The Rev. Jeremiah Wright says criticisms of his fiery sermons are an attack on the black church. Wright, presidential hopeful Barack Obama's former pastor, has begun speaking out since national attention fell on controversial opinions he expressed in the past.
Speaking at Washington's National Press Club on Monday, one day after he got a standing ovation for his speech at an NAACP meeting in Detroit, Wright said he hopes the controversy will have a positive outcome and will lead to an honest dialogue about race in America. Black church traditions are still invisible to many Americans, as they have throughout the country's history, he said.
Wright said the black church tradition is not bombastic or controversial. It is simply different — and misunderstood by the dominant culture in the United States, he said.
When asked Monday whether he was disappointed that Obama had denounced him, Wright said, "He did not denounce me. He distanced himself from some of my remarks, like most of you, never having heard the sermon, all right?"
Wright also said that, contrary to Obama's past statements, he did in fact offer hope to his congregation.
"I offered words of hope," Wright said. "I offered reconciliation. I offered restoration in that sermon. But nobody heard the sermon. They just heard this little sound bite of a sermon."
The pastor criticized those who have questioned his patriotism.
"I served six years in the military," Wright said. "Does that make me patriotic? How many years did [Vice President Dick] Cheney serve?"
One of the sermons that received attention is one Wright gave days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In that sermon — and in others like it that recently rose to prominence on the online video site YouTube — Wright said "America's chickens are coming home to roost" after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan and "supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans."
On Monday, Wright challenged a reporter questioning him about those comments.
"Have you heard the whole sermon? No? The whole sermon?" Wright asked. When the reporter shook her head, he said, "That nullifies that question."
In an upbeat speech to the NAACP on Sunday, Wright said he wanted to correct a local Republican politician who called him divisive.
"I am not divisive," Wright said. "Tell him the word is descriptive. I described the conditions in this country."
Wright also said his opinions are his own, and he declared that he is not a politician.
From NPR reports, Jerome Vaughn of Detroit Public Radio, and the Associated Press.