Local Politics

Obama Condemns 'Incendiary' Comments on Race

Posted March 18, 2008 6:29 p.m. EDT
Updated March 18, 2008 6:56 p.m. EDT

— The day before a visit to North Carolina to talk about ending the war in Iraq, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama spent Tuesday discussing racial politics and condemning comments made by his former pastor.

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who recently retired from the Chicago church Obama attends, has used past sermons to blast President George W. Bush's policies, including the Iraq War, and to criticize racism in the U.S.

Obama on Tuesday labeled some of the comments as "incendiary" and said they were wrong. But he defended his long-time friend and his long-time ministry.

"Rev. Wright's comments were not only wrong, but divisive at a time when we need unity, racially charged at a time when we need to come together to solve a set of monumental problems," Obama said. "I can no more disown him than I can the black community. I can no more disown him than I can my white grandmother."

Some political observers said the Wright connection could hurt Obama's presidential bid, while others said the way Obama handled the issue Tuesday could boost his campaign.

A year ago, Wright brought his fiery views on race, religion and politics to Raleigh, speaking at a ministry conference organized by Shaw University. He again criticized the Bush administration and took shots at clergy, including the Rev. Billy Graham, who he said don't challenge authority.

"His method is inflammatory, obviously," said J.T. Roberson, dean of Shaw's Divinity School, who has known Wright for nearly 20 years. "I agree wholeheartedly with his cause and the way he lifts up the issues. Jeremiah and I have differed in our methods and our approaches to issues."

Beyond his style, Wright's core concern over years of social and racial injustice is deep-seated in African-American churches, Roberson said. Presidential politics stirred it, but it won't settle it, he said.

"Can this country heal without dealing with this issue?" he asked. "We've got to get past that to find out, what is the pain? What are the covered wounds that need to be healed?"

North Carolina Republican Party Chairwoman Linda Daves called Wright's statements "hate mongering" and said Obama's longtime ties to Wright could derail the Illinois senator's  campaign.

Daves said people should question Obama's stance on issues Wright has addressed. "Do you hate Americans? Do you feel angry and bitter like what we're hearing from your pastor?" she said.