Words from a Christian radical

obama-joseph-lowery-articleIt's hard to write about a minister without talking about what the man believes, in terms of the Christian faith. At the same time, I imagine that it's hard for folks at the edgy Style section of the Washington Post to write about faith issues, period, especially when dealing with a Civil Rights Movement giant who is now in the orbit of President-elect Barack Obama. Still, Krissah Thompson's news feature on the Rev. Joseph Lowery does give you some sense of the man. But the best anecdote in this story, irony of ironies, actually describes the hole on the story's soul.

Describing media and public perceptions of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. -- with whom he co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1957 -- Lowery gets rolling on a gospel train and we read:

"They have made Martin a glorified social worker, and they have almost made our young folks believe that all Martin did was go around dreaming," Lowery says. "He was a nonviolent militant. He was a Christian radical."

He titled his last sermon of 2008 "The Four Fathers," and delivered it while sitting on a stool behind the big wooden pulpit at Antioch Baptist Church North, describing how George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, King and Barack Obama have all ushered in new American eras.

"For white folks in the South to vote for a black man as president is drastic. This is revolutionary," Lowery says. "The Democratic Party can take credit, but the Democrats didn't do it. God did it. God was in the plan. Nobody else could have gotten these white folks to vote for a Negro named Barack Obama."

Strong words that would, on several levels, raise eyebrows in many pews and in the power corridors of Washington, D.C.

What does Lowery mean by that? How does his faith in Obama line up with his faith in Jesus Christ? What are the doctrinal differences between this elderly lion of the pulpit and, let's say, a certain retired preacher from Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago?

Well, you'll need to read some other story for that information. This story comes close to painting Lowery as a glorified political activist.

However, you will learn, of course, where he stands on the issue that matters most today, which is the Rev. Rick Warren's beliefs on sexuality. Only, even there this story balks and fails to follow the logic of Lowery's words to the end. Try to follow this:

Lowery, who supports civil unions, has already spoken out about Obama's controversial selection of the Rev. Rick Warren to give the inaugural invocation, which has been protested by gay rights groups because of disparaging comments Warren has made about gays and his support of the California proposition to ban same-sex marriage.

"I understand the protesters and I disagree vehemently with some of the nasty things Brother Warren said about gay people. I support civil rights for all citizens. I don't think you can fragment civil rights," Lowery says. "I have also said to gay groups, 'If y'all can stop talking about marriage and start talking about civil unions it would change things.' The concept of marriage is so embedded in my soul as being between a man and a woman."

Now, there is some evidence that Warren also supports civil unions for gays and lesbians or, at least, is willing to discuss that compromise tactic -- with definitions of marriage remaining where they have been for age of ages, amen.

It seems that Lowery, too, wants to avoid that fight. So what, precisely, is the nature of this conflict? So be defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, but it is wrong to publicly defend that? The story does not tell us.

But, I will give the Post credit. This feature story does end with one of the most charming preacher anecdotes I have read in a long, long time. Enjoy.

Lowery has been working his inaugural prayer over in his mind. But he had not yet put pen to paper when he got a call two weeks ago from Obama's religious affairs director, Joshua DuBois, to tell him he will have two minutes on the inaugural stage.

Lowery asked first how long Warren would get. DuBois said the opening prayer has also been allotted two minutes. When Lowery hung up the phone and told his secretary, they both burst out laughing.

"Have you ever said a prayer in two minutes?" she asked.

"I've never tried," Lowery said, smiling, "but they can't turn the mike off on me."

You see, my father was a preacher. I know where this man is coming from.

Photo: Obama and Lowery on the campaign trail in Georgia.

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