Barack Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, said on Sunday critics portraying him as "divisive" and "bombastic" misunderstood the black church and represented a discredited tradition of intolerance in American public life.
Speaking to a crowd of several thousand at a fund-raising dinner organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Wright acknowledged he had become a lightning rod for criticism of the Obama campaign in recent weeks.
"I am not a politician. I know that fact will surprise many of you because many of the corporate-owned media have made it seem that I have announced that I am running for the Oval Office," Wright said.
His speech followed weeks of controversy over his past politically charged remarks from the pulpit that have dogged Obama, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination to face Republican John McCain in November's presidential election.
Wright, 66, now semi-retired from Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ, devoted much of his address to the theme of building tolerance for racial, religious and cultural differences in everything from styles of speech to music.
Without revisiting fiery sermons in which he denounced America's failings on race and called the Sept. 11 attacks retribution for U.S. policies, Wright suggested critics had taken his remarks out of context to embarrass him and Obama, who joined his congregation 20 years ago.
"We just do it differently, and some of our haters can't get their heads around that. I come from a religious tradition where we shout in the sanctuary and we march on the picket lines," Wright said.
"The African American tradition is different. We do it in a different way."
Obama, who would become the nation's first black president, has distanced himself from Wright and denounced some of his views.
But Wright made it clear he remained solidly behind the Illinois senator, at one point riffing on an Obama campaign line to suggest U.S. voters were ready to force change.
"If I were pushing one particular candidate, I would say, yes we can," Wright said, drawing applause.
He also said Obama was being unfairly held up for scrutiny because of his middle-name, Hussein.
"Stop trying to scare folk by giving the Arabic name as if it's some sort of disease," he said.
Obama, locked in a struggle with Democratic rival New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, faces upcoming primaries in Indiana and North Carolina. He was campaigning in Indiana on Sunday.
Although the NAACP is nominally nonpartisan, much of the Detroit audience clearly backed Obama, whose campaign was recruiting supporters outside the convention hall.
In addition to Wright, the dinner featured Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, and other members of the state's still-disputed delegation to the Democratic convention.
Last Mod: 28 Nisan 2008, 11:16