Jesse Jackson's Gaffe: Oh, Those Annoying Men of God
Bothersome preachers have been a highlight of the 2008 presidential campaign. Where are these bigoted egomaniacs coming from, and how can they be stopped?
By Mary Beth Crain
Whoops. Another preacher has shot himself—and his candidate—in the foot by saying something so stunningly stupid there’s basically no chance of backpedaling his way out of it. This time it was the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who made his rival for the Egomaniac for the Lord Award, Jeremiah Wright, look like the soul of restraint with a blooper that had to be heard to be believed. And was it ever heard. Ready for an interview on Fox News and unaware that the TV microphone was on, Jackson leaned over and mumbled to a fellow guest that “See, Barack been, um, talking down to black people on this faith based... I want to cut his nuts off..."
I’ve got a secret? Not anymore! What a feather in Fox’s cap! This time they didn’t even have to diss the Dems themselves—they had a Dem doing it for them, and better than they ever could have. It was yet another double scoop of insanity: a black man of the cloth out to skewer the first Afro-American presidential candidate in American history, and using language that would make God’s ears burn to boot.
Jackson takes his place in the lengthening line of pseudo-religious blowhards who seem to have no sense of decorum, propriety or discretion, let alone humility. While poor Obama has to deal with him and Wright, over on the other end of God’s little acre, John McCain has had the embarrassing task of disassociating himself from his self-proclaimed spiritual guides, the deadly pastoral duo of Hagee and Parsley, whose anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim bellowing went just a bit overboard. How low can these reckless reverends go? As low as the devil can burrow in a pile of doo-doo in hell, it seems.
Of course, idiot preachers are nothing new in American history. From the harangues of fundamentalist Baptist “Raccoon” John Smith or Presbyterian evangelist Charles Grandison Finney in the early decades of the 19th century to the rants and rumbles of the Dobsons, Hagees and countless other reactionary zealots parading as true Christians, our country has maintained a proud history of religion-supported anti-intellectualism more euphemistically known as the “faith-based agenda.” What’s really interesting at the moment, however, is that when it comes to making the candidates’ lives hell, the liberal/social activist-based theology of the Jacksons and Wrights is just as damaging as the fundamentalist/racist theology of their white supremacist nemeses. In the race to see just who’s got the biggest mouth, there ain’t a whole lot of difference, it seems, between the two sworn enemy camps.
It’s enough to make atheists out of all of us—or at least to keep us out of church. Who wants to be preached to by men who embody practically every sin they rail against? Why hypocrisy and proselytizing have always been such ironic bedfellows is the question of the ages. It just seems that by now, after a couple of millennia of religious corruption in all faiths, in all countries, we’d have learned our lesson and kicked these self-proclaimed mouthpieces of God off their pedestals and into eternal spiritual rehab, not that three-week quickie job that—presto!—cured “Pastor Ted” Haggard of all homosexual tendencies, or that little stint in the pokey that was PTL Rev. Jim Bakker’s penance for wire fraud, mail fraud, conspiracy and rape, among other minor indiscretions.
Alas, the Jackson et al verbal slip ups don’t warrant even so much as a warrant. So, the only punishment for preacher blundering is the good old apology. Unfortunately, when you’ve just told the world you’d like to castrate Barack Obama, an “I’m sorry and I won’t do it again” just doesn’t cut it. Jackson’s public admission that what he said was “crude, dumb and wrong” was a study in incoherence; the poor SOB knew that there was absolutely nothing he could say that could ever remove his appalling remark from the honor roll of legendary faux pas, or restore his good name, or erase the horror from the face of his Obama-supporting son, Jesse Jr. This was one gaffe-and-a-half that will never go away.
But the question remains, is there any way to silence these paragons of pastorly preposterosity? Is there an Immodium for diarrhea of the ministerial mouth? Will the Jacksons and Wrights and Hagees ever learn the simple lesson of thinking before they speak? Or are they just so full of themselves that there’s no room left for a piece of humble pie? I personally think their egos are so far gone that only drastic measures will save the presidential candidates—and all of us—from their unwelcome help. Here’s an idea: How about a “Holy Roller?” That’s a Sherman tank decorated with crosses, that we could drive over blustering warriors of God when they utter insults and inanities. Or a “Minister’s Muzzle,” that they’d be forced to don for the duration of the campaign? Or a “Reverend’s Restraint,” a straight jacket emblazoned with the image of Jesus holding a finger to his lips? Or maybe just a plain old Scarlet Letter—A for “ass”—that they’d have to wear for life?
In closing, I’d like to leave you with a quote from one of the Heartland’s most famous agents of salvation, the late Brother Jack Hyles, pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana. Among Hyles’ more illuminated teachings was the warning that you could not be born again if you used any other Bible but the King James version, and that it wasn’t just the Jews who needed saving—it was every single human being, whose soul could only be redeemed at First Baptist of Hammond and no other church on earth.
“I know people that spend their entire lives on Jewish evangelism. They wouldn’t cross the street if a Pollack was saying, ‘What must I do to be saved?’ They’d say, ‘You go on to the bad place, boy, we’re interested in Jews only. If you’ve got any Irish blood in you, forget it. We just want to get Jews converted.’ A fellow came by the office and said to me, ‘I want to ask you if you have any work with the Jews?’ I said, “Well, between Jews, why don’t you get a little Gentiles in there and get those Gentiles converted too?’ He said, ‘I mean to have a special work with the Jews.’ I said, ‘Sure I have a special work with the Germans too.’”
If Brother Jack were just a rarity, a nutcase, well, I wouldn’t even be bothering with him. But the fact is that he sold millions of books, had a huge ministry, and held people spellbound with his idiotic rhetoric—just like every charismatic preacher before and since. And if he were still alive, I’ll bet anything that Obama and McCain would either be clamoring for his endorsement or running as fast as they could away from it. Either way, the fact remains that religious bigots—whether from the left or the right—still enjoy the power to make or break candidates in a country where faith has traditionally usurped reason, the intellect is considered the playground of the devil, and Barack Obama won’t win the blue collar vote if he don’t drink beer.
Amen, and pass me a Bud.
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Senior editor Mary Beth Crain's last piece for SoMA was Confessions of a Serial Killer.
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