Page last updated at 11:41 GMT, Monday, 28 April 2008 12:41 UK

Obama's pastor defends comments

Rev Jeremiah Wright at the Detroit NAACP annual Fight For Freedom Fund Dinner
Rev Jeremiah Wright's controversial sermons sparked a row

The former pastor of the US presidential hopeful Barack Obama - who described America as racist - has hit back at his critics.

Senator Obama distanced himself from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright's remarks in a major speech last month.

But in a fund-raising address, Mr Wright said he was not one of the most divisive black spiritual leaders, but one of the most descriptive.

He said his critics misunderstood the traditions of the black church.

Speaking to a crowd of several thousand at a fund-raising dinner organised by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Mr Wright acknowledged that he had generated criticism of the Obama campaign in recent weeks.

"I am not a politician. I know that fact will surprise many of you because many of the corporate-owned media have made it seem that I have announced that I am running for the Oval Office," he said.

His speech followed weeks of controversy after old sermons containing politically charged remarks were circulated on television and online in March.

I come from a religious tradition where we shout in the sanctuary and we march on the picket lines
Rev Jeremiah Wright

In a sermon after the attacks of 11 September 2001, Mr Wright suggested that the US had brought the attacks on itself through its own foreign policy.

And in a 2003 sermon, he said black Americans should condemn the US because of continuing racial injustice, saying: "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human."

After the remarks resurfaced, Mr Obama denounced them as "incendiary" and "completely inexcusable" and said he had not been present when they were made.

'Spiritual guidance'

Speaking at the fund-raising dinner, Mr Wright suggested critics had taken his remarks out of context to embarrass him and Mr Obama.

"We just do it differently, and some of our haters can't get their heads around that. I come from a religious tradition where we shout in the sanctuary and we march on the picket lines," Mr Wright said.

"The African-American tradition is different. We do it in a different way."

He added: "I am not one of the most divisive black spiritual leaders... the word is descriptive."

Mr Wright is scheduled to speak at the National Press Club in Washington DC on Monday.

Mr Obama is locked in a close race with New York Senator Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination, and faces forthcoming primaries in Indiana and North Carolina.

Before his retirement from the Trinity United Church of Christ, in Chicago, the pastor helped Mr Obama affirm his Christian faith, officiated at his wedding and baptised his daughters.

Mr Obama said he had looked to Mr Wright for spiritual, not political, guidance.

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