Bush's Dark Days

The American Disgrace of Hurricane Katrina

As we observe the third anniversary of the Iraq war, what have we accomplished and what have we learned? Deposing Saddam was certainly a good idea, but he had absolutely nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks. The truth is, the administration was bound and determined to invade Iraq. 9/11 merely presented a convenient opportunity. the administration exploiting America’s grief to launch the war for reasons that had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism. Invading Iraq was what they’d come to Washington to do. The president said he consulted God about the Iraq invasion, which raises the question of which god Bush was talking to.

The White House was built by slaves.

Construction on the President's House began in 1792 in Washington, D.C., a new capital situated in sparsely settled region far from a major population center. The decision to place the capital on land ceded by two slave states-Virginia and Maryland-ultimately influenced the acquisition of laborers to construct its public buildings. The D.C. commissioners, charged by Congress with building the new city under the direction of the president, initially planned to import workers from Europe to meet their labor needs. However, response to recruitment was dismal and soon they turned to African Americans — slave and free — to provide the bulk of labor that built the White House, the United States Capitol, and other early government buildings. [Wikipedia]

How odd that, two centuries later, we know and perhaps care so little about what goes on there.

I don’t know what goes on in your church, but, in mine, there’s simply no talk of politics. There is lots of singing and passing the plate around and the pastor does the sing-song bit and prances about in hysterics talking about David and Goliath and Feeding The Five Thousand. The overwhelming majority of black church folk I am personally acquainted with do not watch news of any kind. Do not read the paper. Have no earthly clue who Andrew Card is and never heard the name “Scooter” until it was plastered all over the place this week.

Most of my friends and acquaintances have their TV’s set to BET all day. They giggle at reruns of Moesha and Living Single and they play commercial and news-free R&B and rap music on satellite radio in their cars. What’s going on in Washington is somebody else’s problem. They feel they have no influence there, anyway, so they’ve kind of tuned out. They have a vague idea that Bush has had some problems these past weeks, but most of my black friends are incapable of discussing the issues in any depth.

While the white pastors are selling out the “moral” right wing, black pastors are an even bigger disgrace. I could respect them for making a conscious choice to keep politics out of the pulpit, but the truth is most of these men have absolutely no intellectual curiosity, no appreciation for culture, for literature. Most of these men are simply uninformed about most things and are, in large measure, even bigger lemmings than the average white conservative Christian in that they know absolutely nothing about politics and, therefore, make absolutely no effort to inform the black church in the one hour where these pastors actually have these folks’ attention.

Martin Luther King, Jr. recognized that the church house was the one place where the black community gathered in numbers and was the one place where information could be credibly disseminated. The black pastor, therefore, has an obligation to tell his church what is going on in the world. To not just spin around and do the singsong bit about Elijah and the Raven, but inform us. Educate us. Explain who Harriet Miers is and why her nomination infuriated Bush’s own conservative base. Explain who Karl Rove is and what his role in policy decisions and politics. Sunday morning certainly wasn’t designed to be a news briefing, and the Sunday service not designed to be a classroom, but the culture we now live in demands more from the church. Most whites in America get their news from Jay Leno, John Stewart and David Letterman (which is why prominent political movers curry favor with late-night talk hosts) more so than they do from CNN or MSNBC or, for that matter, the New York Times. Fairly few blacks watch any of these late-night talk shows, Fox having long ago dumped Arsenio (and, apparently, broken the man’s spirit, as I’m sure he must have had many offers to do his show elsewhere).

The fact is, in the vast majority, black America is even worse informed than white America. But, while white pastors are, in the aggregate, more apt to organize politically and disseminate information (typically the GOP party line), black pastors remain stuck in the past, preaching meaningless Old Testament homilies and putting on a good hoop show while leaving their congregants under-fed and under-informed about the world around them.

Black pastors, many of whom are in (big quotes) “Full Time Ministry,” should have active subscriptions to Time and Newsweek and the New York Times and should be watching CNN and MSNBC regularly. They owe it to their congregants to be informed on what is happening in the world and to better prepare and minister to the people they are pastoring. But a great many of these pastors take (big quotes) “Full Time Ministry” to mean “retirement,” as they spend the majority of their work week doing whatever they please. Wandering about town, having lunches, playing golf, wandering through malls, whatever. The vast majority of these men are, in my experience, AWOL from the hospitals, from the prisons. Are nowhere to be seen during street ministry, during gang intervention. Are unengaged in social activism, are under-informed or completely uninformed about social and health issues. Know absolutely nothing of literature or music—and I mean Brahms, not James Cleveland.

Many of these guys have doctorates, running around calling themselves “Dr.” this and “Dr.” that, but couldn’t tell me how many red stripes and how many white stripes are on the American flag. If I held a gun to their head they couldn’t tell me who the Secretary of the Interior is or even what she does (Gale Norton and, yes, I had to look it up).

