Wednesday, November 07, 2007


A guest post by Jogo

It came recently to light that a star of the Barak Obama campaign was the charismatic preacher and gospel singer Reverend Donnie McClurkin.

This was not a matter of concern to very many people until the homosexual magazine The Advocate, and other gay activists, brought to light something else -- that Donnie McClurkin is a 5-star homophobe. His homo-theme is quite interesting, and different from that of most, because McClurkin bases a good deal of his authority on homosex-matters upon his own "prior homosexuality" (my ironic quote-marks) that, he says, Jesus "delivered him from." So, when he thunders, he thunders with the embodied knowledge of his own Fallen Condition, his own Struggle, and his own Redemption. This very personal experience of deliverance -- we are talking about deliverance not only from urges but from sin -- means that, for him, deliverance is possible for anyone who truly gives himself over to Jesus. Implication #1: if you want to be delivered from homosexuality, give yourself to Jesus. Implication #2 is the implied deliberate persistence-in-sin of homosexual people who do not take this simple and unfailing opportunity of deliverance.

At the same time, McClurkin thunders, as well, that he does not "hate" anyone, and is not "bigoted against" anyone -- and this claim is strengthened by his own life-journey. How can he "hate" that which is also himself? And you can see, once you accept a premise or two, that this makes sense. Donnie McClurkin also denies (quite rightly, in my opinion) that he is a homo-PHOBE because that word means "fear of homosexuals" and he is not afraid of them ... or of "it." (I believe, by the way, that the word "homophobe" ought to be retired because it is not the correct word for what we MEAN.)

Well, none of this sat quite right with The Advocate, which published a number of articles about Obama-Donnie, including this one. You can find the rest of them if you type into the Advocate website search box.

At the first blush of kerfuffle, Andrew Sullivan dismissed the Advocate's and others' discomfort with Rev. Donnie McClurkin. Andrew was "surprised" at this discomfort, and thought thought it was "blown up," i.e., overblown. Excessive.

Then Andrew watched Rev Donnie in action. Whoa! Check it out. Now he doesn't think that the discomfort is overblown. And neither will you if you catch the performance. When it comes to homosexuality, Donnie McClurkin's message comes right out of the Christianist playbook. Which is really not surprising because the man is a typical black fundamentalist Christian. If you understand the Bible as the Revealed Word, and you believe the social justice portion of it, well, you believe the homosex-as-sin portion of it, as well. Were people born yesterday, or what?

The National Black Justice Coalition, a black/gay activist organization, was not so dismissive of the McClurkin/Obama campaign relationship. Someone who was obviously not born yesterday composed, on behalf of NBJC, this very strong and unambivalent position against that relationship.

But Donnie McClurkin is not the first problematical black fundamentalist Christian who is close to Obama. He's the second. The first one, the main one, is Rev. Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Obama's church and, more interestingly, Obama's mentor.

When FoxNews learned of Reverend Jeremiah's relationship to Barak Obama they, completely predictably, brought him onto the Hannity & Combs show and tried to skewer him. Well, of course, FoxNews is widely known to be a gang of rightwing consent-manufacturers, therefore many people "distrust its motives" rather than pay a minute's worth of attention to what is presented and do a bit of research of their own. It would not surprise me if most Liberals saw this Reverend Wright business as something of a Red Herring.

But Jeremiah Wright is not exactly a red herring. If you actually listen to him -- and not just to what people say about him -- he believes not only in black struggle, not only that a black church and a black pastor should help energize that struggle, not only that American black struggle resonates with other gobal struggles, but in a "black theology." Those are his own words. He associates his beliefs with "Liberation Theology," and for some that linking confers depth, respectability, scholarly underpinnings and unquestionable legitimacy.

But Wright really does believe in "black theology." When I first became interested in Jeremiah Wright I visited the website of his church, the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago, which is also Barak Obama's church. There, on the page, I found its Afro-Centrist platform plainly stated.

And then I cruised youtube and found a number of videos of Reverend Wright's fiery, revolutionary sermons preached from his pulpit. And I found out for myself -- not from FoxNews -- what the man is about. But just now, when I visited youtube again, I found that those sermon-videos had been removed. There remains only one clip of Jeremiah Wright, and is it of a radio sermon. The clip is a curious thing because it was recorded in a moving taxicab, so all you actually see is the dashboard and windshield of the taxi. What you hear is the voice of Reverend Wright coming over the radio. Because of the recording conditions it is a bit hard to understand, but if you want to give a listen here it is.

