Would God ever damn America? Is there anything we have done or could do as a nation that might court such severe judgment from an almighty, or is there a peculiar American exemption from God's wrath? The prediction of God's damnation for bad behavior is made in both black and white churches.
One authority on such matters, the Rev. Pat Robertson, didn't think the latter when he blamed the ravaging effects of Hurricane Katrina on the Lord's retribution against those who "shed innocent blood." Robertson's reference to legalized abortion cited a passage from Leviticus that the Rev. Jeremiah Wright also might have been thinking of when he sermonized: "The government ... wants us to sing 'God Bless America.' No, no, no, God damn America, that's in the Bible for killing innocent people," a reference to African-Americans sacrificed on ghetto streets.
While the "innocents" about whom they spoke are different, the scriptural reference seems to be the same. As Robertson put it, in a statement preserved in a video clip posted on the Internet by Media Matters: "I was reading yesterday ... about what God has to say in the Old Testament about those who shed innocent blood ... 'the land will vomit you out,' " which he related to attacks "either by terrorists or now by natural disaster."
Robertson, a firm ally of Republican administrations, has not always been warm to the presumed GOP presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, although the two recently mended their strained relationship. However, in this season of pastor-baiting, McCain has his own problem, having expressed his thrill in receiving "the endorsement of Pastor John Hagee."
Hagee, citing a planned "homosexual parade," had previously told National Public Radio that Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment of the people of New Orleans for "a level of sin that was offensive to God." Obviously, the almighty with whom Hagee is on intimate terms is in need of MapQuest, given that New Orleans' gay neighborhoods were among the ones least impacted by the hurricane.
Hagee long has been denounced by Catholics for labeling the Vatican "The Great Whore" and blaming Hitler's genocidal policies on his having "attended a Catholic school as a child." An Hagee issue that has some current relevance to the Iraq disaster is his blasting of the Roman Catholic Church for sponsoring the Crusades, which "plunged the world into the Dark Ages."
In a warning that imperial adventures lose some of their luster with the passage of time, Hagee wrote in his book "Jerusalem Countdown": "The brutal truth is that the Crusades were military campaigns of the Roman Catholic Church to gain control of Jerusalem from the Muslims and to punish the Jews as the alleged Christ killers on the road to and from Jerusalem." What will future theologians say about George W. Bush's crusade to liberate Iraq, shedding the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents?
I know what the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. would say were he alive today, for it would be consistent with his denunciation of the Vietnam War in a sermon at New York's Riverside Church a year before his assassination. Recounting his difficulty in spreading the message of nonviolence and personal responsibility to the very ghetto youths that the Rev. Wright has worked with for four decades, King stated, "I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government."
King delivered that speech the year Wright ended his six years of service in the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy, for which he received three commendations from President Lyndon Johnson, whom King was confronting. No doubt Wright was influenced by King's oratory decrying "the cruel irony of watching Negro and white boys on TV screens ... in brutal solidarity burning the huts of a poor village, but we realize that they would hardly live on the same block in Chicago. I could not be silent in the face of such cruel manipulation of the poor." And neither could Wright.
I respect Barack Obama's right to repudiate his pastor's comments, as he did, but I respect even more his refusal to throw the man overboard in a practice we witnessed all too often with the Clintons when they came under right-wing attacks. Hillary did it again Tuesday, telling the right-wing Pittsburgh Tribune-Review editorial board that Wright "would not have been my pastor." So she says, but the record shows she was there in the White House on Sept. 11, 1998, when her husband posed for a photo with the Rev. Wright and was grateful for his support in the midst of that wrath-of-Leviticus blue dress flap. Ingrate.
Robert Scheer is editor of Truthdig.com and a regular columnist for The San Francisco Chronicle.
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