In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.
— William Blake
IT’S A BLACK CHURCH. YOU WOULDN’T UNDERSTAND.
It seems to me that when visiting the left-leaning sites of the web one is forever bumping into a virulent fear and hate of Christianity. It sometimes is couched in an insecure, buffoon’s atheism, but more often than not takes aim at the biggest boogyman the American Left can think of — Christian Fundamentalism. These rants are not hard to find. They are legion.
We’re told, over and over, that Christian Fundamentalism is the single greatest threat to the American way of life; that it is, among many other evils, a breeding ground for race hate. We are reminded of the virtual descendants of Simon Legree among the Southern Baptist Republicans of the Caucasian Persuasion. We are harangued without end about their ceaseless lust for power. Baptist Democrats, it would seem, possess a “Get Out of Racism Free” card. Not because of their religious belief, but because of their party affiliation. It is a strange religion where sanctity is determined by politics and not by faith, but that seems to be the case.
This afternoon on the lawn my gardener asked me if I have given myself up to God yet. He is a devout believer, a Christian Fundamentalist with a paperback Bible in his back pocket. It’s new this year because he gave me his well-worn one last September.
Like other great gardeners since the dawn of creation he is concerned for my soul. And he has reason to be. I confessed I had not but was still searching, as indeed I am.
Born and baptized an Episcopalian, I am a member of no church. I feel this as a nagging lack in my soul and my weak response is to, well, “look around.” As the old song goes, I’m always “window shopping, but never stopping to buy.”
I’ve been church shopping on and off for over 20 years. During that time I’ve attended more than three dozen churches whose congregations could be considered Fundamentalist. I’ve been in these churches from Seattle to Key West, from California to the Carolinas. I’ve sat with congregations of well-to-do middle-class folks and congregations of poorer folks. A lot of this has involved just dropping in at random when, as they say,the spirit moves me. This is not hard to do in the Carolinas where I once counted more than 22 churches within four miles of where I was located in the countryside. But the density in the cities is comparable. And Paradise, California, is a highly churched town which includes the Episcopalian Church I attended as a boy over sixty years ago. It now sports a large rainbow flag and strenuous signs that say “OPEN AND WELCOMING TO ALL.” What can one say except, “They have some nice ideals.” Christian fundamentalist churches don’t have to advertise that. It is their default position from their founding.
From my direct observation, the Christian Fundamentalist churches I’ve attended have all — every single one — had congregations composed of all the races. From my auditing of hundreds of sermons I have never, not once, heard a message of race hate preached. Neither have I heard race hate promoted in the social meetings after; not one single time, not even in the whitest of congregations. I have never, not for one instant, felt anything coming from these meetings that is anything other than embracing tolerance and Christian love for mankind. I have never, not for one moment, detected a whiff of bigotry or of anti-Semitism in these gatherings. Being a reformed radical from Berkeley in the 1960s I have keen radar for this sort of thing. Like many of my unreformed cohort I can detect it even when it doesn’t exist.
Now I will admit that there may well be some churches that are, somewhere, all-white and that specialize in race-hatred, but they have to be pretty well hidden. Hidden not only from the world at large but from people like me.
I say “people like me” because, as you would know in a moment if you met me, I’m the whitest kind of fellow around. Pure WASP with a long American Massachusetts Bay Colony puritan lineage. If I wanted to stumble onto institutionalized white racism in American churches, it wouldn’t be too hard for me to find it and gain admittance.
This is not to say that white racism does not exist in America. It does. There are, as we know, a lot of white folks around that do not take kindly to people of other races and differing lineage. But that doesn’t mean you find it in the churches. Indeed, it is harder and harder to find anywhere with every passing year. Whatever you may feel about racism in America, it is clear that the trend is not up. I am aware of the millions of my fellow white and African-American citizens seems to have convinced themselves that America is just one large plantation from sea to shining sea, but once out of the Democrat Plantation Farms of our worst run cities, that fades away quickly.
This is not to say that fanatic race hatred does not exist inside certain fundamentalist churches. It does. But those would be churches that would be very, very unwelcoming to a man of my heritage. These would be the churches that first launched our late and unlamented president Barack Obama onto his decades-long voyage through his political sewer.
