WASHINGTON (BP)–Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama sought March 14 to distance himself from controversial comments made by his pastor of 20 years, Jeremiah Wright.
Wright’s anti-American comments have been the source of discussion on talk shows and blogs for more than a year but only recently picked up steam when several national media outlets, including ABC News, played clips of Wright’s sermons. Some see Wright’s comments as being racist and anti-Semitic.
Among some of his more controversial comments, Wright blamed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on America’s past actions, called America the “U.S. of K.K.K.A.” and said that instead of singing “God Bless America,” black Americans should sing “God d— America.”
Wright has been pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago since 1972 but is in the process of retiring and preached his final sermon there in February. Wright presided at Obama’s wedding and baptized Obama’s two children. Obama has been a member of the church since the late 1980s and considers Wright a spiritual mentor. A sermon by Wright served as inspiration for Obama’s book title, “The Audacity of Hope.”
“I vehemently disagree and strongly condemn the statements that have been the subject of this controversy,” Obama said in a statement posted on the Huffington Post’s website. “I categorically denounce any statement that disparages our great country or serves to divide us from our allies.”
Obama appeared on both Fox News and CNN the day his statement was released, saying that with the exception of one or two of the comments, it was the first time he had heard them. If he “had heard them repeated,” he told Fox News, he would have quit the church. On the same day Obama made those comments, his campaign also said Wright no longer was on its African-American Religious Leadership Committee.
Following are some of Wright’s more controversial comments that have appeared in clips on Fox News, ABC and CNN and posted on YouTube:
— “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,” he said in a sermon several days after Sept. 11, 2001. “We have supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans, and now we are indignant because the stuff we have done overseas is now brought right back to our own front yards. America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”
— “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color.”
— “The government lied about Pearl Harbor. They knew the Japanese were going to attack.”
— “We cannot see how what we are doing is the same thing al-Qaeda is doing under a different color flag,” he said of America’s involvement in Iraq. “Calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem.”
— “The government gives [black Americans] the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God d— America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people,” he said in 2003. “God d— America for treating our citizens as less than human. God d— America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme.”
— “It just came to me … within the past few weeks, you all, why so many folk are hating on Barack Obama. He doesn’t fit the model. He ain’t white. He ain’t rich. And he ain’t privileged…. Barack knows what it means to be a black man living in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people…. Hillary ain’t never been called a n—–,” he said. During the same sermon he also said “Jesus was a poor black man who lived in a country … controlled by rich white people.”
Obama told Fox News that he contributed to the church and was a “regular” attendee “in spurts.” He said when he attended the services, Wright was preaching about “Jesus, God, faith, values, caring for the poor, family.”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper challenged Obama, saying, “you must have heard that he had said these things.” But Obama said he had not.
“I confess that I did not hear about this … until I started running for president,” Obama said.
Trinity United Church of Christ stirred further controversy in 2007 when its magazine, Trumpet, gave its “Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr. Trumpeter Award” to Louis Farrakhan, the leader of the Nation of Islam who has made repeated anti-Semitic comments over the years. In a Jan. 15 column, The Washington Post’s Richard Cohen said that Farrakhan once denigrated “the Holocaust by falsely attributing it to Jewish cooperation with Hitler.” Wright and Farrakhan traveled together in the 1980s to Libya to visit with Muammar Qadhafi.
Some political commentators said Obama hasn’t settled the matter.
“He has to explain why he stayed there in that church,” Fred Barnes of The Weekly Standard said on Fox News March 14. “I go to a church and have gone there for 25 years or so, but if they started giving lifetime achievement awards to Louis Farrakhan, I would leave, as others would.”
Mort Kondracke, executive editor of Roll Call, called it a “deep, serious problem.”
“These are things that a parishioner isn’t oblivious to,” Kondracke said on Fox News. “If your pastor, after 9/11, says that the United States is responsible for it, for 9/11, and that this is chickens coming home to roost, this is not something you can miss.”
Peter Wehner, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote in a National Review online editorial that it’s difficult to believe the controversial comments merely were an “anomaly” for Wright.
“The odds are a good deal better than even that Wright’s hatred is on regular or semi-regular display at the pulpit of Trinity United,” Wehner wrote. “The question now becomes: What did Senator Obama hear, and when did he hear it?”
Wright’s successor, Otis Moss III, defended his predecessor in a statement handed out at Sunday’s services, The New York Times reported.
“It is an indictment on Dr. Wright’s ministerial legacy to present his global ministry within a 15- or 30-second sound bite,” Moss wrote.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor for Baptist Press.