London - Even on this side of the ocean Barack Obama's speech on his personal Jeremiah has made waves but I see that the usual suspects in the right-wing commentariat are not satisfied: Krauthammer in the Washington Post opinion pages today and Michael Gerson in the same place earlier in the week. How can a pastor, a man of the cloth attack the U.S. with words like "God Damn America?" they ask and demand total renunciation, repudiation etc., etc...
In the autumn of 1995 I was traveling around Mississippi doing some reporting for the BBC World Service. I try to get to the deep South once a decade because for better or worse it remains the cauldron where this nation's politics are forged. People reading this on either coast may think they set the nation's agenda. They don't. The South does. White southerner's lingering resentment to being conquered and occupied for the best part of a century is what drive's American politics. Nixon knew it and that's why the southern strategy was so successful. White southerners are their own tectonic plate crashing into one party or another for a time and creating the political equivalent to a super continent.
Anyway as I'm cruising the surprisingly well-paved back roads of Miss'ippi I'm listening to AM radio. A white Christian station comes up and I hear a song that is absolutely shocking. It calls on God to destroy America. Why? So it can be reclaimed for Christ. I was so stunned by the tune that the next time it came on, as I was driving through a white section of Clarksdale I pulled over, took out my Sony Pro tape machine and recorded it. The chorus ran, "Even if you have to bring her to her knees/Lord, please/ revive her again."
The song's image of America destroyed so it can be reclaimed for white Southern Christians was only one example of the relentless disparaging of the U.S. along with damnings to Hell of vast swathes of American society to be heard being broadcast by white Christian pastors.
These same pastors of course preach the politics of the right from their pulpits and their congregations provide the foot soldiers of the conservative movement.
No one ever demanded of President Bush that he repudiate these hellfire and brimstone types, yet even after delivering one of the great speeches of the last several decades the ideologues are demanding something more of Obama.
The hypocrisy here is large; I would not expect anything else from Krauthammer but Michael Gerson is a "person of faith." And surely he knows the danger of hypocrisy in that part of the public sphere where religion intersects with politics. I'm sure he knows much of the Gospel of Matthew by heart. I am certain at this season of the passion he is re-reading it fervently. But in case he is speed reading it let me remind of Matthew 23 verses 13-15. Each verse begins, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!"
America needs no heavenly destroyer to revive itself, it needs people in Gerson's position to examine their consciences and stop being hypocrites. A good place to start would be for him to address the shocking statements made by white Christian preachers over the air waves every day. He might take advantage of the opportunity to repudiate them by name and renounce their help in electing Republicans to office. If not, to quote the Gospel, "Woe unto him ..."