Sunday, September 07, 2008

Kroon may be Crazy, but he's not Wright

Some are plucking out of this sermon by Larry Kroon, Sarah Palin's pastor, a promise that America will be destroyed in God's "day of wrath" and holding it up as a Reverend Wright moment:

And what Zephaniah says—‘Listen, He is going to remove everyone from the earth. He is gonna deal with all the inhabitants; so, as a result, understand He is going to deal with you, Jerusalem and Judah. There’s no exceptions here.’ And if Zephaniah were here today he’d be saying, ‘Listen, He is gonna deal with all the inhabitants of the earth. He is gonna strike out His hand against, yes, Wasilla; and Alaska; and the United States of America. There’s no exceptions here—there’s none.
These scare-the-children ravings about the end of all things are not going to pack a toxic wallop for millions of Americans, as Wright's fulminations did. Wright, fancying himself truly a second Jeremiah, mimics the Jewish prophetic practice of promising destruction to his own nation for its own specific sins. Kroon's thesis isn't particularly anti-American. It's merely garden variety fundamentalism: God will destroy the world, motivated by his personal wrath at human sin, then he will raise up a remnant of the faithful. Nothing special about the U.S. (or Alaska, or Wasilla) in Kroon's view -- it's destroyed in the general destruction, and its faithful remnant is presumably a proportionate part of the faithful remnant from all nations. .

Like tens of millions of Americans, Sarah Palin professes, with her pastor, to take the fever dreams of the Jewish and Christian Bibles literally: God will end the world out of personal wrath. According to Kroon, there can be no Christianity without belief in this end:

What we’ve talked about today...what we’ve talked about today is one of the most defining things in the Christian worldview. It’s at this one point of teaching that you’ll probably decide whether you’ll accept Christianity or reject it, whether you’ll take it seriously or not. If there is no great final day of the Lord there’s really no reason to take Jesus seriously. If there is such a day and God has taken your sin very personally, then it’s absolutely essential that you take Jesus seriously. This is the issue you gotta respond to. If you choose to respond you make it personal. You call out to Jesus and you simply say, “Save me. Save me.”

Personally, I find it alarming that a person who might have her finger on the nuclear trigger could view, say, a full-scale nuclear exchange as a fulfillment of prophecy. We profess to worry that Iran's leaders view mass destruction with this kind of equanimity. But I don't see how Obama, who has accepted Jesus Christ as his personal savior, could object to Kroon's sermon. If asked whether he believes in this "teaching" he would probably give a nuanced answer, something to the effect that visions of apocalypse frame in symbolic and moral terms the inevitable eventual end of our world or universe, along with a faith that spirit or soul is eternal. Such a view might be in sync with even more Americans than the straight-up Left Behind vision of apocalypse.

In short: no blood drawn by exposing this sermon.


  1. Kroon's not Wright? So what is Wright? "Anti-American"? What does it mean to be "Anti-American"? I suppose the suggestion is that angry black men want to destroy our government and replace it with ... what?

    Whether each pastor is preaching from a Jewish prophetic tradition or a Christian fundamentalist prophetic tradition, each is preaching from a prophetic tradition, not from any particular political philosophy. Most white Evangelical Christians today are very familiar with the "Left Behind" interpretation of Revelation, Daniel, and the isolated use of other verses scattered among the ancient texts. The "prophecy" they emphasize relates to the terrible events that will befall an individual who does not behave in the manner the fundamentalist "prophet" (in this case Kroon) prescribes. You're right. They're not likely as familiar with the Jewish prophetic tradition as delivered from the “garden variety” African-American experience of injustice. And therefore it's much easier to characterize "God damn America!" as anti-American rather than the call to repentance that it is in the context of Wright's sermon and as is true in the rhetoric of the prophetic tradition he used.

    But this is not to say that white evangelicals aren't entirely unfamiliar with the Jewish prophetic tradition. After all, this is the tradition that they use to rally against the "sins" that offend them! We're all familiar now with Jerry Falwell's attribution of the 9-11 attacks to God's judgment against America (because America harbors and protects such "sinners"), and with the reasons Hagee gave for God sending Katrina to New Orleans. True, the particular sermon of Kroon's now under scrutiny does not employ this device. But I bet you wouldn't have to search hard to find a sermon that does. It is, after all, fairly "garden variety" among fundamentalist evangelicals.

