WATERTOWN — Preachers say the darndest things!
Keith E. Kilgore, a part-time pastor of Oxbow United Presbyterian Church in the town of Antwerp, delved into the issue of race relations in the United States during a June 14 sermon.
Given the public’s recent focus on repeated instances of police brutality against black Americans, this topic coming from a church pulpit isn’t unusual.
However, Kilgore took an alarming approach in commenting on the May 25 death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
He wondered aloud if “we would not have the mess we are in right now” had both Floyd and former police officer Derek Chauvin, charged with the 46-year-old man’s murder, lived for Jesus.
As Kilgore continued, his message became more disturbing.
He said the novel coronavirus pandemic would not have occurred if Chinese people adhered to biblical principles by not eating animals such as bats (he used an ugly slur on his Facebook page May 8 in referring to Chinese people).
Kilgore meandered his way to slavery, stating that it’s been practiced by numerous countries throughout world history.
Kilgore said the United States is unique among these societies in how it fought a war to end this evil institution.
And at one point he said: “It’s a toss-up to me which is worse of American sins. Is it abortion or slavery?”
This opened a Pandora’s box of appalling sentiments.
Kilgore said that if anyone calls for black people to receive reparations for slavery, “let them go to the nearest Union cemetery.”
Then Kilgore laid out his pièce de résistance. He concluded that the descendants of slaves benefited the most from the horrific practice.
Lucky them, eh?
This bizarre belief holds that black Americans are fortunate to not be living in Africa today.
Their standard of living is much higher than that of black people now living in African nations.
Such a proclamation would have more credibility if it weren’t for one stubborn fact: The society that black Americans live in isn’t based on the economies of African nations.
Many of them remain mired in the lower rungs of the U.S. economy, and to a certain extent this is the result of systemic racism.
The Judeo/Christian faith traditions have a complicated entanglement with slavery.
While it’s largely condemned now by religious adherents, the practice found favor in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.
So we’re bound to find some believers who still hold it in higher esteem than they should.
Derogatory comments made by Kilgore at Oxbow United Presbyterian Church and on his Facebook page led the Northern New York Presbytery to withdraw his authority to provide ministerial services for Presbyterian churches in the north country.
Of course, Kilgore apologized to anyone who took offense to his rhetoric.
He correctly pointed out that slavery was common among virtually all civilizations.
However, his observation about Americans fighting the Civil War to end the practice was off base.
It’s true that Southern states seceded from the Union because they feared the North would eventually do away with slavery.
But the primary motivation for Northerners to engage in war against the Confederacy was to preserve the country.
And while Abraham Lincoln abhorred slavery, keeping the nation together during the conflict was his chief goal as well.
Lincoln succeeded in persuading Congress to pass the 13th Amendment, which we celebrate for ending the barbaric institution of slavery.
Well, this isn’t quite right.
The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude “except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted …”
This loophole has allowed the racial majority in this country to control racial minorities without interruption.
After the practice of slavery was modified, whites found ways to continue controlling black people.
Southern states passed Black Codes designed to keep former slaves working for whites under horrendous conditions.
Laws also denied services to black people while catering to whites.
Municipal, state and federal authorities found numerous ways to charge black people with crimes.
While roughly the same percentage of black and white Americans use drugs, prosecuting such crimes is done predominantly in communities of color.
It’s no surprise that keeping prisons filled benefits corporations.
Inmates perform all kinds of services for private companies, which fattens their bottom lines.
Prisoners are paid measly wages while businesses sell their products constructed behind bars for much higher prices.
That some Americans continue to increase their personal wealth as a result of slave labor is a grotesque aspect of the criminal justice system.
It doesn’t live up to its stated function as a mechanism for “corrections.” The 13th Amendment declares that prisoners are slaves, so we allow ourselves to keep treating them as slaves.
Given how mass incarceration disproportionally harms black Americans, we must reform this system. And people like Kilgore need to stop declaring that slavery really hasn’t been so bad.
Jerry Moore is the editorial page editor for the Watertown Daily Times. Readers may call him at 315-661-2369 or send emails to email@example.com.