Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has strongly denounced his controversial former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, saying he is outraged and saddened by Wright's latest comments. Senator Obama had come under increasing pressure to put more distance between himself and Wright after several high-profile appearances by the minister over the past several days. VOA Correspondent Cindy Saine reports from Washington.
Senator Obama reacted to Reverend Wright's latest comments at a news conference Tuesday, seeking to put an end to the controversy over his fiery pastor, which has threatened to seriously undermine his presidential campaign.
"I am outraged by the comments that were made, and saddened over the spectacle that we saw yesterday," he said. "You know, I have been a member of Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992. I have known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person I saw yesterday was not the person I met 20 years ago."
Senator Obama said, as the son of a white mother from Kansas and a Kenyan father, his whole life has been about bridging racial and regional gaps, and encouraging people to work together. He said Wright's message sought to exploit racial differences, and that it goes against everything his campaign stands for.
Videoclips from some of Wright's sermons emerged in March, with potentially explosive material for Obama's opponents to use against him.
Wright asserted that the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks may have been in retaliation for U.S. foreign policy. In one of his sermons he said God should "damn" America for its treatment of African Americans. Wright also suggested the U.S. government created the HIV/AIDS virus to kill black people.
At Tuesday's news conference, Obama explicitly rejected Wright's statements as "ridiculous." He said he was particularly angry that Wright suggested he was only distancing himself from the comments for political purposes.
"And if Reverend Wright thinks that is 'political posturing', as he put it, then he does not know me very well," he added. "And based on his remarks yesterday, I may not know him as well as I thought either."
During a speech last month in Philadelphia, Senator Obama had condemned Wright's comments, but had said he could not disown the man who has been his pastor for 20 years, officiated his marriage ceremony and baptized his two young daughters. Tuesday, Obama said he no longer felt he knew the man.
Reverend Wright's return to the spotlight has distracted Senator Obama from focusing on gas prices and other economic issues as he campaigns hard in North Carolina and Indiana ahead of critical primaries against opponent Senator Hillary Clinton next Tuesday. Senator Clinton spent her time Tuesday in Indiana, doing just that, talking about high gas prices. She also won a key endorsement from North Carolina Governor Mike Easley.