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America has come to know Jeremiah Wright by sound bite. The sermons of Barack Obama's former pastor have been looped in video clips on YouTube and shown over and over on cable news channels. And now, Reverend Wright is speaking out defiantly in a fresh round of appearances. Today at the National Press Club in Washington, Wright said his sermons have been taken out of context. He also said that his critics are not simply attacking him; they are attacking the entire black church.

NPR's Don Gonyea reports.

DON GONYEA: It was a full house at the National Press Club headquarters in Downtown, D.C. this morning. The breakfast speech marked the beginning of a two-day conference on the black church. But given the location of today's event, it also brought out a large media contingent. Reporters lined the walls of a room that was otherwise packed with Wright's supporters who gave him a standing ovation as he took his place at the head table. Wright spoke for about half an hour focusing on a religious tradition he said has too long been misunderstood.

Reverend JEREMIAH WRIGHT (Former Pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ): Black preaching is different from European and European-American preaching. It is not deficient, it is just different. It is not bombastic, it is not controversial, it's different.

(Soundbite of applause)

GONYEA: Wright's main audience responded with loud and frequent applause, but his speech was followed by a Q-and-A session dominated by the reporters on the room. Questions were submitted by index card, and read by the program's moderator, USA Today reporter and Press Club officer Donna Leinwand.

Ms. DONNA LEINWAND (Vice President, National Press Club; Reporter, USA Today): Can you explain what you meant in a sermon shortly after 9/11 when you said, the United States had brought the terrorist's attacks on itself, quote, "America's chickens are coming home to roost."

Rev. WRIGHT: Have you heard the whole sermon?

(Soundbite of applause)

Rev. WRIGHT: Have you heard the whole sermon?

Ms. LEINWAND: I - most of it.

Rev. WRIGHT: No, no, the whole sermon, that - yes or no. No, you haven't heard the whole sermon? That nullifies that question.

GONYEA: Wright then said he tried to answer the question in, quote, "a non-bombastic way." He said he was quoting an ambassador to Iraq in that sermon. Then he added…

Rev. WRIGHT: Jesus said do unto others as you would have them do unto you. 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.

(Soundbite of cheers and applause)

GONYEA: As for that moment made so famous on YouTube - when he said not God bless America, but God damn America; again, he says, it was taken out of context. But then, he added…

Rev. WRIGHT: God doesn't bless everything, God condemns something, and D-E-M-N, demn, is where we get the word damn. God damns some practices, and there is no excuse for the things that the government, not the American people, have done. That doesn't make me not like America or unpatriotic.

GONYEA: He was asked about critics who call his sermons unpatriotic.

Rev. WRIGHT: They are unfair accusations taken from sound bites that which is looped over and over again on certain channels. I served six years in the military, does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?

GONYEA: Wright was asked about his relationship to the Nation of Islam leader, Louis Farrakhan, and his racially-divisive statements, Wright said he doesn't always agree with Farrakhan but praised him as a man that black America listens to.

As per Senator Barack Obama who has criticized his former pastor's controversial remarks, Wright stressed that he was Obama's pastor not a spiritual mentor. He then added his own critique of Obama.

Rev. WRIGHT: He had to distance himself because he's a politician, from what the media was saying I had said which was anti-American. He said I didn't offer any words of hope. How would he know? He never heard the rest of the sermon.

GONYEA: As for the candidate himself, Senator Obama spoke to supporters today in Wilmington, North Carolina and made no mention of Reverend Wright. Later, though, when questioned by reporters as he boarded his campaign plane, the candidate offered this.

Senator BARACK OBAMA (Democrat, Illinois; Presidential Candidate): He does not speak for me; he does not speak for the campaign.

GONYEA: And it means the senator is preparing for yet another wave of attention that his campaign - or - and it means the senator is preparing for yet another wave of attention to a story his campaign had hoped would fade.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Washington.

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