Klan is a problem

not the problem

August 01, 2004|By Don R. Stevenson

I am from the South and grew up through those turbulent days when Vietnam and civil rights claimed the heart and soul of this nation. Over the years, I have observed four Ku Klux Klan rallies, the first with my dad at the age of 9.

I well remember that evening, holding my father's hand as we stood and eerily watched hooded men walk down the main street in our little town. I wondered who was under the cone-shaped hoods. Was it a friend? A relative? A religious leader? My pastor? I never asked Dad, but I suspect he wondered too.

As a white, southern boy I knew in my very bones even then that something was atilt and needed healing. Following high school and into the university I began to understand a bit more about the culture of my rearing, and with increased awareness I sadly saw its racist expressions.


Later in theological school, I wrote a lengthy essay on "The Ethics of Right-wing Extremism" and noticed a racistic DNA in society at large.

I attended several Klan meetings in eastern North Carolina, the area of my first pastoral position following seminary. At each rally the mournful hymn, "The Old Rugged Cross," was sung by Klan members who marched around a 30-foot cross hurling their own, personal, soaked-with-gasoline-and-diesel-fuel lighted torches at the base of a blazing cross beam. I was both angry and sad, i.e., angry that one of the gospel's great hymns had been seized for alien purposes; sad that hate and piety had become one.

And then I heard the Grand Dragon declare: "Give me men, strong, unafraid men, who have the courage to resist the devil and his followers."

Now, all of the above mentioned stuff of my life wells up as I read about the forthcoming public Klan gathering in Sharpsburg on Aug. 28. While I deplore what seemingly will be promoted at this meeting, I am equally concerned that the KKK will continue to be a front for this society's many structures of prejudice.

If the KKK is seen as our domestic "axis of evil" and used by conservatives and liberals alike as a whipping post, we will perpetuate what sociologist Rene Gerard defines as the "basic human mechanism" - scapegoating and blame. To deflect what is endemic to the society at large - the capacity to hate, to bash and to demean - is to defer a process that could lead toward healing and community.

When this reality is recognized we have a chance to dialogue our way through the evil that burning crosses symbolize. I do not wish to give KKK behaviors applause, but I do want us to remember that the Klansman:

n Is a disenfranchised person who has probably never enjoyed any real alliance or truce in his life. Thus he joins a group he believes to hold messianic truths that will help him exit his captivity.

n Is one who participates in our society from a lesser power base than many. A public rally, as the one we may see in Sharpsburg, is really an effort to satisfy a power need.

n While overt in his expression of hatred, the Klansman is not racism's definition. Racism is a structure that lives underneath us all. It pervades institutions including government, corporate boardrooms, clubs and yes, even houses of faith and religion. Racism is a world condition; the KKK is one expression of it.

As we protest those who openly declare their prejudices, I would hope that we would see racism's larger picture, remembering that the protester, those protested against and the observers at this "festival of hate" are all, dare I say it, "Children of a loving God." Maybe the latter could be a mantra at the rally, for we all need to be on guard against becoming what we hate.

The Rev. Don R. Stevenson is senior minister of Christ's Reformed United Church of Christ in Hagerstown.

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