The Rev Jeremiah Wright has reignited the controversy over his association with Barack Obama and repeated remarks that are causing white working-class voters to reconsider supporting a black candidate for the Democratic nomination.
In what amounted to an attack by friendly fire, Mr Wright made a lively and defiant appearance before the US media and restated opinions which cost Mr Obama crucial white support in the recent Pennsylvania primary, won by Hillary Clinton.
Mr Wright was asked about his view that the US had brought the terror attacks of 11 September 2001 – which he described as "America's chickens coming home to roost"– on itself after the US dropped atomic bombs on Japan and "supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans". Mr Wright replied that the criticism was from people who have never listened to the full context of his sermons and have only heard the snippets of his sermon being replayed repeatedly on television and the internet.
But then he added: "You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come back on you. Those are Biblical principles, not Jeremiah Wright bombastic divisive principles."
A major flare-up of the Wright controversy is the last thing the Obama camp wants at this crucial stage. The pastor's third appearance in four days is keeping alive an unwelcome distraction, dominating the news agenda even as the Illinois senator tries to connect with white voters ahead of next week's primary contests in Indiana and North Carolina.
A new Ipsos-Associate Press poll released yesterday showed Obama running only neck and neck with Republican nominee John McCain in a presidential match-up , while Mrs Clinton enjoyed a nine point lead.
The pastor is credited with bringing Mr Obama to Christianity and inspiring the title of his book, The Audacity of Hope. He officiated at his wedding and baptised his daughters. Yesterday Mr Wright also revealed that he had prayed privately with the Obama family just before the senator announced he was running for president.
Mr Wright said he was speaking out now because the criticisms of his remarks were a direct attack on the black church. He also rejected those who have labelled him unpatriotic. "I served six years in the military," he said. "Does that make me patriotic? How many years did [Vice-President Dick] Cheney serve?"
He also used his appearance at the National Press Club in Washington to argue that the black church in America is misunderstood by those not familiar with its ways. He explained that Mr Obama's home church – Trinity United Church of Christ on the south side of Chicago – has a long history of outreach to Aids victims, prisoners and the homeless. He also spoke of his own family members who are doing tours of duty in the military. "My goddaughter's unit just arrived in Iraq this week while those who call me unpatriotic have used their positions of privilege to avoid military service while sending over 4,000 American boys and girls to die over a lie," he said.
He also said he hoped the controversy would trigger an honest discussion about race in America and complained that black church traditions are still "invisible" to many Americans, as they have been throughout the country's history.
Video clips of Mr Wright's sermons have taken some of the wind out of Mr Obama's campaign and caused voters to ask how he could stay in the same church where such remarks were being made by a pastor he has known for some 20 years.Reuse content