Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., has received more than 100 threatening e-mails, faxes and phone calls since Easter Sunday morning, when President Obama and his family visited the church and Fox News host Sean Hannity later aired a tape of the church's pastor from January 2010.
President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and their daughters attend Easter services at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Pete Souza, White House)
"We received a fax that had the image of a monkey with a target across is [sic] face," church pastor Wallace Charles Smith told the Washington Post. "My secretary has received telephone calls that have been so vulgar until she has had to hang up."
Shiloh Baptist Church was founded by former slaves in 1863. Smith has been the church's pastor since 1991.
The Post reported that Smith had provided the newspaper with copies of emails, but had not contacted authorities.
The newspaper also said that Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton had worshipped at the church.
Hannity showed a video clip on April 25 from Eastern University in St. Davids, Pa., in which Smith said: "Jeremiah Wright never said anything that was wrong. What he said was that America owes some dues for its racist and its sexist and its classist background."
During the 2008 presidential campaign, video clips of Wright, pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, where Obama was a member, were played that many found inflammatory.
Obama denounced Wright's statements and eventually withdrew his membership from Trinity.
"And he has done it again," Hannity began his almost 10-minute segment on Fox News.
"The anointed one attended another church with a leader known for making controversial statements," Hannity said. "I don't believe that it is a coincidence that of all the churches in the country that Obama always finds himself sitting in, why is he always in pews listening to such controversial spiritual leaders?"
With two guests – James Peterson, professor at Bucknell University, and Michael Meyers, president of the New York Civil Rights Coalition – Hannity went through a list of controversial administrative appointments.
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"This president surrounds himself with the most radical people," said Hannity.
Fox News host Bill O'Reilly addressed the next day Obama's Easter attendance at Shiloh Baptist Church and called Smith "a race activist."
After playing the same video clip of Smith that Hannity had, O'Reilly said: "Pastor Smith apparently believes that the American establishment, including some media outlets like FNC [Fox News Channel], is racist, designed to keep black Americans down. That is an outrageous charge unless you can prove it... He's bloviating, stirring up alleged bias for absolutely no reason."
O'Reilly wondered why Obama would attend such a church.
"I can't answer that question, but I'm offended by the pastor's statement about Fox News. I've been here 15 years. I don't know anybody in this organization who's racist," said O'Reilly.
Other commentators criticized Smith.
James Parker, at New Orleans' WRNO-FM, wrote that Smith was "another pastor who sees racism around every corner, preaches white hatred, and equates talk radio with the Klan, specifically mentioning Rush."
Jonathon Seidl, an assistant editor of The Blaze, a website sponsored by Glenn Beck, accused Smith of having views similar to Wright.
"Will Obama have to deny this pastor, too?" asked Seidl.
"These threats to Shiloh Baptist Church are another example of the incendiary rhetoric and the intolerance that has been dividing us as a nation for a long time now," said Daniel Carro, first vice president for the Baptist World Alliance and a member of the Baptist Center for Ethics' board. "This intransigent mentality needs to go away soon if we do not want to begin to fight for every menial thing that might come our way."
"In all my own dealings with Wallace Charles in BWA circles, I have always appreciated his collegial spirit, his listening habits, his measured words and his spirit of true Christianity. He is a character that I could compare to Emmanuel McCall," Carro told EthicsDaily.com.
McCall is a former BCE board member and moderator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. He was EthicsDaily.com's "Baptist of the Year" in 2009.
"It is easy to take out of context a few sentences or even one speech," said David Emmanuel Goatley, executive secretary-treasurer of Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention about the criticism leveled at Smith. "Neither a paragraph or a speech defines a pastor or a person."
"The record of Christian witness and impact of the Shiloh Baptist Church and its pastor is significant," Goatley told EthicsDaily.com. "Those of us who love God and neighbor are obligated to love and pray for those who hate and spitefully use us."