It seems that on July fourth, The New York Times saw fit to smirk at both American patriotism and Christianity. A recent Times article about the erection of a giant, though strategically altered, replica of the Statue of Liberty by a showman of a Memphis pastor presented a perfect example of the ridicule and disdain with which the Times views Christianity and American patriotism, both. In Memphis, Tennessee, writer Shalia Dewan could barely hide her sarcasm and distaste for the patriotism and the muscular Christianity espoused by Pastor Alton R. Williams in her coverage of the unveiling of the 72-foot-tall statue.
Tellingly, the entire top third of Dewan’s piece is filled with mockery, mischacterization, inapt comparison and quote after quote from Pastor Williams’ detractors. It isn’t until the initial ridicule is over that writer Dewan finally gives the pastor room to explain what his purpose and principle is in creating the odd paean to Lady Liberty.
One of the inapt comparisons is contained in Dewan’s first paragraph.
As the congregation of the World Overcomers Outreach Ministries Church looked on and its pastor, Apostle Alton R. Williams, presided, a brown shroud much like a burqa was pulled away to reveal a giant statue of the Lady, but with the Ten Commandments under one arm and “Jehovah” inscribed on her crown.
Since when is a shroud used to hide a statue until its public debut “much like a burqa”? Is what is hidden underneath obscured from view for modesty’s sake? Is it shame that the “brown shroud” covered up? Conversely, is there ever a time when a burqa is removed with pomp and circumstance for everyone to admire what hides beneath? No to all of that. The only reason that Dewan used the burqa quip is to cast aspersions on Pastor Williams’ entire enterprise, a burqa, after all, being one of the most currently well known and visually distinctive religious evils in the world.
The giant mock-up of Lady Liberty altered to fit Pastor Williams’ particular religious/patriotic message is over-the-top, certainly. One would be excused to find a chuckle rising at first sight or a cocked eyebrow at least. With a giant golden cross in Liberty’s upraised hand instead of the more familiar torch, the word “Jehovah” inscribed on her crown, and a single tear coursing down her cheek, the statue is a lot to take in.
But, Pastor Williams has a very specific and serious point that he wants to make with the display. Regardless of the reason for the statue, Dewan is more disposed to ridicule. She assumes that the cross is there “as if to ward off the pawnshops” and then claims that it “is not clear” what the tear on the cheek is for, despite that Williams clearly explains it later in the piece.
Naturally, as far as Dewan is concerned, it was important at the outset to tell readers that the statue “was not universally welcomed” despite that Pastor Williams’ flock was there by the hundreds and pleased at the unveiling. To illustrate the disapproval, Dewan issues no less than five quotes in a row expression their displeasure at the statue.
This is a backwards way to tell the story of an incident. The famous writer’s maxim is to provide the “who, what, when, where and why” of a story before getting to reactions of bystanders. In this case, we get mockery and detractors before many of the facts.
As it turns out, Dewan finally gets to the “why” Pastor Williams set up the huge display and his reasons are pretty solid if not understated in the least. Williams feels that too few black citizens in the U.S. are patriotic enough and he wants to reach out to them and shake them from their slumber.
In “The Meaning of the Statue of Liberation Through Christ: Reconnecting Patriotism With Christianity,” he explains that the teardrop on his Lady is God’s response to what he calls the nation’s ills, including legalized abortion, a lack of prayer in schools and the country’s “promotion of expressions of New Age, Wicca, secularism and humanism.” In another book, he said Hurricane Katrina was retribution for New Orleans’s embrace of sin.
Mr. Williams said his statue’s essential point was that Christianity should be the guiding ethos of the nation. But because the church he leads is predominantly black, as is he, there is an added dimension to the message.
Pastor Williams also feels that blacks have been too often led to ambivalence over American patriotism because of the history of slavery in America. He wants to reclaim patriotism for his people and reintroduce a pride in the red, white and blue.
Seems to me these are fine ideas and the pastor should be applauded for his efforts, not treated with the ridicule doled out by Dewan and The New York Times. And further that he might be right that a big gesture, a grand show is what is called for to shake the black community from its apathy towards the U.S.A.
Lastly, I’d like to point out that this “mega-church” of 12,000 black congregants obviously approved of the expenditure of the church’s $260,000 on the statue and the attendance of hundreds of them at the unveiling proved it. So, for Dewan to lead off with her disdain and ridicule on full display is an elitist slap in the face to those thousands of black church goers of whom she writes.
Unfortunately, ridicule of Christianity and a casual disregard for American patriotism is required for a writer for The New York Times, it seems, and Shalia Dewan reveals the requisite negativity toward both.
(Photo by John Peyton)