Pastoring is a specific and special calling. I believe only 25% of black pastors today are actually called to that work. And only 15% of black pastors working today are actually any good at it. I believe, in my own unscientific, ranting sort of way, that at least 85% of all black pastors pastoring today are in it as a vocation more so than as a calling, and they suck at it. They are showmen, razzle-dazzle hoop guys, spinning around and sweating and barking orders while we fools, we starry-eyed, dumb negroes, bow and scrape and bring these phonies orange juice and Fritos, grinning and applauding and, above all, paying these men, these nude emperors leading us in circles in the wilderness. Yassuh, pastor.

Pastoring should be more than that. Church membership should be empowering. Should be elevating and life-affirming. Church membership shouldn’t be this transitional condition that leaves no mark on our lives. If I spend twenty years in your church, I should be twenty years smarter, twenty years stronger and twenty years more empowered than when I first arrived. At the very least, I should know that over two thousand U.S. troops—many of our own sons and daughters—have died ostensibly because the president wanted to avenge his daddy and the vice president wanted to grab the oil and both wanted to re-make the Middle East in American-style democracy. At the very least I should know facts, not rumors, about this president’s monumental failures of leadership, about how the economy works, why and how this president’s failed economic and military policies have moved this country not only toward a terrible recession but likely depression. I should know who John Roberts is and why his appointment as the new Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court is historic and how it will impact each and every one of us. I should certainly know who Karl Rove is and why this man, essentially, runs the country. Who Ben Bernanke is and why his appointment to the Federal Reserve Board affects each and every one of us, black white or green.

But how much of this information is being disseminated from the one place black America gathers and sits still for at least one hour a week? How much of our opportunity to enlighten, to inform and to teach is squandered by pastors who are either too cowardly or too uninformed themselves to embrace their duty to not only teach us the moral imperatives of personal salvation but to educate us, to empower us, to armor us and prepare us to function within the social, economic and political strata of life.

I'd imagine the great majority of people who bother to slug through my rants here are doubtless better informed than the average Church Folk. Most of my Church Folk friends, frankly, don't read anything, the Bible least of all. So this may be old news to you, but since its unlikely any of this has been discussed from your local church pulpit, let's take a look at what's been going on:

All of which makes recent events in Washington very hard for the “moral” right to absorb. I’m convinced most if not all of these ‘moral” leaders knew the president was terribly unengaged and uninformed; the ultimate Slacker President who, by the great weight of evidence, never read the intelligence brief marked “Bin Laden Determined To Attack The U.S.” Bush is a president who has made a virtue of being “average,” who joked about his “average” grades at a Yale commencement, and whose lack of articulation and unfamiliarity with even the simplest facts, even the basic names of people and places, fairly screams incompetence. I believe these pastors and moral activists all know this man is wholly unqualified and unfit to hold that office. But I believe these people were and are more interested din winning than in doing what is right.

They are more interested in power, in retaining power and funding for their causes, than in actually embracing their own morality, a morality which would ordinarily demand they acknowledge the fact this president is a dufus, and a dangerous puppet of corporate America. I’m convinced Regular Folk—whomever they are—are clueless and uninformed and are content to remain that way, but the leaders know. They really do know this man is a disaster for this country, but they embrace him anyway out of political greed and, now, out of political necessity, as they have so anchored their own future to the president’s. They have to stick with him now because, to do any less would undermine the snoozing lemmings’ faith in their pastors and leaders. For someone like Jerry Falwell to stand up and admit, “I was wrong. Bush was a mistake,” might splinter his “moral majority into many, many factions. It would unmask Falwell as having been gullible and, at the every least, flawed and human. And Jerry and all the Jerrys like him, must avoid that at all costs.

Bill Clinton disgraced the Oval Office by extremely bad behavior and, worse, by lying about it. Congress impeached Clinton for his poor choices. President Bush has disgraced the Oval Office by simply being alarmingly incompetent. I doubt the president deliberately lied to the American people about his casus beli (cause for war) for his tragic and failed invasion of Iraq, but the net result remains the same: two thousand U.S. soldiers dead, times three or four maimed and crippled for life, times ten Iraqi dead, maimed, crippled—all because of this president's obsession with Saddam Hussein and his willingness to play cheap with the tragedy of 911, using it as a springboard to do what he'd intended to do since he arrived in the Oval Office: avenge his daddy.

The only disgrace greater than this miserable and sad excuse for a president is our utter disinterest in most anything the man does and the near-total abdication of the black church's social agenda and conscious. These are indeed dark days for the president, but they've been dark for us for decades now.

Christopher J. Priest
31 October 2005