WASHINGTON (AP) _ In a defiant appearance before the Washington media, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright said Monday that criticism surrounding his fiery sermons is an attack on the black church and rejected those who have labeled him unpatriotic.
“I served six years in the military,'' Barack Obama's longtime pastor said. “Does that make me patriotic? How many years did (Vice President Dick) Cheney serve?''
Wright spoke at the National Press Club before the Washington media and a supportive audience of black church leaders beginning a two-day symposium.
He said the black church tradition is not bombastic or controversial, but different and misunderstood by the “dominant culture'' in the United States.
He said his Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago has a long history of liberating the oppressed by feeding the hungry, supporting recovery for the addicted and helping senior citizens in need. He said congregants have fought in the military, including in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“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.
Wright said he hopes the controversy will have a positive outcome and spark an honest dialogue about race in America. Wright says black church traditions are still “invisible'' to many Americans, as they have been throughout the country's history.
He said he hopes “the most recent attack on the black church _ it is not an attack on Jeremiah Wright _ it's an attack on the black church,'' he said to applause, “just might mean that the reality of the African-American church will no longer be invisible.''
Videos clips of Wright's sermons, circulated widely on television and the Internet, knocked Obama's presidential campaign off-stride. The Illinois Democrat distanced himself from the comments of Wright, whom he has known for 20 years.
In a sermon days after the Sept. 11 attacks, Wright said “America's chickens are coming home to roost'' after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Japan and “supported state terrorism against the Palestinians and black South Africans.''
Asked about some of the comments after the terrorist attacks, Wright challenged the reporter questioning him.
“Have you heard the whole sermon? No? The whole sermon?'' he responded. When the reporter shook her head, he said, “That nullifies that question.''
He said criticism comes from people who only have heard sound bites playing repeatedly on television and have never listened to his entire sermons.
Wright said he's told Obama that if he is elected in November and is inaugurated in January, “I'm coming after you.'' He said that's because his differences are not with the American people, but U.S. policies.
“Whether he gets elected or not, I'm still going to have to be answerable to God on November 5 and January 21,'' Wright said.
Pictured above is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.