‘Summer of Mercy’ pastor to retire

? An outspoken Protestant pastor who was among the leaders of abortion protests during the 1991 “Summer of Mercy” in Wichita has announced his retirement.

The Rev. Joe Wright, senior pastor at Central Christian Church, told his congregation earlier this month that his retirement is effective July 1. Wright, 63, said he would continue to preach until a successor is found. He has been a pastor for 35 years.

“I just feel that it’s the right time,” Wright said.

The pastor cited his health and his desire to spend more time with his wife, Lois, as reasons for his retirement.

Wright was among religious leaders who last year pressed for a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages and civil unions in Kansas. Voters approved the ban.

“I’m not a hatemonger or a bigot,” he said. “But I really believe the Bible is the word of God, and I have to preach it and stand on it.”

He drew international attention in 1996 for a prayer he delivered to the Kansas House of Representatives as its guest chaplain.

He had prayed for God’s mercy on a state that has “lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values” by allowing “an alternative lifestyle,” abortion and pornography.

Pat Bullock, director of the Wichita-area association of Southern Baptists, called Wright a man of integrity who lives what he believes.

“I believe he’s been a tremendous factor in leading our city and state in a good moral direction,” Bullock said.

Among his critics have been clergy who don’t share his views.

“Even though there are many things on which he and I would disagree,” said the Rev. Michael Chittum, pastor at Plymouth Congregational Church in Wichita, “I know that certainly the church (Central Christian) is a very important part of the religious community in Wichita.”