Supporters of Reverend Wright might like to cast the controversy about him in terms of the value of the Liberationist message he preaches. But to me, the controversy should not be about whether Liberation Theology and Black Theology are valid or good. Nor about whether pastors ought to preach those doctrines. Of course they should preach them if they believe them.

The controversy is properly about whether it is appropriate for a US Presidential candidate to belong to a church whose pastor preaches those things ... and in Obama's case, whether a candidate for President of the United States should take a man like Jeremiah White not only for his pastor, but also for his mentor.

So .... if anybody on the Progressive side is worried about Christianism they could step forward now. This Biblical stuff, and Christ and whatever, does not belong in political campaigns, not as a way to justify social conservatism, nor as a way to justify Liberal social and foreign policy agendas. The use of Christ and the Bible and theatrical preachers should also be opposed as a tactic to attract voters to Obama, or to anybody, or away from anybody. It should also be opposed as "faith symmetry" -- the emergence of a "Religious Left" to counter the Religious Right -- in the Signifier Game that is played in the theater of polarized politics.

Bob does not, and others on the Left may not, agree with me that religious ideas and textual references have no place in political campaigns. But I think they are pernicious in politics, not because they aren't of social value, or because I don't believe in any of them (in fact, I do believe in some of them), but because they are complex and powerful signifiers -- carriers of tremendous weight and authority -- that can be cast in any light one chooses to shine on them, thereby to make or refute any number of points, or to support or undermine any number of positions. I think public political positions -- especially those of persons seeking office -- ought to stand on other merits. But I do realize that my position is somewhat idealistic because it's actually not a good thing that the so-called "language of faith" in American politics has been so completely dominated by the Right. Yes, it's a problem, but I don't like the easy solution to it. You may sue me, if you wish.

I like Barak Obama. Actually, I have not ruled out voting for him! I understand his desire to bring multitudes into his tent. I also have the impression that he is a man of sincere Christian belief, something I have absolutely no problem with. But I also think that he, his supporters and others on the Earnest Left need to walk a lot more carefully and wisely on the tricky terrain of the Politics of Faith.

Recommendations? None at present.


Anonymous said...

Hey wait a minute. I have no use for Obama, but there's at least one unsubstantiated claim in Jogo's post: the idea that Wright is a biblical literalist. I don't know much about his theology, but last I checked, he was part of the United Church of Christ, which is generally speaking not a hotbed of biblical literalism. Any documentation for this?

David Louis said...

You forgot to mention How Obama mixes church and state to his convenience:

Jogo said...

I accept anonymous's objection to my describing Jeremiah Wright as a "Bible literalist" because anonymous is correct to point out that the UCC is not a "hotbed" of Bible literalism -- it believes that "God is still speaking." Thus, it is UCC's position (and mine) that what God "says" is interpretable by people in the context and values of their time and situation. But that doesn't mean that, to believers, EVERYTHING God says is just "God's opinion." Nor does it mean that all the "interpretations" of God's Word by, in particular, the Trinity United Church of Christ are necessarily improvements on those of literalists. Anonymous should visit TUCC's "about" page and see their general interpretive position -- their set of beliefs and principles. Some of them are easily as nutty as those of literalists. My descriptions of Rev. Wright's actual Scripture-derived views (or interpretations) are more or less correct ... and yes, he is not a Bible-literalist. But he is a Bible-USER, a Bible-INVOKER -- for both moral and political purposes.

My larger point, I think, still holds: the use of religion -- in political campaigns -- to whatever end, for whatever purpose -- is problematical because it is simply too easy to manipulate the laconic metaphors, injunctions and rhetorical devices of this Towering Authority called "Scripture." And theatrical charismatic preachers make the tactic even more problematical because of the whiff of demagoguery in their presentations. Also, and not infrequently, it's invidious to score points with Scripture because ill-will is created between contending interpreters by the implication -- always present -- that the other person's interpretation of Scripture is wrong, and the product of his inferior intellectual and spiritual capabilities.

Besides, the other preacher in question, Donnie McClurkin, is most definitely a Bible-literalist in every sense imaginable. So, while anonymous has made a correct, and correcting, comment (and thank you, anonymous, I am chastened), I think -- in the larger scope of what I'm talking about -- it's a minor correction.

But, come to think of it, there is perhaps some good in a large-scale, televised, Constitutionally protected public War of Scripture. Islam needs one.