Mercury Rising 鳯女

Politics, life, and other things that matter

The OTHER Preacher

Posted by Phoenix Woman on December 18, 2008

Like most people, I was shocked to see that Rick Warren was going to give the opening benediction at Barack Obama’s inaugural. Warren is not only a raging homophobe and James Dobson with a slicker style, he’s also repaid Obama’s previous efforts at outreach by stabbing him in the back.

Lost in all the uproar over Warren’s presence is the presence of another preacher at the inaugural: Joseph Lowery, the fellow who will give the closing benediction — and who, in addition to being a civil-rights hero on the order of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself (and the man who called out Bush on Iraq during Coretta King’s funeral), is also a friend to the GLBT community.

More past the jump. (Crossposted at DailyKos.)

Joseph Lowery is in his late eighties now, but he is a good deal less hidebound than many persons half his age. He takes the same spirit that allowed him to co-found the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and to face down Southern segregationists, and mingles it with the same forbearance that allowed him to press on even when the bigots used libel lawsuits to try to silence and impoverish him.

Yes, impoverish him. From the AJC’s brief sidebar bio of him:

In 1960, the Montgomery police commissioner sues him and three other ministers for libel over a New York Times ad that seeks to raise funds for King’s defense against felony charges related to his 1956 and 1958 Alabama tax returns. An all-white jury initially orders the ministers to pay $500,000. Lowery’s car is seized and sold at public auction. Four years later the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the libel verdict.

Those of you who work in the media have probably pricked up your ears at this. Yes, Lowery was at the center of the New York Times Co. v. Sullivan case:

Before this decision there were nearly US$300 million in libel actions outstanding against news organizations from the Southern states and these had caused many publications to exercise great caution when reporting on civil rights, for fear that they might be held accountable for libel. After the New York Times prevailed in this case, news organizations were free to report the widespread disorder and civil rights infringements. The Times maintained that the case against it was brought to intimidate news organizations and prevent them from reporting illegal actions of public employees in the South as they attempted to continue to support segregation.

Unfortunately, as Gene Lyons points out page nine of his book Fools for Scandal, this ruling makes it very difficult for a public figure to successfully sue for libel in the US — a fact exploited by the well-organized and well-funded right-wing attack machines set upon Bill and Hillary Clinton in the 1990s. That being said, the ruling paved the way for real progress in civil rights in the South: Without it, it’s very likely that the Sovereignty Commissions and their ilk would still have an iron grip on Southern communities.

Pastor Lowery’s most recent claims to fame are his publicly chastising George W. Bush on Iraq during his eulogy at Coretta Scott King’s funeral, and his publicly chastising various preachers for being fixated on attacking gays when they should be attacking poverty:

The Reverend stated that we “are too easily divided and victimized by ‘weapons of mass distraction.’” Here he told the story of an African-American, Washington, DC-based pastor (who he kept nameless within his speech but who we all know to be the Reverend Willie Wilson of the 8,000-member Union Temple Baptist Church) who led his congregation down a path of division and mis-guidance, preaching and pushing for an amendment against same-sex marriage. The Reverend asked, Why care about something like same-sex marriage when millions of your own children are dying in starvation and poverty within the slums? The Reverend went on to speak on respect for all people and how that played in to Civil and Human Rights as a whole. He said that if you are one who says, “I believe in human rights for all people, except for…” then you really don’t believe in human rights or equality. To believe in equality and human rights is to believe in it for all people. If you don’t, then you are, according to the Reverend, creating an oxymoron and certainly not standing up for equality. He said no matter what race, color, religion, creed, sex, gender OR sexual orientation… we are all deserving of human rights, civil rights and equality. The Reverend said he “sometimes wonders about people who are so homophobic.” Quoting Hamlet, he said, “Me thinks you doth protest too much.” The audience responded with laughter and applause. He continued, “If a person is a secure in their sexuality, they have no time to waste on sneaking around to see what you are doing.”


At the end, during the Question and Answer period, I rose and walked to one of the available microphones not to ask a question, but to thank the Reverend for what his message had meant to me (you can hear this on the audio). As a gay man in American, it meant more than I can describe to just sit and listen to such a great and wise Civil Rights leader like himself affirm me as a human being and affirm me as an American citizen. Thank you, Reverend Lowery.

