Dwight McKissic and His Candidate of Choice

Black. Southern Baptist. Pastor. Alone these words seem simple descriptions. Tied together – Black Southern Baptist Pastor – the same words produce irony. We would only need a good Southern Baptist historian, maybe Bart Barber, to help us learn the historical scandal of such a description. They do exist. My friend Dwight McKissic is a Black Southern Baptist Pastor.

Lost amidst a recent piece Dwight penned and then was reposted at SBC Voices seems to be this nugget,

For those who ask, how can President Obama be a Christian and hold non-Christian views on abortion and gay marriage?: The answer is the same way Anglo Baptists/Evangelical slaveholders were Christians but wrong about slavery and denying women the right to vote. Make no mistake about it:  President Obama and the Democrats are wrong on the issues of gay marriage and abortion. But just as Billy Graham is willing to declassify Mormonism as a cult in order to promote Romney, Blacks have prioritized economic and justice issues in order to elevate poor and historically oppressed people.

McKissic is calling for a more robust Christian vision for all of life. Candidly Dwight locates issues of abortion, slavery, women’s suffrage, poverty, and historically oppressed people along the same plane. His readers do not tend to see it that way. It shows up in the disconnection between party platforms, candidates and the absence of any real action. It matters little that no real challenge has been brought to Roe v. Wade since 1973 – and that with approved platforms and campaigning candidates decrying the decision.

Remember, for many heresy is found in what is said, not what is done. An excursus on the whole Dinesh D’Souza affair would be appropriate here. But, it would derail the point and lengthen the post beyond the normal attention span.

We tend to make political decisions, if not all other decisions, in order to keep things the same, protect our perception of the way the world should work, and extend privilege to some people, generally including ourselves, over other people. These moves require an inherent myopia – the world seen only from my vantage point.

I feared for McKissic. Rather than capture the aforementioned nugget, he found himself defending his belief President Obama is a Christian against sure-footed commenters who know the President could not possibly be a Christian. On other occasions he faced the criticism that we must stop looking for racism under every rock. What he intended was answering the question, how is it black Christians tend to vote the way they do knowing the Democratic platform supports abortion and same-sex marriage. The issue is perspective, context.

Dwight offered his context – the shape of the world he grew up in,

Finally, I was born into a world where the hospital that I was born in was determined by my skin color. The neighborhood in which I lived and the schools and churches I attended was determined by my skin color. The public school textbooks handed down to me–second and third hand–had the names of White students written in them, because they were given to the Black schools and students after they were worn out, and sometimes outdated. I sat in the balcony at the movie house in my hometown, because only White movie-goer’s were allowed to sit on the floor. My sister was unmercifully beaten by a White police officer–because she excercised her constitutional right not to sign a traffic ticket without the advice of counsel. The officer committed suicide a few days before the trial was to begin to hold him civilly accountable for his physically abusive offense. My race was designated on my drivers license when I first started driving. The BGCT loan funding committee in Texas were given interest free loans to White and Hispanic churches while charging Black Churches 6 % interest until the late 90?s. I would not have believed it if I had not been serving on the committee approving the loans. In part, because I protested this blatant racism, they later abandoned that practice. I could go on and on and on; but I believe you get the picture. Therefore, I was trained by the society in which I was birth in to think racially. The problem we have with integration today is we don’t have this dialogue with each other; therefore, we don’t understand each other.

Exactly. We talk past one another on our way to making our own point. We often do not listen to the other. In fact, when Jesus described, in his words, the reason for his coming he prefaced it by noting that his followers would do what he does – serve all. What would it mean if we voted with that in mind? How may we serve others?

Dwight did not vote for President Obama in 2008. He will vote for neither candidate in 2012. Texas allows write-in candidates. He will write in Jesus Christ knowing his candidate will not win.

