Obama ex-pastor says was unfairly painted a fanatic

CHICAGO Fri Apr 25, 2008 11:02am EDT

Parishioners walk past T-shirts for sale as they leave the Trinity United Church of Christ after Easter Sunday service in Chicago March 23, 2008. The church was formerly headed by pastor Jeremiah Wright. REUTERS/Frank Polich

Parishioners walk past T-shirts for sale as they leave the Trinity United Church of Christ after Easter Sunday service in Chicago March 23, 2008. The church was formerly headed by pastor Jeremiah Wright.

Credit: Reuters/Frank Polich

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CHICAGO (Reuters) - Barack Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, said in excerpts from an interview released on Thursday that people airing snippets of his fiery sermons were trying to paint him as "some sort of fanatic."

Wright, who has kept a low profile since repeated televised airings last month of segments of his sermons, is semi-retired from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, a church the Democratic presidential candidate joined 20 years ago.

In grainy video of sermons he delivered years ago, Wright is seen calling the September 11 attacks retribution for U.S. policies and condemning America's failings on race.

At one point he shouts to his congregation, "God Bless America? No, God damn America."

"The persons who have heard the entire sermon understand the communication perfectly," he told PBS' Bill Moyers in the interview to be broadcast on Friday.

Those who are airing the snippets "are communicating exactly what they want to do, which is to paint me as some sort of fanatic."

The clips have been available on the Internet for months, but sparked controversy when cable television news shows began airing them last month.

Initially, Obama, who would be the first black president, dismissed Wright's rhetoric as that of an elderly uncle who sometimes says things one doesn't agree with.

But when the televised snippets drew criticism and questions about whether Obama approved of them, he distanced himself from Wright and denounced some of his views.

UNAPOLOGETIC

In a speech in Philadelphia, Obama described America's struggles with race and the anger felt by many blacks that had been expressed by Wright.

Wright, 66, was unapologetic in the interview, saying that he was unsettled by being portrayed as a symbol of black anger and that he felt he had been used for political purposes. He did not say by whom.

"I think they wanted to communicate that I am unpatriotic, that I am un-American, that I am filled with hate speech, that I have a cult at Trinity United Church of Christ. And, by the way, guess who goes to his church, hint, hint, hint?" he said, referring to Obama.

"I felt it was unfair. I felt it was unjust. I felt it was untrue. I felt for those who were doing that, were doing it for some very devious reasons," Wright said.

On Thursday, the campaign of presumptive Republican presidential nominee John McCain said it had been assured that North Carolina Republicans would withdraw an advertisement critical of Obama's links to Wright. McCain said he wanted to run a respectful campaign.

But the North Carolina Republican Party served notice later it still planned to air the ad.

Asked about Obama's criticisms of him, Wright said it was understandable given that Obama was a politician with a different audience.

"He says what he has to say as a politician. I say what I have to say as a pastor. But they're two different worlds," he said, adding he and Obama did not discuss politics.

(Reporting by Andrew Stern; Editing by Xavier Briand)

(To read more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/ )

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