That, at least, was my remembered impression from when Obama and his “pastor” were a team and then, not quite so much a team when it came to Obama’s political needs. But I may have misrememberd so I went back to check and, there it was, from more than a decade past:
“When it came to treating her citizens of African descent fairly, America failed. She put them in chains, the government put them on slave quarters, put them on auction blocks, put them in cotton field, put them in inferior schools, put them in substandard housing, put them in scientific experiments, put them in the lowest paying jobs, put them outside the equal protection of the law, kept them out of their racist bastions of higher education and locked them into positions of hopelessness and helplessness. The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing “God Bless America”. No, no, no, not God Bless America. God damn America — that’s in the Bible — for killing innocent people. God damn America, for treating our citizens as less than human. God damn America, as long as she tries to act like she is God, and she is supreme.” Jeremiah Wright controversy – Wikipedia
Indeed, scanning the tapes of the Reverend Wright Church that Barack Obama attended during his rise was difficult for me to find one white member of the congregation. I have, it is true, seen a tape where a white female pastor of another church was brought in to gush over the church, but that seemed to me to be a special occasion; something performed for the cameras.
While I can imagine many parishioners of many of the fundamentalist churches I’ve attended over the last few years sitting through a lot of sermons on this or that, I cannot imagine a white person sitting through the kind of sermons I’ve heard coming out of Reverend Wright’s mouth — unless they were overwhelmed with guilt and had a twisted sort of Christ-complex.
It seems to me the only way a person could sit through those sermons, week in, week out, year after year would be if that person also deeply believed in what was being preached.
Indeed, it would seem that if a person of faith wanted to mix some naked racism into their weekly diet of scripture and Christ’s teachings in America, he or she would not seek out some Billy Grahamesque church lodged far back in Redneck County,USA, but would instead want to sit in a pew in an inner-city church formed almost exclusively of African-Americans. That seems to me, according to the evidence of my senses and then endless proclamations of progressives, to be where racist sentiments are currently being preached with fire and conviction. And where they receive a hearty AMEN.
Reverend Wright has since retired to his cushy 10,000 square foot home in a very white suburb to enjoy the fruits of his hate mongering. His church goes on. And on. And on.
I am sensible, as I write the above, that such beliefs and behaviors are not true of the majority of African-American Fundamentalist Churches. At the same time, I am not at all convinced that Reverend Wright’s church is a single anomaly, a one-off. There are, I am certain, others. But since, given the demographic nature of such racist churches, their doors are closed to me, I cannot get a real sense of how big a fraction of the churches they represent. I can only hope they are not many.
There’s been a lot of analysis about why these churches seem to thrive along with many blacks’ conviction of the deep and unexpungable racism of the United States, but in a way the explanations are all shallow; are all excuses for behavior and habits of mind that should have been expunged from sermons decades past. Yet they abide and their slow poison works its way into the souls of the faithful and leeches out into the body politic.
It seems to me more than a little ironic that as a new great awakening devoted to making God and His America great again has swept across the land, a profound sleep has fallen over this realm of black fundamentalism. It is as if for some black churches it will always be 1859.
Listening to Reverend Wright preach and to the call and response from his congregation it seemed to me like looking in on some long vanished rituals devoid of real thought and faith; living only via the expected call and the given response, almost robotic, and having little — very little — to do with the Christian message of salvation, brotherhood, and forgiveness; but instead of damnation, division, and hate.
Playing those vicious sermons from this remove was like watching people letting themselves be hypnotized for the greater glory, not of Christ, but of men like Wright and Obama. It was like watching a generation willing to continue their enslavement to a self-imposed definition of inferiority rather than rise up in the liberation of truth faith and equality. I saw not a hunger for the glory of God, but a thirsting after the glory of a race to the detriment of all others. How weak, I thought, and how shameful. A Christ triumphant would drive these race hustlers from His temple.
I thought, watching these sermons, these crazed rants spouted in the name of God, “Don’t they know…. Can’t they see… They’re not worshipping God or Christ, they are worshipping men…. racist men…. the very thing their forefathers suffered under and fought to get free of… and now they’re back in the same place.”
“In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.”
I’ve been told, over and over, for decades that America is a racist nation. This week I came to believe it. I just never expected to find it in the place where I did.