And, Jesus does not win when we become the gatekeepers to His Kingdom, exclude all issues of life for the sake of one, and dismiss a brother whose perspective is different than our own.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523454689 Alan Cross on Facebook

    The comments on Dwight’s post are really sad. Our entire interest is how we maintain out way of life and the status quo for ourselves. Obama’s faith is used as a defense against addressing Romney’s belief. All the while, people say they are tired of hearing about race.

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Alan,
      I really wanted to point out the way the Zebede Boys wanted Jesus to ensconce their Inner Circle position while missing the passion prediction for the third time. Jesus corrected their assumptions about glory, cup, and baptism by contending real discipleship is about the other. He then notes the reason for his coming. His words. In context, referencing Gentiles in the preceding verse, we should not miss he came to liberate captives from oppression and oppressing. Were we to take that seriously, then we might think as broadly as Dwight suggests.

      What we also find difficult to accept, or so it seems, is owning that we do prioritize our issues. You noted that you were not a single-issue voter. But you admitted, like the rest of us, that some issues are given greater priority. When others choose different priorities, or they prioritize the same issues differently, we should not lambaste them and call into question their perspective, or context.

  • Dwight McKissic

    Todd,

    Thanks for weighing on on this matter in a “Little-ton” fashion, but in a “Heavey-way.” That’s my feeble attempt at humor this morning -:).

    If every one in the SBC understood race like you and Alan, the SBC would be a much different and better convention. Thanks again.

    Dwight

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Dwight,

      Monday mornings require humor!

      I believe that were we to embrace as radical a position of Jesus with regard to the other among us, we just might address these issues differently.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523454689 Alan Cross on Facebook

    Dwight, I think that I have come to the realization that I don’t understand race. But, I do know that Whites in America, including and perhaps especially White Evangelicals, have felt very comfortable sitting at the seat of privilege and power. It is easy for us to tell Blacks to be quiet about race. But, that is not our concern. Our role is to submit, give up power, lay our lives down, and seek to serve others. It is between you and God whether you continue to talk about race or not. For one, I am glad that you do in this context. But, you should not have to. White pastors should do it. I continue to be encouraged about the response to Fred Luter. White Baptists sought atonement there and called upon a Black brother to lead us. We submitted and we should continue to do so. It should not stop there. That should be the beginning and part of submission is to listen and take to heart the concerns of others as though they were our own.

  • Guy Rittger

    I’m not going to dispute McKissic simply because he’s willing to give Obama the benefit of the doubt regarding whether or not he is a Christian, simply because Obama claims to be one. Ditto for Romney.

    Instead, I would argue that Obama is a “Christian” in the way that most Americans consider themselves “Christians” – i.e., it’s an intellectual / cultural posture largely divorced from the moral and ethical dimensions of Christian discipleship.

    More specifically, to my mind, a true Christian could not with good conscience hold the positions and take the actions that Obama has taken, such as authorizing the assasination of American citizens without due process, terrorizing entire communities in Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Afghanistan through the indiscriminate use of drones, refusing to prosecute those responsible for widespread torture of suspected terrorists, refusing to prosecute those repsonsible for plunging the world into economic crisis, etc.

    We’re dealing with the legacy of Constantine – what does one say when the ostenisbly Christian leader of an ostensibly Christian country behaves in ways antithetical to the teachings of the Gospels, but does so in the name of other “values” – e.g., national security, expediency, pragmatism, etc. – which are said to take precedent over Christian values. In the United States, American Christians are more than willing to overlook the glaring contradictions and wholeheartedly embrace any number of anti-Christian behaviors, since nationalism trumps Christian virtue 99% of the time.

    For these reaasons, not only do I not consider Obama, Romney or pretty much any American politician to be Christian, except in perhaps the most superficial manner, I also do not consider the majority of American Christians to be anything but pro forma Christians, regardless of how faithfully they attend church or give to missions.

    Simply put, I’m not willing to be nearly as indulgent as McKissic when it comes to walking the walk, and not just talking the talk.