To this, Reverend Lowery responded: “God didn’t call us to judge. He called us to love… and when you love, you have no time to judge. The Bible says that when you judge, you will be judged. With the same measure you judge, you shall be judged and none of us wants to live with that.”

Quite a contrast to Rick Warren, isn’t he?

9 Responses to “The OTHER Preacher”

  1. Charles said

    That’s nice news.


  2. MEC said

    I was extremely and unpleasantly surprised that Obama chose Rick Warren for the invocation.

  3. Joanna said

    Thank you for this! I will try to learn more about Joseph Lowery in order to try to get past my first reaction about the inclusion of Rick Warren. I’m not as selfless and compassionate as others; my first reaction was pain. You are absolutely right that this is a moment to contemplate this juxtaposition between the two.

  4. […] Woman writes about the “other” pastor who will give the benediction at Obama’s […]

  5. Stormcrow said

    The “other preacher” doesn’t address the real problem here.

    And it’s really simple.

    Everybody who has been watching what was once, in happier times, called the “radical right”, with their brains turned on and connected to working eyes and ears, knows what it is.

    You CANNOT compromise with these people. Any more than you could organize a hungry school of piranha to sing “Kumbaya”.

    Extend them a hand? You’re going to pull back a stump.

    These people are hardcore authoritarians. And their leaders are sociopaths.

    I expected to be disappointed by Obama. But if he keeps on making mistakes like this one, he’ll be dead or impeached inside of his first term.

  6. montysano said

    Here’s another great Lowery moment, one for which I was fortunate to be present. The man is a giant.

    You CANNOT compromise with these people. Any more than you could organize a hungry school of piranha to sing “Kumbaya”.

    Extend them a hand? You’re going to pull back a stump.

    These people are hardcore authoritarians. And their leaders are sociopaths

    This is so disappointing to hear (“these people”), and it makes me wonder just how many evangelicals the commenter has had actual contact with. While I would consider myself a pagan, my work frequently takes me into contact with evangelical churches. Rather than a monolithic block of “authoritarians and sociopaths”, I often fine people who genuinely struggle with these issues, trying to balance what they believe (for good or ill) to be the word of God with their desire to do the right thing.

    Obama has done the right thing; 1 – Joseph Lowery + 1 – Gay and Lesbian Band Assoc. trumps Rick Warren any day.

  7. Charles II said

    Thanks for the Lowery link, Montysano. He does illustrate the best of Christianity.

    As an evangelical, indeed an evangelical with radical right wing family members, I am not dismayed by what Stormcrow has to say. The radical religous right is a political movement that has nothing to do with the Christian church.

    Theologically, this political movement is an ancient heresy, teaching wrongly that the human spirit can be reformed by taking control of government and legislating our way to grace. But when men seized Jesus and attempted to make Him king by force, He left them. The church is strongest when it has the least material power, because it is when people have no tools that they look inside themselves and find the Spirit of Truth. A man like Joseph Lowery can look at his own “craziness” and find God’s goodness in it.

    They (the radical religious right) went out from us (the church universal) to found churches that worship words over works and that teach war and materialism and division. I still recall wryly hearing Pat Robertson–a swindler and a false prophet if there ever was one– telling his followers to evangelize the mainstream churches! Among the radical religious right are many people who are basically decent, but they have broken fellowship. We may grieve for them, but it’s no longer the duty of Christians to defend them.

  8. Meanwhile, we find that Melissa Etheridge and Rick Warren can share a stage and find some common ground. If she can share a stage with him, why can’t Obama?

  9. Stormcrow said

    Montysano, you did not cite my remarks in context.

    And I suspect you knew this when you did so.

    My phrase “these people” specifically referred to the Radical Right, not the evangelical community. I was NOT referring to LOWERY.

    Reread the comment.

    And you might also want to re-read (or, read for the first time, who knows) some of the work that has been published about the ins and outs of the authoritarian personality.

    Robert Altemeyer is a good place to start, since his work is up on the Web, and you don’t have to visit a bookstore: The Authoritarians.

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