Obama to address controversial pastor's comments

March 18, 2008 9:54:54 AM PDT
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama plans to make a major speech on the issue of race in the race for president. Senator Obama says he will set the record straight Tuesday about the firestorm over racially charged comments made during a sermon by his former pastor.

Jeremiah Wright was apparently important enough to Obama to be invited to speak on the dais when Obama announced his presidential bid in Springfield last year. But Wright was abruptly uninvited at the last minute because of his controversial comments and inflammatory rhetoric over the years.

And now that a lot of voters have heard some of that rhetoric on virtually every TV network in recent days Obama's in full damage control mode. And that includes a promise of a full explanation.

"I'm going to be talking about not just Reverend Wright but the larger issue of race in this campaign, which has been ramped up over the last couple of weeks," Obama said.

Obama told reporters in Pennsylvania Monday that he'll try to answer all of the lingering questions Tuesday about his membership in Trinity United Church of Christ on West 95th Street, his relationship with its outspoken former pastor and his spiritual advisor. Wright, who is now retired, and perhaps most importantly, why he apparently ignored Wright's inflammatory anti-American, anti-white rhetoric until it became a campaign issue last week.

"We bombed Hiroshima, Japan, and we nuked far more than the thousands in New York and the Pentagon, and we never batted an eye," Wright told his congregation.

"Which one of us would like to be held accountable for which a priest or rabbi said in a congregation we were sitting in?" said Sen. Dick Durbin, Obama supporter.

One of Obama's fellow parishioners, theologian Dwight Hopkins, says the former pastor's comments have to be taken in context.

"It is within the biblical tradition and one of the reasons there may have been some controversy, some people don't appreciate the history of Christianity or the history of the black church," said Hopkins.

Obama's political allies here in Illinois say it's inevitable that Wright's remarks would be used against Obama now that he's got a real chance to win the Democratic nomination and the presidency.

"I think it was inevitable that a campaign of hope would be attacked by campaign of fear. And it's unfortunate and disturbing," said State Sen. Don Harmon, (D) Oak Park.

Obama's limited comments during the campaign have been that Wright delivered him to Jesus Christ and over the years was a kind of spiritual advisor and sounding board. Obama says that despite media reports to the contrary, he was never at the church when Wright made his most incendiary comments. Obama's now condemning a lot of the remarks in the strongest possible terms. But in the past he simply shrugged them off as the words of an "old uncle." But Tuesday's speech in Philadelphia is all of a sudden very important.

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