Pastors Weigh In on Rev. Wright Controversy

This is a rush transcript from "The O'Reilly Factor," March 17, 2008. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

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BILL O'REILLY, HOST: The Barack Obama-Pastor Wright controversy rages on. As we mentioned, a new Rasmussen tracking poll has Senator Obama's favorability rating falling five points in just three days. Now 47 percent of Americans like him; 50 percent do not. So there's no doubt the situation is hurting the senator.

Sunday, "The Factor" sent producer Dan Bank to the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Reverend Wright is a man of truth. He's one of the most courageous freedom fighters this country has ever known.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think people need to give him that credit where credit is due and stop trying to demonize him because he's not a demon just because he's pro-black.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Well, I think it's shameful that if you had gone on a few minutes longer in his sermon, you would have seen what the real Reverend Wright is about.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I back him up.

DAN BANK, "FACTOR" PRODUCER: Do you agree with some of the statements that he's made?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I back him up 100 percent.

DAN BANK, "FACTOR" PRODUCER: Even when he compares the U.S. government to Al Qaeda?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever he has to say, I back him up. I like him.


O'REILLY Joining us now from Washington, Reverend Timothy MacDonald, chair of the group African-American Ministers in Action. And here in the studio, Dr. Obery Hendricks, author of the book "The Politics of Jesus."

All right, doctor, you heard what Newt Gingrich had to say. How do you reply to that?

DR. OBERY HENDRICKS, NEW YORK THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY: Well, I think he was a little off base. I think there's a real basic misunderstanding here. You know, when Reverend Wright talks about God damn America, I mean, it's provocative language. But he's not talking about God destroy America. It's really a call to conscience. I mean, it's a way to remind Americans that, you know, that we too fall short of the glory of God, that, you know, that we can't become too self-laudatory and self-righteous.

O'REILLY But it's pretty specific criticism that we're as bad as Al Qaeda, that the government injected the AIDS virus to kill blacks. You don't believe that do you?

HENDRICKS: Believe what?

O'REILLY That the government injected the AIDS virus into the society to kill blacks? Do you believe that?

HENDRICKS: I don't know if I believe that. I do know that the government injected syphilis into black men...

O'REILLY OK, well, let's...

HENDRICKS: the Tuskegee Institute. Now we know that the government is capable of doing those things.

O'REILLY All right. All governments have done bad things in every country. But when you get into some kind of provocative specific stuff like we're not better than Al Qaeda, I mean, it's hard for the regular folks who don't know Senator Obama or Minister Pastor Wright to couch those things. In fact, the poll says today only 8 percent of Americans, that includes a lot of African-Americans, approve of Wright. Eight percent.

HENDRICKS: Yes, yes.

O'REILLY So he has, I think, destroyed himself, Pastor Wright, and in the process may be hurting Barack Obama. Would I be wrong?

HENDRICKS: Well, I think that he has destroyed himself. I think what destroyed him is this caricature of him. I mean, what we see is a man who's speaking — I mean, he uses provocative language — but he's raising these issues. He's...

O'REILLY But they're not true.

HENDRICKS: He's afflicting — well, it is true, first. That this country is afflicted with racism. We do know that. I mean, it's from the beginning.

O'REILLY On both sides, though, is it not?

HENDRICKS: Well, you know, black folks have never enslaved anyone. They've never enforced Jim Crow. So no, it's not the same thing.


HENDRICKS: But you know, even the Bible talks about God destroying Israel and damning Israel for its transgressions. That doesn't mean He wants to destroy it. I mean, no one — the man doesn't want to destroy the country that he lives in, his children live in, his congregation lives in.

O'REILLY But he doesn't think very much of the country.

HENDRICKS: He does not think much of the injustices. Now that's not all — but that's not all he talks about.

O'REILLY But — no...

HENDRICKS: Why don't we show the other side?

O'REILLY Because you can't. You don't have time to show 15 sermons. You have to go with what the record states.

HENDRICKS: But that's also on the record.

O'REILLY Reverend...

