As Minister Repeats Comments, Obama Tries to Quiet Fray

In an appearance before the Washington media, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright said Monday that criticism surrounding his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church and rejected those who have labeled him unpatriotic. (April 28) Video by AP
By Shailagh Murray and Peter Slevin
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama again sought to distance himself from the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. yesterday after his former pastor capped a weekend media offensive with an appearance in Washington in which he revisited many of his most controversial comments.

"He does not speak for me," the Democratic presidential candidate said as he campaigned across North Carolina. "He does not speak for the campaign."

Obama aides said Wright had rebuffed their recent offers of public relations assistance. They stressed that they had no warning about a media blitz that included an appearance with Bill Moyers on PBS on Friday night, a nationally televised speech to the NAACP in Detroit on Sunday evening and yesterday's appearance at the National Press Club.

Wright, the former pastor at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago who officiated at Obama's wedding and baptized his two daughters, became the center of controversy after clips from some of his most inflammatory sermons hit the airwaves earlier this year. In one sermon, delivered the Sunday after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Wright said that "America's chickens are coming home to roost" for its own acts of "terrorism." In another, he said blacks should sing "God damn America" instead of "God Bless America" to protest centuries of mistreatment.

Speaking before a sold-out gathering that was broadcast live on cable news networks yesterday, Wright told a mostly African American audience that his preaching has been misconstrued by journalists and political pundits who do not understand black religious tradition, which he said was founded amid slavery and racial intolerance and "still is invisible to the dominant culture."

"Maybe now we can begin to take steps to move the black religious tradition from the status of invisible to the status of invaluable, not just for some black people in this country but for all the people in this country."

In his prepared remarks, Wright traced the origins of the African American church in a measured tone and academic language. But during the question-and-answer session that followed, he was defiant.

Queried about his post-Sept. 11 sermon, Wright said: "Well, let me try to respond in a non-bombastic way. If you heard the whole sermon, first of all, you heard that I was quoting the ambassador from Iraq. That's number one. But, number two, to quote the Bible, 'Be not deceived. God is not mocked. For whatsoever you sow, that you also shall reap.' Jesus said, 'Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.' "

Wright continued: "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic, divisive principles."

Challenged about his patriotism, the former Marine exclaimed: "I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?"

Wright also restated the idea that HIV was invented as a weapon against minority communities, had kind words for Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and railed against American imperialism.

The media attention to Wright's recent appearances has created another headache for the Obama campaign. The senator from Illinois is struggling to close out the primary season against Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (N.Y.) after losing key races in Ohio and Pennsylvania and seeing new doubts raised about his prospects in a general election against Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the presumptive Republican nominee.

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