This weekend, many of the same Chicagoans who gathered with President Obama only two weeks ago in the name of recently murdered 15 year-old Hadiya Pendleton joined together once again, including the slain girl’s father. Only this time, absent the President’s presence, the joint Muslim-Catholic religious event became a festival of racial bigotry that repeatedly condemned white America for the nation’s evils.
Obama and the three preachers
In all fairness, in the past President Obama has publicly criticized some of the organizers and speakers participating in this weekend’s racially-charged, semi-religious event. But he’s defended and stood by others. And the fact is, these are the very same people that hoisted the young Mr. Obama upon their shoulders and carried him into the Illinois Senate, then the US Senate, and finally the White House. Whether he admits it or not, this is one pillar of his political base.
In 2008 while Chicago’s own US Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) was campaigning for his first term as President against Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-NY), the world was shown that Chicago’s mainstream religious landscape is occasionally just as corrupt and dysfunctional as its political scene. The evils of greed and the lust for power seem to repeatedly cross-infect politics and religion. And sometimes, it isn't pretty.
That was the world’s impression when it was introduced to Sen. Obama’s beloved personal pastor – the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. A slew of video sermons showed Wright preaching some of the most hate-filled, racist propaganda many Americans have ever heard. For months during the campaign, as the ugly and embarrassing tapes continued to appear, Obama stood by his mentor.
Wright, Pfleger and Farrakhan
On May 25, 2008, something happened that America could no longer ignore. On the altar of Barack Obama and Jeremiah Wright’s own church – Trinity United Church of Christ – a visiting Catholic Priest from a near-by Chicago parish named Father Michael Pfleger was using the pulpit to campaign for Mr. Obama. The only problem was, the Priest’s sermon was seethed in hatred, racism and ignorant, childish personal attacks upon the future President’s opponent Hillary Clinton.
A secret video tape had captured Pfleger preaching to a cheering and laughing Trinity United audience. In a derogatory, mocking and overly animated sermon, the Catholic Priest pretended to be Hillary Clinton screaming racist objections like, “I’m white! I’m entitled! There’s a black man stealin’ my show!” He then went on to wipe away fake tears as he cried out loud, all in an attempt to mock Hillary Clinton’s public crying episode mid-way through the 2008 Democratic primary.
To a standing ovation and universal cheers, Pfleger continued to describe white America’s reaction to Barack Obama’s overtaking Hillary Clinton for the 2008 Democratic nomination. “She wasn’t the only one cryin’,” he exclaimed, “There was a whole lotta white people cryin’!” In an attempt to distance his campaign from the controversy, candidate Obama immediately came forward and condemned the racist attack.
Flash forward five years
This past weekend, many of the same Chicago religious leaders present on that ugly day in 2008 were once again gathered in a Chicago church. This time, the venue was Father Michael Pfleger’s own St. Sabina Catholic Church and the celebration was to cap-off the end of Black History Month. Once again however, the topic drifted to the evils of white people and the race’s responsibility for all the problems in the black community.
Introducing the controversial Nation of Islam leader, Father Pfleger called him, “One of the most lied-upon people, by people who want to demonize him so that you won’t hear his message.” The Catholic Priest went on to call his guest speaker, “my friend, my brother, a mentor.” Then, to an audience of 1,000 church-goers split evenly between Catholic parishioners and Muslim guests, Minister Louis Farrakhan took the altar.
As described by the local Chicago Sun Times, the Nation of Islam leader spoke to the mixed Catholic-Muslim church audience for 90 minutes. At times, Farrakhan urged those present to put their religious differences aside and work together. In the name of stopping the murder and violence plaguing Chicago’s south side, the Nation and Farrakhan took that message to the blood-stained streets of Chicago last summer in a semi-successful attempt to stop the killing.
Emphasizing his point from St. Sabina’s altar Friday, Louis Farrakhan said, “Only somebody who’s confused would pit one against the other. A man who knows the root knows we’re all speaking the same language.” He then described himself as, “both a Christian and a Muslim.” Conspicuously absent from Farrakhan’s speech was any mention of Jews, Zionism or Judaism – for good or bad. Usually, Jews and whites are the Minister’s favorite targets.
This time, the well-known Farrakhan had a noticeably different tone to his sermon. While this column doesn’t typically agree with Minister Farrakhan, we can give him credit for his community efforts, sincerity, and his personal belief in his own message. And we’ll take harsh honesty over sweet lies any day.
“We are all messed-up”
Instead of portraying the black community as angelic victims of the evil white race, as Louis Farrakhan often does, Friday’s sermon shifted and spread the blame for the black community’s problems on whites and blacks alike. Although, he still saved his most stinging attacks for the white community saying of himself, "The say, Farrakhan, you people have called white people devils. Now white folks have not been saints. Would Christ approve of slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, racial injustice?"
“White people know that they have raised hell on this planet,” Farrakhan said to the one thousand-strong church audience, “But guess what? They made us just like themselves. We are all messed-up.” Then, going back to his united Christian-Muslim message he spoke of earlier, the Nation of Islam leader quoted the Christian savior, “But Jesus said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ So all of us have access to the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus.”
Farrakhan’s sermon at one point seemed to be directed to the father of recently slain teen Hadiya Pendleton. Looking at her grieving father sitting in the front pew, Minister Farrakhan spoke about the deadly consequences of firearms saturating their community. And much like the Nation’s credible tactic of targeting drug traffickers instead of street-corner drug dealers, Farrakhan insisted authorities weren’t doing enough to go after those people and entities responsible for bringing the guns into their neighborhoods. “I have the right to feel that way when I see 500 of our babies dead in one year” he finished.
As a white Chicagoan from the north side, this author can assure those who congregated this Friday at St. Sabina’s that all of Chicago is hurting from the carnage plaguing our streets. South siders and black kids aren’t the only ones being murdered. They just seem to be the only ones worthy of the attention of the media, Chicago’s religious leaders and President Obama. And while it’s true that certain south side black communities have had more than their share of tragedy and death, whether we’re black, white, brown or yellow, we all bleed red. And white and Hispanic parents grieve for their lost children just as deeply as black parents on the south side.
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