HENDRICKS: No, but the good things also on the record.


HENDRICKS: Why aren't those things put forth?

O'REILLY Look, that argument has been made throughout history to justify villains of all stripes that they do good things, too. You can't do that.

Now Reverend MacDonald, why don't you react to what Newt Gingrich said. Did he make any mistakes?

REV. TIMOTHY MACDONALD, BOARD MEMBER, PEOPLE FOR THE AMERICAN WAY: Well, he absolutely made mistakes. Mistakes in judgment, mistakes in understanding the nature of black church and black worship and black preaching. Black preaching is always from the bottom up, is from the grassroots. Let's just face it. There's a different interpretation of the Exodus story of Pharaoh that most white congregations will interpret and differently for blacks to interpret.

O'REILLY But when you say the country's no better than Al Qaeda, there's not a lot of room for interpretation there, sir. There really isn't.

MACDONALD: It's all out of context.

O'REILLY It's not out of context. That's what he said.

MACDONALD: Going all the way back to 9/11.


MACDONALD: It was seven years ago.


MACDONALD: There have been thousands of sermons that Reverend Wright has preached.

O'REILLY All right, let me ask you this.

MACDONALD: There have been millions of minutes.

O'REILLY Do you believe that the United States government took the AIDS virus and consciously put it into the minority community to kill people of color. Do you believe that?

MACDONALD: I don't believe that, but there are some African-Americans who absolutely believe that.

O'REILLY There are some white Americans that want to kill blacks and Jews. That doesn't mean you say that stuff.

MACDONALD: Well, not only did they say they want to do it, they have done it, too. I mean, our history has taught us that they not only have talked about it...

O'REILLY So you think it's OK...

MACDONALD: ...have done it.

O'REILLY Do you think it's OK for an African-American minister to tell his congregation the American government has injected AIDS to kill blacks? You think that's OK? You think that's fine?

MACDONALD: I think you're taking — no, I don't think it's fine.

O'REILLY I'm not taking it out of context.

MACDONALD: We'll see about that.

O'REILLY That's what the man said, period.

MACDONALD: You're taking it way out of context.

O'REILLY No, I'm not. No, I'm not.

MACDONALD: You've got to listen to all that comes before it, all that came after it. This is a political game that we're playing. We're nitpicking. It's what we call in the church "proof texting."

O'REILLY I'm not nitpicking. This is a declarative sentence.

MACDONALD: Proof texting.

O'REILLY These are paragraphs, sir.

MACDONALD: You take the Bible and you use it to justify slavery. You take the Bible and use it to oppress people and to cause people to fear. And it's all out of context.

O'REILLY All right. Let me ask you one more question, because...

MACDONALD: This is a political ploy.

O'REILLY ...we're running out of time.

MACDONALD: It's a political ploy.

O'REILLY Do you believe that Reverend Wright has hurt Barack Obama?

MACDONALD: I believe that yes, for the moment. But I think as people look at what Barack Obama has said, what Barack Obama believes, I don't — my own congregation doesn't believe everything that I say. Sometimes when I preach, when I finish, I'm surprised of some of the things that I've said. That is a part of the black experience. It is about family and community.

O'REILLY Well, I can identify with you. Sometimes I'm surprised at some of the things that I say.

MACDONALD: Far more good.

O'REILLY All right.

MACDONALD: Yes, I watch your show, too. And sometimes when you're finished, I'm sure you're shocked at some of the things you said.

O'REILLY Come on. I don't know about shocked. But sometimes they don't come out the way I wanted it to. But I like...

MACDONALD: Absolutely.

O'REILLY ...both of you gentlemen. I think you're sincere men, but I think you're absolutely wrong about the context. I think Reverend Wright, if you study his history, he is an anti-American guy. And I think that's going to hurt him.

HENDRICKS: He is not anti-American.

O'REILLY I believe he is.

HENDRICKS: I know...

MACDONALD: He's not anti-American.


MACDONALD: Never has been, never will be.

O'REILLY All right, guys. Well, that's why we have you on our show. We want both.

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