From NBC's Cherelle Kantey and Abby Livingston
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The man who has been at the center of a political controversy for the past six weeks -- Jeremiah Wright -- spoke today in DC and was unrepentant in his remarks.
His speech here at the packed National Press Club, which kicked off a two-day symposium on the African American religious experience, provided mostly context and a history of the black church. He also offered a vigorous defense of himself and said attacks on him were, in fact, attacks on the black church, an institution he said is misunderstood by many whites.
"Maybe now, as that dialogue begins, the religious tradition that has kept hope alive for a people struggling to survive in countless hopeless situations, maybe that religious tradition will be understood, celebrated and even embraced," Wright said. With an audience that included those from his alma mater, Howard University, there was mostly agreement.
The tone turned more combative during the question-and-answer session. Wright didn't miss a chance to throw digs at the press corps seated and standing before him and even above him in the balcony of the press club. Outside the press club, a smattering of protestors both in support and against Wright exchanged taunts.
Wright did not mention "Obama" until almost 30 minutes into his opening remarks, but he did not shy away from bringing Obama into his comments during the Q&A. Wright's appearance brought him back to center stage in this presidential race despite Obama's efforts to explain his former pastor's experience in a widely lauded speech on race in America.
"We both know that if Sen. Obama did not say what he said, he would never get elected," Wright said. "Politicians say what they say and do what they do based on electability, based on sound bites based on polls…. Preachers say what they say because they are pastors. They have to have to have a different person to whom they are accountable. As I said, whether he gets elected or not, I'm still going to have to be answerable to God Nov. 5th and Jan. 21st…. I do what pastors do; he does what politicians do."
Instead of directly responding to whether his controversial remarks have hurt Obama's candidacy, Wright instead said criticisms of him are, "not an attack on Jeremiah Wright; it is an attack on the black church." He added, "It has nothing to do with Sen. Obama; it is an attack on the black church launched by people who know nothing about the African-American religious tradition."
Wright went on to defend against the accusation that he is unpatriotic, mostly because of the looped excerpted sermon given the weekend after Sept. 11, in which he criticized the U.S.'s role in foreign affairs.
"You cannot do terrorism on other people and expect it never to come unto you," Wright said. "I served six years in the military. Does that make me patriotic? How many years did Cheney serve?"
Wright also jokingly said he's open to being vice president. "Whether he [Obama] gets elected or not, I'm still going to have to be answerable to God," Wright said. "I do what pastors do. He does what politicians do. I am not running for office. I am hoping to be vice president."