Dem. nominee, Chicago continues to experience the repercussions of his resignation from Trinity United Church of Christ.

Vastly different views of Obama's decision to leave the church abound, from renewed calls for keeping religion out of politics to the more critical view of Obama's departure from what some see as the heart of the black community.

2008-06-06-chicagoland.jpgThe priest at the center of the controversy that spurred Obama to resign, Father Michael Pflegler, heads the south side Catholic parish St. Sabina, at which he has served as pastor for more than 30 years. But he was removed from his post this week by Cardinal Francis George for at least the next "couple of weeks." Sabina's members have been pleading for the return of their pastor and say they would like to meet with the Cardinal.

While it may seem politically advantageous to jettison associations that bring the campaign controversy, critics charge that the Obama has missed a key opportunity to stand with the black community once again, a community that has clearly offered its support to him in several states during this long drawn out primary.

Pfleger, though unconventional in his delivery, has long been a vocal advocate for residents of his community in the city's Auburn-Gresham neighborhood.

Supporters of Pflegler believe advocates working on the street level bring about the change that Obama speaks so eloquently about. To turn away, they say, in the face of shoddy criticism preemptively is second guessing the role these activists play in their communities.

Writing in the Chicago Defender, Lou Ransom notes that Obama faces a glaring double standard when dealing with his relationship to the black religious community. The public's tolerance for black ministry of the dramatic nature does not nearly match the public tolerance for white rightwing political "pulpitry."

"When Father Michael Pfleger talked about white entitlement in the pulpit at Trinity, he didn't say anything he wouldn't say at his own St. Sabina. He didn't say anything that wasn't repeated at any number of Black churches.

And, the truth he told in his pulpit was no less the truth than what is told in the pulpit of any number of white ministers, who historically have used the pulpit, and the bible, to justify any number of racist behaviors, from owning slaves to banning miscegenation to advocating lynching. "

Currently, the Chicago arm of the GOP shows no departure from the skewed rightwing script on Obama and his religious background. They continue to float the Muslim rumors about Obama and his religious background, dredging up connotations of Arab ties.

From this point forward, it seems Obama will have to maintain the delicate balance of addressing criticism from those who believe he is either too black for comfort or not black enough. In the long history of presidential electoral politics, Obama is making up for lost ground on a path previously paved by white males.