Presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama defended his association with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, telling a Philadelphia radio audience Monday that "this is not a crackpot church."
Obama was interviewed by popular Philadelphia WPHT radio host Michael Smerconish last Friday. The taped interview aired on Smerconish's morning show.
Speaking via telephone, Obama said his Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago was a mainstream religious group and reiterated claims that Wright's controversial comments were taken out of context.
"This is a pillar of the community, and if you go there on Easter, this Easter Sunday, and you sat down there in the pew, you would think this is just like any other church."
Wright has stepped down as an active pastor of the church, but Obama said he never heard any controversial comments when he was present at services.
"The ones that are most offensive are ones that I never knew about until they were reported on. . . . I don't want to suggest that somehow, the loops you have been seeing typified services all the time. But that is the danger of the YouTube era. It doesn't excuse what he said. But it does give it some perspective," he said.
Obama said Wright is a respected minister.
"Bill Clinton invited him to the White House when he was having his personal crises," he said.
Obama also commented on the Bush administration's war on terror. Obama claimed the Bush administration had helped strengthen al-Qaida by focusing resources away from terror bases in Pakistan in favor of the Iraq occupation.
He said: "That's part of the reason I've been a critic from the start of the war in Iraq. It's not that I was opposed to war, it's that I felt that we had a war that we had not finished. Al-Qaida is stronger now than at any point since 2001, and we've got to do something about it because those guys have a safe haven there and they are still planning to do Americans harm, and my job as commander in chief is to going to be to protect Americans."