Barack Obama, the US Democratic presidential candidate, has condemned comments made by his former pastor as "wrong" and "divisive" in a bid to stem a growing racial controversy.
However, during a speech in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Obama said he could "no more disown" Reverend Jeremiah Wright "than I can disown the black community".
Wright, who retired recently from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which Obama attended for 20 years, resigned as an adviser to his campaign last week after excerpts of his sermons were revealed in which he said the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US were because of US foreign policy.
In his speech in Pennsylvania - due to hold a crucial Democratic presidential primary in April - the senator said Wright "has been like family to me".
"Did I strongly disagree with many of his political views? Absolutely - just as I'm sure many of you have heard remarks from your pastors, priests, or rabbis with which you strongly disagreed," he said.
"[Wright's comments] expressed a profoundly distorted view of this country - a view that sees white racism as endemic, and that elevates what is wrong with America above all that we know is right with America."
But Obama said the snippets of Wright's sermons do not tell the whole story about the preacher.
"As imperfect as he may be, he has been like family to me. He strengthened my faith, officiated my wedding, and baptised my children," Obama said.
Wright, whose speeches have surfaced on several media outlets, including YouTube, in the past week, has also condemned what he described as Israeli "terrorism" and says African-Americans should say "God damn America" instead of "God bless America".
He has also implied that the US government was the source of the Aids epidemic.
Obama said he understood Wright's anger over racial inequality but said that, if elected as the US's first black president, he would want the nation to work together to "move beyond some of our old racial wounds".
"It's a racial stalemate we've been stuck in for years," Obama said.
"But I have asserted a firm conviction - a conviction rooted in my faith in God and my faith in the American people - that working together we can move beyond some of our old racial wounds."
The presidential candidate has rarely mentioned race during his campaign but his team is worried the uproar over the pastor's comments could cost him support with white voters in states such as Pennsylvania.
Last week Geraldine Ferraro, a senior adviser in Obama rival Hillary Clinton's campaign, resigned after implying that Obama was ahead in the Democratic campaign simply because he was black.
Obama said the race discussion took a divisive turn when it was implied "my candidacy is somehow an exercise in affirmative action; that it's based solely on the desire of wide-eyed liberals to purchase racial reconciliation on the cheap".
Clinton had little to say about Obama's speech, telling reporters in Philadelphia she did not see or read it, but was glad Obama gave it.
"These are difficult issues and we have seen that in this campaign. Race and gender are difficult issues. And therefore we need to have more discussion about them," she said.