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Wright defends controversial remarks

WASHINGTON (BP)–Barack Obama’s longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright sought to explain two of his more controversial statements during an April 25 interview on PBS’ “Bill Moyers Journal” and also defended his association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The interview was the first of a series of public appearances by Wright, who spoke at an NAACP meeting in Detroit Sunday and at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Monday.

Wright’s appearance before the National Press Club was described as “defiant” by the Associated Press. During a question-and-answer session with reporters, Wright, the retiring pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, answered a question about his patriotism by saying, according to AP, “I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did [Vice President Dick] Cheney serve?”

Asked about his remarks that seemed to blame America for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Wright responded, “Have you heard the whole sermon? No. You haven’t heard the whole sermon. That nullifies that question.”

But Wright was far friendlier to Moyers, as the two discussed not only Wright’s controversies but his background and history as the church’s pastor. Moyers played a lengthy clip from Wright’s post-9/11 sermon in which the pastor labeled as terrorism America’s past actions against Indians and blacks. He lumped those actions in the same category with the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the bombing of Libyan leader Muammar al-Gaddafi’s home, the bombing of Grenada and the pre-9/11 bombings of Iraq.

“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,” Wright said at the time. “America’s chickens are coming home to roost.”

During the sermon Wright said he was referencing remarks made by Edwards Peck, former U.S. ambassador to Iraq, but Wright also made it clear his words were his own.

Wright told Moyers he was in the New York City area on Sept. 11, 2001, and, from a hotel room, saw the second plane hit the World Trade Center. He also said members of his church lost loved ones during the attacks.

“They came to church wanting to know where is God in this. And so, I had to show them using that Psalm — Psalm 137 — how the people [Israelites] who were carried away into slavery were very angry, very bitter,” Wright said. “… And that’s exactly where we [were]. We want revenge. They wanted revenge. God doesn’t want to leave you there, however. God wants redemption. God wants wholeness. And that’s the context, the biblical context I used to try to get people sitting again, in that sanctuary on that Sunday following 9/11, who wanted to know, ‘Where is God in this? What is God saying? What is God saying? Because I want revenge.'”

Moyers also played a lengthy clip from one of Wright’s sermons where he referenced America’s past actions against blacks, including slavery and segregation. In the infamous quote, Wright goes on to say, “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. 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.”

Wright said that quote, too, was taken out of context.

“When you start confusing God and government, your allegiances to government — a particular government and not to God — then you’re in serious trouble because governments fail people,” he said, explaining the sermon. “And governments change. And governments lie. And those [were the] three points of the sermon. And that was the context in which I was illustrating how the governments … since biblical times, up to our time, changed, how they failed, and how they lie…. [The] governments that wanna kill innocents are not consistent with the will of God. And that you are made in the image of God, you’re not made in the image of any particular government. We have the freedom here in this country to talk about that publicly, whereas some other places, you’re dead if say the wrong thing about your government.”

The two didn’t discuss any of Wright’s other controversial sermon quotes:

— “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,” Wright said of America’s involvement in Iraq. “Calling on the name of a different God to sanction and approve our murder and our mayhem.”

— Calling America the “U.S. of K.K.K.-A.”

Wright’s church also published in a bulletin a pro-Hamas, anti-Israel op-ed written by a Hamas official. It ran under the headline, “A Fresh View of the Palestinian Struggle.” The United States officially views Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Appearing on Moyers’ program, Wright was asked about his ties to Farrakhan, who, Moyers noted, has made racist and anti-Semitic remarks. Wright defended the relationship. Farrakhan also lives in Chicago.

“He’s Muslim, I’m Christian,” Wright said. “We don’t believe the same things he said years ago. But that has nothing to do with what he has done in terms of helping people change their lives for the better.”

On a different matter, Wright didn’t say whether he was personally offended by Obama’s distancing himself from Wright.

“He’s a politician, I’m a pastor,” Wright said. “We speak to two different audiences. And he says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. Those are two different worlds. I do what I do. He does what politicians do. So that what happened in Philadelphia where he had to respond to the sound bytes [in a much-published speech on race], he responded as a politician.”
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press.

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