Obama Defends Wright's Reputation, Not Words

Sen. Barack Obama believes the Democratic race is about more than race.

But it's that subject that has been driving the recent political conversation surrounding one of the mostly hotly contested nomination fights in many years.

"If all I saw of Rev. Wright … were the 30-second or one-minute clips that have been looped over the last two weeks again and again as opposed to the body of work for 30 years that he engaged in in building a church that is a pillar of the community on the South Side [of Chicago]," Obama told ABC News anchor Charlie Gibson, referring to the controversy that erupted over incendiary remarks by his pastor of 20 years.

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"It's as if we took the five dumbest things that I ever said or you ever said … in our lives and compressed them, and put them out there, you know, I think that people's reaction would be understandably upset."

Watch Charlie Gibson's interview with Sen. Barack Obama on World News at 6:30 p.m. ET

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the retired pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ, has a long history of what even Obama's campaign aides concede is "inflammatory rhetoric," including the assertion that the United States brought on the 9/11 attacks with its own "terrorism."

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An ABC News review of dozens of Wright's sermons, offered for sale by the church, found repeated denunciations of the United States based on what he described as his reading of the Gospels and the treatment of black Americans.

"The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," he said in a 2003 sermon. "God damn America for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America for as long as she acts like she is God and she is supreme."

In addition to damning America, Wright told his congregation on the Sunday after Sept. 11, 2001, that the United States had brought on al Qaeda's attacks because of its own terrorism.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., has distanced himself from the reverend's words but not from the pastor, a position the candidate continued in his interview with ABC News Thursday.

Asked to elaborate on a part of his speech in which Obama admitted he had heard Wright make controversial statements in the church, Obama said he wasn't thinking of any particular statement.

"There have been times in his sermons where his indictment of racism or institutional barriers to African-American freedom in this country struck me as stuck in the '60s; not having acknowledged, you know, that today's America is very different from the America that he grew up in," Obama said.

"This is somebody who I knew for 20 years. He was my pastor," Obama said. "He wasn't my political adviser. He wasn't somebody who was, you know, shaping my thoughts about most issues."

The Politics of Race

The Democratic candidate, who last week challenged the country to have a national conversation about race, reflected on the impact the issue of race has had on his campaign.

"I suspected that this issue would come up in some fashion," Obama said. "As somebody who had a white mother and a black father growing up in this country, it's something that I have had to navigate over many years."

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