As we all know by now, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin has apologized for his Martin Luther King Day remarks in which he said that Hurricane Katrina was God’s punishment to America for “being in Iraq under false pretenses” (among other things), and that the Almighty also wanted New Orleans to be “a majority-African American city” after rebuilding.
In the brouhaha over Mayor Nagin’s foray into Pat Robertson-land, there has been hardly any discussion of the larger issue: the fact that religiously charged rhetoric, even the rhetoric of religoius zealotry, can be found on the left as well as the right, among Democrats as well as Republicans — particularly Democrats speaking to the African-American community, in which politics and faith have traditionally had a close relationship. Think of Jesse Jackson, back in 1992, likening Dan Quayle to King Herod and Mary to a single mother on welfare. Or take a look, for instance, at this October 2004 Washington Post story about John Kerry’s campaign stop at a black church in Miami:
Congregants waved fans emblazoned “People of Faith for Kerry-Edwards.” Kerry smiled after former U.S. representative Carrie Meek (D-Fla.) said he is “fighting against liars and demons.”
Kerry, who has compared Bush to those in the Bible story who ignored the wounded man before the Good Samaritan helped him, joked about the risk of being upstaged by Jackson and Sharpton. He said he didn’t mind because “God’s speaking here today, and we’re going to listen.”
The minister, the Rev. Gaston E. Smith, endorsed Kerry, saying, “To bring our country out of despair, despondency and disgust, God has a John Kerry.”
When a conservative minister says this kind of thing about George W. Bush, it’s widely taken as a sign that America is sinking into a Dark Age of religious fanaticism. Somehow, the rhetoric of the “religious left” — aside from an over-the-top rant like Nagin’s — is not met with the same condemnation.