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Guy,

      You describe my dilemma quite well. Justification includes actions that give evidence of what one considers his or hew new posture in relationship to the Divine. When justification becomes the recitation of the proper definition of sin and the Gospel without the attendant actions it seems to me we have Jamesian dissonance of the highest order. Not sure why Luther would have deemed the little letter a strawy epistle unless of course he too well-understood the great difficulty in actually living out one’s profession.

      What I will do for McKissic is to underscore the very way his critics miss their own speck while pointing to his log. That we tire of issues of race while at the same time not working toward racial harmony is to hold to an empty ideology that claims the dividing wall has indeed been bridged by Jesus but still content to live as though the wall never came down.

      Always glad when my sailing friend makes a contribution here. Challenging stuff.

    • Robert Birch

      >> “For these reaasons, not only do I not consider Obama, Romney or pretty much any American politician to be Christian, except in perhaps the most superficial manner”

      i thought Carter was the closest we ever got to a “Christian” president. But i’ve yet to meet anyone else who liked him. Many people i’ve talked to (both republican and democrat) consider him our worst president ever. :-(

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523454689 Alan Cross on Facebook

    Todd, yes, discipleship is about the other. Well said. Embracing the Cross means that we cease to pursue our own interests. Hard to do, but essential to the Christian life. Grace is indeed required. The abortion issue is an illustration of why 2-party politics is a failure for Christians. While conscience does not allow one to vote for someone who would affirm the killing of innocent children, we also end up supporting those who do not aptly consider the needs or concerns of those who are living. I am not saying that Democrats are any better at that, but having just two choices enables both sides to pander to their base on certain issues and then do little about it when the opportunity arises. It is better that we try to bring Shalom through the one political entity we are granted, which is the local church (by political, I simply mean the body politic).

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Alan,

      I still like Wright at this point. Our aim is to bring the realities of the Kingdom to bear in the midst of whatever is broken in our world. That would include, for me, a political system. But, when in the course of our experience, American Christians have allied so closely with a particular system, expediency becomes the norm and what is Christian gets left out for a preferred pragmatism. Often, the most efficient decision is not the one that supports the Way and Manner of Jesus – and in fact, more often is a contradiction. We suspend the rules in order to affirm what is perceived to give ourselves the best chance at the American dream – even if such a dream is sometimes in conflict with the Kingdom of God. What bothers me is that once we have returned to our senses we parade along as though we have both fully embraced Jesus’ way and expressed that in the contradictory decision. We thereby leave people viewing us as quite double-minded, if not double-tongued.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523454689 Alan Cross on Facebook

    Obviously, the same could have been said about Bush, then. The failure of American foreign policy can be partially laid at the feet of the Church, I think. We are called to be “salt and light.” Have we been? Are we demonstrating a different way? This drone war thing is atrocious, as was the invasion of Iraq, I believe. Where is the Church? We should not claim power, but we also should not be quiet in the face of injustice. I believe that criminals should be brought to justice, but the death of innocents should be high on everyone’s list of concerns.

    • http://www.toddlittleton.net Todd Littleton

      Alan,

      I believe this comment is in direct response to Guy. I would interject, and of course await and defer to Guy’s response, McKissic is making this very point, even if he labors to convince of Obama’s Christian confession sans the sort of informed decisions we would expect from such a framework.

      Interestingly in Evangelicalism we get amped up about the Election cycle and these apparent contradictions, but do not get as terse with the circumstances surrounding James MacDonald, Dinesh D’Souza, and Sovereign Grace Ministries and CJ Mahaney, to name a few recent instances. I still think the prophetic call is that judgment – setting wrong right – begins with those considered among the household of faith. When in the course of our reactions to Presidential politics we are more vocal about someone’s bricolaging their doctrinal positions while living Jesus shaped lives than those whose affirmations pass the muster of the Establishment but whose lives betray a Jesus shaped life, we have trouble to be sure.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523454689 Alan Cross on Facebook

