- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Sen. Barack Obama yesterday broke with the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., saying he was “outraged” and “insulted” by his former pastor’s racial and anti-government rants — rhetoric he said he did not hear the pastor use in church.

“I want to be very clear that moving forward, Reverend Wright does not speak for me. He does not speak for our campaign,” Mr. Obama said. “I cannot prevent him from continuing to make these outrageous remarks. But what I do want him to be very clear about — as well as all of you and the American people — is that when I say I find these comments appalling, I mean it.”

“It contradicts everything that I’m about and who I am.”

The pastor’s re-emergence on the national stage rekindled the issue of race just as Mr. Obama’s presidential campaign was trying to court skeptical white working-class voters for primaries Tuesday in Indiana and North Carolina.

Mr. Obama, of Illinois, moving to blunt the damage, rebuked his former pastor the day after Mr. Wright told reporters at the National Press Club that criticisms of his sermons were “an attack on the black church” and suggested anew that the U.S. government may have engineered AIDS to infect black communities.

Mr. Obama called Mr. Wright’s remarks “a bunch of rants.”

“When he states and then amplifies such ridiculous propositions as the U.S. government somehow being involved in AIDS, when he suggests that [Nation of Islam leader Louis] Farrakhan somehow represents one of the greatest voices of the 20th and 21st century, when he equates the United States’ wartime efforts with terrorism, then there are no excuses,” Mr. Obama said at a press conference in Winston-Salem, N.C.

“They offend me. They rightly offend all Americans. And they should be denounced,” he said. “And that’s what I’m doing very clearly and unequivocally here today.”

Mr. Obama stopped short of quitting the church, Trinity United Church of Christ, which publicly declares that its ministry is founded on a 1960s black-power theology book that espouses “the destruction of the white enemy.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Wright, who retired in February after 36 years as church pastor, said he was not available to respond to Mr. Obama’s comments.

Mr. Obama also rejected Mr. Wright’s assertion that criticism of the sermons, which included denouncing the United States as the “U.S. of K.K.K.A.,” were an attack on the black church.

“What became clear to me was it was … more than just him defending himself,” Mr. Obama said. “What became clear to me was that he was presenting a world view that contradicts who I am and what I stand for. … This has become such a spectacle, and you know, when I go to church, it’s not for spectacle, it’s to pray.”

He said the earlier criticism of the sermons presented a caricature of Mr. Wright but in the pastor’s speech Monday “I think he caricatured himself.”

At the press club Monday, Mr. Wright defended his remark that the U.S. bore responsibility for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, citing Jesus’ words: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

He also refused to apologize for his “God damn America” sermon, saying the U.S. government owed blacks an apology for slavery.

Mr. Wright also undermined Mr. Obama’s past attempts to distance himself from the inflammatory sermons, saying Monday the candidate disavowed the sermons for political reasons.

“He had to distance himself, because he’s a politician, from what the media was saying I had said, which was anti-American,” Mr. Wright said. “I offered words of hope. I offered reconciliation. I offered restoration in that sermon. But nobody heard the sermon. They just heard this little sound bite of a sermon.”

Mr. Wright said he was speaking out now not to defend himself or Mr. Obama but to counter what he called “an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition.”

As Mr. Wright threatens to impair Mr. Obama’s campaign, pundits and political blogs have pondered who is responsible for the reverend’s recent media blitz.

Both the National Press Club and the Detroit chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People yesterday said they issued their own invitations, and did not act on behalf of any campaign.

A columnist yesterday suggested the Rev. Barbara Reynolds, who organized Mr. Wright’s press club appearance, was a supporter of Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton. But Mrs. Reynolds, a friend of Mr. Wright’s, said that’s not true.

“The fact is I don’t support the Clintons, and right now I am not even crazy about Barack. I just want one of them to win so we can go out and beat McCain. I am not a surrogate,” said Mrs. Reynolds, a member of the club’s speakers committee.

Andrea Billups and Brian DeBose contributed to this report.

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