The politics of burned churches

By Mark Tooleyresearch associate at the Institute on Religion and Democracy.

March 1997 – Cash continues to flow in the Burned Churches Fund of the New York-based National Council of Churches (NCC), which has become the main fundraiser for rebuilding black churches destroyed by arson. Not only are the NCC’s liberal member denominations contributing. The U.S. Catholic Conference is the Fund’s largest contributor, and the American Jewish Committee also has been generous. Large foundations and corporations like Ford, Rockefeller, MacArthur and Archer Daniels Midland have donated mightily. God bless everyone who wants to help rebuild destroyed black churches, most of whose assailants have been vandals, burglars and pyromaniacs rather than white racists. But not all of the over $8 million that the NCC has so far raised will go towards nails, lumber and concrete. At least $1.1 million is designated for programs to assail the “root causes” of racism.

I attended one of numerous anti-racism pep rallies that the NCC, flush with its new funding, is organizing to extirpate those “root causes.” Meeting in October in Columbia, South Carolina, the “Rise-Up” conference had promised to “challenge” racial hatred and offer a vision that is “inclusive and fair to all Americans.”

Sadly but not surprisingly (given the NCC’s history), “all Americans” did not include persons who are politically conservative, irrespective of their views on race. Indeed, the conference dismissed any American whose views are not far left. NCC senior racial justice officer Mac Charles Jones, who has been the chief “architect” of the church arson story, discerned racism in welfare reform legislation, doubts about affirmative action, constraints on illegal immigration and “three-strikes-and-you’re-out crime legislation.” Mr. Jones called for reparations to black Americans similar to federal payments to Japanese internees from World War II.

The Ku Klux Klan has removed its sheet and become the Christian Coalition, alleged Rev. Calvin Butts, a New York pastor. “We don’t need their money,” he said about Christian Coalition fundraising for burned black churches. Mr. Butts called Billy Graham the “high priest” of America and denounced him for succoring racism by “eating meat at the king’s table.”

Ron Daniels of the New York-based Center for Constitutional Rights condemned Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas as a “brother who’s about to break our whole civil rights movement.” Mr. Daniels advocated that “we break up this monopoly of power by the few.”

Anne Braden, a former Communist Party USA activist, celebrated that Columbus Day had been discredited for honoring European exploitation.

We must “defeat” capitalism, of which racism is merely a symptom, insisted the Rev. E. Randel Osburn of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in Atlanta. Ironically, he singled out Archer Daniels Midland, a leading donor to the NCCs Burned Churches Fund, for receiving millions in “corporate welfare.” Osburn accused the CIA of flooding the black community with drugs, a charge that nearly all mainstream media have dismissed.

Damon McGee of the Ad Hoc Coalition Against Racism in Chattanooga proclaimed, “We are revolutionaries.” Warning against police brutality, he predicted, “The pigs are coming to get you.” And he affirmed to applause that “a rifle deserves a hallowed place in the black home.” Mr. McGee scored First Lady Hillary Clinton for “taking an African proverb [about the village] and shoving it down our throats while our people are starving.”

While calling for drug legalization, Eric Sterling of the Washington-based Criminal Justice Foundation blamed anti-crack cocaine legislation on racial prejudice. “I accuse Attorney General Janet Reno and the Justice Department of racism and prosecutorial malpractice,” he declared.

“Whites get better drugs at the pharmacy than blacks do on the streets,” remarked Sheryl Epps of the Drug Policy Foundation in Washington. She likened illegal drug use to her own preference for champagne.

David Bruck, an attorney in Cola, South Carolina, criticized President Clinton for supporting capital punishment. “We [America] can’t effectively be a spokesman for any human rights standard as long as we have the death penalty.” Mr. Bruck was also concerned about the over use of life sentences, although he did grant that they were appropriate for serial murders.

Drug legalization. Stopping welfare reform. Resisting the death penalty. “Defeating” capitalism. The NCC would have us believe that these issues are essential in the fight against racism, and, by extension, against deplorable church arsons.

Perhaps the conference’s agenda is explained in part by the background of Don Rojas, who administers the Burned Churches Fund. During the 1980s he served as a propaganda officer to the Marxist government of Grenada, a Soviet-front group in Czechoslovakia, and a Cuban-supported front in Havana. More recently, Mr. Rojas worked for the controversial Benjamin Chavis at the NAACP, whose board eventually fired Mr. Rojas (after firing Mr. Chavis himself) in part because of his affinity for radical, and frequently anti-Semitic, black leaders like Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam and Leonard Jefferies of New York’s City College.

Mr. Rojas has never before worked for a religious group, which does not seem to bother the NCC. Its racial “justice” agenda has very little connection to the Gospel’s message of reconciliation. Politics, and not grace, is the NCC’s main interest. Contrary to the NCC’s fulminations, the church arson story has showcased not how racist America is, but how anxious we are as a nation to denounce racism and redeem our tarnished history.

Groups from across the political and religious spectrum have rushed to raise money for desecrated black churches. Revealingly, the Christian Coalition, which one of the NCC’s conference speakers denounced as “fascist,” is spending 100% of the money it has raised for burned churches on reconstruction, absorbing all administrative costs into its own budget. Protestants, Catholics and Jews who are supporting the Burned Churches Fund should demand that same pledge from the NCC.  undefined