    True, but elections are about where we place our hope. So, we get engaged there. I think that a lot of Christians try to engage the process from a Biblical framework and work hard to connect their faith with their public posture in the world. It is very tricky and there are so many voices crying out for their view to be the one that Christians affirm. This is why you get so much traction when you engage in “take back America for god” rhetoric. Christians know that there is a problem and because we are not well trained on means/ends distinctions, we fall for it. Those trying to accumulate power for themselves find a willing audience in Christians who know that something is wrong but don’t know what to do about it. So, we take political foes and invest them with spiritual significance. Those who do this effective accumulate massive amounts of spiritual and temporal authority. So, when a little thing like Romney’s Mormonism is in the way, you just push it aside. The goal is to get Romney elected, get Obama out of power, and regain a seat at the table. It is all about worldly power. We keep beating that drum and when other kinds of errors happen, we are slow to respond because we don’t want to see the dissolution of accumulated worldly power. It makes all that has gone before seem like a waste. But, that is the way of the world and not the Way of the Cross. The way of the Cross states that the only real power is that found when we lay our lives down and take the lesser seat. It is found in going the extra mile and giving up your cloak. Real power only comes from God and He only graces the humble. Everything else is a farce. But, we trade in the illusion and build huge empires out of it, both nationally and ecclesially. We have been doing this since Constantine, or before, and we do not intend to stop now. It just looks a bit different. So, when a voice from an historically persecuted population arises, like Dwight McKissic, we betray where we stand by how we respond. Is this all an irruption of the real? Why can’t we listen? Because to even listen means that we give up power and that is the very thing that we refuse to do. Or, don’t know how to do. If Dwight is right, then what does that mean for me? Honestly, we should be able to critique both Obama’s confession and Romney’s religion honestly and not worry about the political consequences or if “our” guy will get into power.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=525372245 Todd Littleton on Facebook

    Alan,
    Part of the issue is that we talk about sin(s) and neglect systems and the way the two support and foster the other. The illustration of Constantine would be illustrative if we could own the very way, as Guy Rittger noted, the pattern continues despite the new iteration or container.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=523454689 Alan Cross on Facebook

    That is what I am working on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=674874652 Guy Rittger on Facebook

    Frankly, there’s nothing Alan has written that I don’t agree with. But I would go even further to observe that what American Christians seem unable to come to terms with is the possibility that enlisting in the American nationalist/imperialist cause and enlisting in the cause of Christ, are mutually exclusive. Exchanging the golden eagle of the Roman Imperial Legions for the golden crucifix of Constantine’s legions does not transform his wars of conquest and attendant crimes into acts of Christian virtue, nor exonerate those who willingly enlisted in those actions, for the glory of God. Todd has bravely called out, elsewhere, the utter moral bankruptcy (my word, not his) of those who cannot see their neighbor in the bodies of dead and mutilated Pakistanis, Afghans, Iraqis, Yemenis, and other victimes of U.S. foreign policy, and who enthusiastically support those who pursue these policies. What American Christians must do is abandon their blind allegiance to American ideology and demonstrate some kind of allegiance to the Gospel. In terms of the political system and Presidential kabuki theater, the only righteous position, to my way of thinking, is to utterly repudiate evil in both its forms – Democrat and Republican – and call on those in power to turn away from their sins and embrace policies consistent with the two great commandments. Truly, neither Obama nor Romney (nor Bush) can plausibly claim to love God while wantonly killing, wounding, starving, and impoverishing millions of their neighbors. The link to McKissic is that the vast majority of those “neighbors” are people of color. McKissic would do well to recall the courageous words of Mohammed Ali: “No, I am not going 10,000 miles to help murder, kill, and burn other people to simply help continue the domination of white slavemasters over dark people the world over. This is the day and age when such evil injustice must come to an end.” It’s a sad fact that millions of American Christians continue to reject this sentiment today.

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