The former pastor of Barack Obama whose words have rallied many but offended others told an audience of 10,000 that his critics get it wrong when they call him divisive and polarizing.
"I describe the conditions in this country," the Rev. Jeremiah Wright Jr. said during the NAACP's 53rd annual Fight for Freedom Fund Dinner.
"I'm not here for political reasons. I'm not a politician. I know that fact will surprise many of you because many in the corporate-owned media made it seem like I am running for the Oval Office," Wright said. "I am not running for the Oval Office. I've been running for Jesus a long, long time and I'm not tired yet."
Receiving a lengthy and loud standing ovation, Wright followed in the footsteps of Obama, President Clinton and Hillary Rodham Clinton in his speech at the event, a $150-a-plate fundraiser billed as the largest sit-down dinner in America.
Obama, who is vying with Hillary Rodham Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination, distanced himself from Wright after publicity over the minister's sharp criticism of America's racial history and government policies.
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, president of the Detroit branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, stirred the crowd with an animated introduction to Wright. He let the audience know, among other things, that Wright speaks five languages and is an Egyptologist, writer, author, family man and "innovator and sustainer of the word of God."
Anthony said at a press conference before the dinner that he was excited to invite the "hottest brother in America right now — outside of Barack Obama."
Wright, who is retiring as pastor of the 8,000-member Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, followed the dinner's theme, "A Change is Gonna Come."
He drew numerous contrasts between racial and ethnic groups in language, music and other aspects of American culture. He danced, beat-boxed and even sang an aria from the podium to make his points in the massive exhibition hall, which served as an impromptu pulpit.
"In the past, we were taught to see others who are different as somehow being deficient," Wright said. "I believe that a change is going to come because many of us are committed to changing how we see other people who are different."
He also responded to Republican Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson, who had called Wright "divisive" during an April 18 forum.
"I am not one of the most divisive" black spiritual leaders, he said. "Tell him the word is `descriptive.'"
Wright became an issue in the presidential race in March after the circulation of videos of old sermons in which he accused the U.S. government of racism and accused it of flooding black neighborhoods with drugs.
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."
The videos, 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 an interview aired Friday on PBS, Wright said publicizing portions of old sermons was unfair and "made me the target of hatred."
Wright was scheduled to speak Monday at the National Press Club in Washington.