WASHINGTON — Barack Obama said Friday that he won't leave his church because of incendiary remarks by the pastor, but he condemned the man's controversial statements, which are igniting a firestorm of TV and Internet coverage.
Obama laid out a defense of his long, close relationship with the retiring Rev. Jeremiah Wright of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago in a written statement to the Huffington Post, a liberal Web site. He also began a blitz of TV appearances to counter recent broadcasts of Wright saying "God d--- America" and other inflammatory remarks, which Obama called "appalling."
Wright, who accused U.S. leaders of bringing on the Sept. 11 attacks by spreading terrorism, stepped down from the Obama campaign's African American Religious Leadership Committee, Obama said.
Obama professed an innocence about Wright's most incendiary messages. "The statements that Rev. Wright made that are the cause of this controversy were not statements I personally heard him preach … or heard him utter in private conversation," he said. Obama said he has looked to Wright for spiritual advice, not political guidance.
The controversy threatens to inflame racial sensitivities and could impede Obama's campaign to present himself as a candidate able to transcend American social divisions.
Videos of Wright's sermons have circulated for years but have attracted new scrutiny. On Friday, Sen. John McCain's campaign forwarded a Wall Street Journal opinion piece to reporters in which Wright was quoted as saying, "Racism is how this country was founded and how this country is still run." Later in the day, Rush Limbaugh dwelled on Wright in his radio program, calling him "a race-baiter and a hatemonger."
Scrutiny has also been renewed as the IRS investigates whether the 6,000-member church should lose its tax-exempt status after an arguably political speech that Obama gave last year to church members, and the church magazine honored Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.
Wright performed Obama's wedding and informed his 2004 Democratic convention speech. His phrase, "the audacity of hope," is the title of Obama's memoir. Obama said he joined the church 20 years ago and would not repudiate Wright as a man, calling him "like an uncle."
In a sermon just after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Wright said, "We bombed Hiroshima, we bombed Nagasaki, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye. We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans. … America's chickens are coming home to roost."
In 2003, he said, "The government gives them (blacks) the drugs, … passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing God Bless America. No, no, no, God d--- America." In December he compared Obama to Jesus and once railed that Hillary Rodham Clinton doesn't know what it's like to be a black man trying to hail a cab in America.