Amy Levin: From suggesting that his tax code is modeled on Sim City 4, to the new twitter trend #HermanCainPizzaJams, Herman Cain has become quite the easy target. Putting my favorite track, “Give Pizza Chance” aside, much of the media seems to be just as confused by Cain as they are tickled, pleased, or angered. Besides mulling over the fact that the conservative candidate could be pro-gun and possibly (eek!) pro-choice, Cain’s hometown church seems to be the greatest enigma of all.
CNN’s Belief Blog featured an article this week called “The Liberal Church of Herman Cain.” Cain is an associate minister of his Atlantic megachurch, Antioch Baptist Church North, known for its “stronghold liberal activism” and history of hosting notable civil rights activists such as Jesse Jackson and Andrew Young. The church’s senior pastor, Rev. C.M. Alexander, does not share Cain’s politics,nor have others in the pews over the years who staunchly critique the Republican Party. Not only does Cain seem to love his “liberal church” but they love him as well. Rev. Alexander calls Cain “family”; the love is so strong that “Cain sang “The Impossible Dream” for the pastor’s 50th anniversary celebration.
Writers Eric Marrapodi and John Blake (Blake is a former member of Cain’s church) note some of the complexities of Cain’s views on racial politics relative to his church, with insight from Rev. Gerald Durley, senior pastor of Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Atlanta.
“Cain’s conservative message that blacks should forget about racism and focus on pulling themselves up by their bootstraps doesn’t mesh with his pastor’s philosophy, says Durley, himself a longtime leader among Atlanta clergy. . .‘He’s not going to talk about pulling yourself up by your bootstraps,” Durley says of Antioch’s pastor. ‘It’s about providing bootstraps.’”
These racially charged conversations about the role of government, social services, and economic accountability resonate well on the public political platform, and yet, for Marrapodi and Blake, enter the church laced with contradictions.
“The black church has long been a paradox. It is one of the most politically liberal but theologically conservative institutions in the black community. Cain’s house of worship embodies some of these contradictions.”
What exactly is the contradiction here? Does liberalism only make sense when it infuses every nook and cranny of one’s social and epistemological life? Or is it Cain’s relationship with Alexander that is contradictory? Is Cain the enigma here, or do we just not get the complicated relationship between race, religion, and politics?
The Cain-Alexander friendship isn’t the only prized relationship of the story. In fact, friendship seems to be the only thing humanizing Cain: “‘He’s a real person who is more complicated than the sound bite you may have heard from him,” says the Rev. Fredrick Robinson, a friend of Cain’s who was an associate minister at Antioch before leaving to form his own church.’”
However overbearing and redundant it is to assert that “politicians are people,” we need the reminder. If we want to point out contradictions, we might first ask ourselves when did God endorse a two-party democratic system?