Crucify That Man! Easter 2008
by L. Arthalia Cravin
I must confess that I am totally miffed by the current controversy about Barack Obama’s pastor, Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright. I am still trying to figure what he did, or said, that was wrong or that would upset anybody in America, black or white. My “miffness” is based on my own understanding of two things, the life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and the roots of the Christian Coalition.
The Christian Coalition, the offspring of the late Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority,” came into being in the 1970s as part of the neoconservative movement. That movement was birthed by mostly Republican intellectuals of every sort who had a basic and fundamental disagreement about how the government was addressing certain social issues as well as what they viewed as a country drifting toward a too liberal society—women’s rights, gay rights, minority rights, and especially the government’s intrusion into “traditional” arrangements between the races in the South. As a result of a concerted effort by writers, the media, and conservative talk shows, a well-crafted strategy was put into place to address certain social/racial issues that seemed to be upsetting a mostly white middle class. The solution was a direct appeal to Southern preachers and evangelists, such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Roberson, and James Robinson to come off the sidelines and to infuse religion with politics. One of the chief proponents of the religious inclusiveness movement was one Paul Weyrich, a so-called “secular new right” leader. Weyrich and others took it upon themselves, with missionary zeal, to mix religion and politics. In fact Weyrich said, in an article in a 1982 book entitled, “New Right Papers,” that, “It is my basic philosophy that God’s truth ought to be manifested politically.” And so over the next several years, the “new right” mentality invaded the politics of the south, turning once white Democrats into Republicans, where they have largely remained.
Given this background of what continues to be the foundation for the deep riff between southern Republicans, (and other Republicans spread across the country) and Democrats, I am thoroughly baffled about the moral and/or intellectual basis for the calls to silence Dr. Wright. Don’t these folks know their own history? Even aside from the history of the fusing of politics and religion, don’t these same folks know their own racist history? Are they ignorant or what? Didn’t I here somewhere that Obama’s supporters were dubbed, “The Joshua Generation?” Do they know anything about the Joshua of the Old Testament—as in the old black spiritual, “Joshua fought the battle of Jericho and the walls came tumbling down?” One has to go a bit deeper into the politics of Joshua’s times to know that the “walls” were more than literal walls. We still need Joshuas, and Jeremiahs, to knock down walls. To me Dr. Jeremiah Wright is just one such person. If his technique is one of “shock and awe,” well this type of behavior is not unknown to anybody—remember our “shock and awe” invasion of Iraq—and now we are approaching 4000 soldiers dead and thousands maimed for life behind one man’s delusions. So why are we crucifying Dr. Wright?
To me Dr. Wright is part of a long, vital, and necessary line of black preachers who understand the need to preach the same social gospel that Jesus preached. Dr. Vernon Johns was also one such preacher.
Dr. Vernon Johns was born in 1892 in Virginia. He was a preacher who believed that the life of Christ demanded that the church have real and practical concerns for the social and economic plight of individuals and the wider community. His sermons did not flinch from calling segregation “American apartheid.” Dr. Johns told whites who were brave enough to listen, that as a group they “failed to see that any culture in which men altered their environment, without adorning their inner lives, was a civilization dressed but unwashed.” Dr. Johns also did not mince words with African Americans, accusing them of doing little more than putting on a Sunday fashion show, but willingly cooperating in their own oppressing, rendering them impotent, unimportant and invisible. Dr. Johns died in 1965 but not before he had either resigned or been dismissed from several churches for his outspoken truthfulness. He last pastured at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Atlanta. In dismissing him, the deacon board indicated that he was too “militant and confrontational” when it came to racial and social issues plaguing the south. Dr. Johns was succeeded by the then very young, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
As I see it, preachers like Dr. Wright, who comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, still offer this country the very necessary moral compass for what is just and what is right, however loudly they utter their sermons. Jesus was no different, He also boldly uttered a few “Woes Unto You!” But of course we also know the loud words uttered by a boisterous crowd immediately preceding His final earthly existence, “Crucify Him!! Crucify Him!!”
© Copyright 2008 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.