    Today I don't think white people deny that black people have had a bad rap in our history. And it's true that opportunity is more real and readily available to black people today than ever before. This is another reason why, I think, Wright's underlying tone of old-generational resentment comes across to white people as extreme. Nevertheless, black people today still encounter unjust obstacles, if not legal then psychological or attitudinal, from those in positions of power. Many academic studies confirm this experience. The daily experience of suburban, mostly white people remains largely isolated from what other Americans not in their class experience on a daily basis. When confronted with personal accounts foreign to what they know to be true in their own world, they more readily dismiss those stories as disgruntled, angry, or downright dangerous lies. Seldom do white people move out of their comfort zones to enquire into the conditions related by these stories and the validity of their claims. This is one reason why I believe Barak Obama to be such a strong candidate: he knows the reality of both sides of the track. Regardless of what each pastor regards as the sin that brings God's wrath against America, Americans outside of and unfamiliar with these denominational traditions and the experiences of their adherents, find the whole argument of condemnation inappropriate, and would even argue objectively wrong.

    But this is how the religious mind sometimes works, and certainly not without scriptural precedent. If a pastor were to preach that America was founded as a “Christian nation” and that Americans are today’s “Chosen People”, and then if he were to preach that God will damn America because of her sins, would that pastor be contradicting himself? Would he be “Anti-American”? Anyone having read the Old Testament would think not. Why then do so many people claim that Jeremiah Wright is anti-American? Especially so many self-styled “Christians”? To acknowledge that Wright is not anti-American, or even to admit that he made some valid points, isn’t to say you agree with him. How many people sitting in Falwell’s, Hagee’s, or Kroon’s pews take everything each preacher says as objective, unassailable truth? One would hope that their audience would retain the dignity of exercising reason-based judgment as to the accuracy of their pastor’s claims. One would hope, especially if the person in question were running for high political office, that he would “give a nuanced answer.” I think Obama has made clear where he stands. Have McCain and especially Palin? Has anyone asked Palin her views? Can anyone even gain access to her to ask her this important question? Fortunately in this age of information when we can’t have access to the person herself, there is a wealth of information she has left behind on the internet giving us a good idea how she believes. And her positions are as nuanced as the one John McCain gave at Saddleback on the question of when life starts.

    “Kroon may be crazy, but he’s not Wright.” What was Wright? If Kroon is crazy, should we not then be aware of his sermons and the degree to which Ms Palin takes them to be literally true? To preach condemnation, whether of a nation, a class of individuals, or of a single individual, remains condemnation. What condemnation from Wright stands out significantly different from that of Kroon? What standard does each use on which to base his condemnation? Can either of them make the same condemnation arguing from a standard other than divine claim? Can each subject his claim to reasoned criticism, and then, using a common reality, argue persuasively to the same condemning conclusion? When analyzed objectively, I think Wright’s condemnation of social injustice is far more reality-based than Kroon’s (watch the entire video for the context). So what boogeyman does Wright then represent that Kroon is immune from? Except, as you say, Kroon represents “garden variety fundamentalism” whereas, as you don’t say, Wright represents the African-American religious tradition.

    No, Kroon is very much Wright: people outside of each hermeneutical tradition find these pastors’ respective ranting ridiculous if not frightening. The only significant differences are 1. that the American electorate is more familiar with and therefore more forgiving (or dismissive) of the evangelical fundamentalist than of the African-American variety, and 2. that the African-American variety can make a better reality-based claim against the injustices it faces daily than the evangelical fundamentalist whose arguments rely on fear-based divine claims to support existing cultural biases.

    What made Wright’s sermon noteworthy is precisely what makes Kroon’s sermon equally noteworthy. They each have been the pastor for the member of a party’s ticket this election year. They each make claims that sound disturbing to the uninitiated ear. The American people need to know to what extent each candidate agrees and acts in accordance with the pronouncements of his/her pastor. Obama has given us his position over and over again. (His “Call to Renewal” Keynote Address is particularly insightful - But all that we’ve heard from Palin is the video of the address she gave to her former church just a few months ago. Again, yes, Obama’s is “nuanced.” He does not take his pastor literally, although he does wholeheartedly agree that serious social injustice continues in this country to this day. Palin, on the other hand, seems to take the theology of her pastor fairly literally and certainly without nuance. To make light of Kroon’s significance, especially if one took Wright to pose a real problem for Obama, is both short-sighted and hypocritical.

  2. Mostovic: In the post, I should have made it clearer that I was not arguing the merits of the two sermons, just suggesting the political fallout. "God damn America," uttered by a black minister following a litany of America's sins (real and alleged), hit a third rail and tainted many voters' perceptions of Obama. Even my mother, a lifelong Democrat who'd sooner cut off her right arm than vote for McCain, didn't like it. Hellfire preaching about the end of days doesn't carry the same political charge. Many voters, myself included, are appalled at the prospect of someone who believes in the literal truth of the Bible becoming President. But such people are not going to vote for McCain in any case.