I don’t know Willie Moore, Jr. I’ve never met him. I have tangentially followed him over the years. I’ve seen his growth in the black popular Christian world mastering the tools of social media to provide a platform to spread his thoughts and views by embracing a millennial perspective. I’ll be honest, I haven’t always agreed with his hermeneutic, or the metaphoric bridges he uses to convey his message, but I figured no harm, no foul. Most of my friends don’t overly follow him and I believe his intentions as an attempt to do good in the world. In fact, I would often blame my seminary training as the culprit for why I adopted a hermeneutic of suspicion toward his theological conclusions.
But, the biblical analogy he used in a video to more or less excuse John Gray’s meeting with Donald Trump from criticism is where I draw the line.
Think of this almost as an open letter to Willie Mo’. This isn’t at him inasmuch as its at the way American Christianity fundamentally miseducates so many of us. And in this case, especially how it misinforms and intentionally miseducates black Christians.
Honestly, tag him if you know him. Send it to him. I’d love to sit down and grab some Starbucks with the brother and share my thoughts about why I felt he was drastically misinformed in the video he produced shortly after the infamous meeting between black clergy and Donald Trump.
Moore uses the relatively famous Bible story of Zacchaeus, a Jewish tax collector, who climbs up in a tree to hear Jesus speaking to a crowd. Jesus walks over and invites himself to Zacchaeus’ house. The story ends with the crowd showing astonishment at Jesus–a religious teacher–eating with a tax collector. To most biblical scholars, this interaction was symbolic because Zacchaeus was someone employed by the Roman government, the same government that occupied first century Palestine and had a history of keeping the Jewish people as a permanent underclass. (If you see where I’m going with this, good job.)
It’s at this point that Moore’s miseducation rears its ugly head. Through the sheer force of storytelling, Moore adeptly makes Trump the character of Zacchaeus and Jesus is the character equivalent of Gray. I visibly cringed at that point in the video. Moore goes on to use a bit of African American midrash about being “fruit inspectors” and admonishes against being judgmental. To be honest, I wasn’t sure quite who he was making this in reference to: Trump or Gray. The overall message turned a dark corner as he called out “blood bought believers holding conversations that continually go against biblical principles.” I seriously was unclear as to whether he was attempting to quell dissenting opinions in the comment section or was he generally accusing people who disagreed with Gray’s visit to the White House as going against biblical principles. He concludes by advising his listeners to not judge, but to see what fruit comes from the meeting.
In all fairness, Moore’s miseducation is a mere synecdoche of wide swaths of black religious culture. In the ways that I can point out Moore’s perceived miseducation, I would no doubt be identifying the miseducation of many others. As I see it Moore’s miseducation on biblical interpretation results in oversimplified and ultimately bad theology.
For starters, to equate Donald Trump, Caesar Americanus and leader of the free world as we know it, to a mere tax collector who never made an appearance in any of the other gospels misses the mark gravely. The character analogy doesn’t add up. The only biblical equivalent of Trump would be Caesar Tiberius himself, the Roman emperor during the time of Jesus’ life and ministry. And then to equate John Gray to Jesus is comically absurd when you think about it. But we all see what Moore does in this, right? John Gray is the good guy in the story, hence the equating of him to Jesus. And since every story needs a nemesis, Donald Trump has to be Zacchaeus. Whether or not these are perfect puzzle pieces that fit is beside the point. What really matters is that John Gray is rescued from criticism because he’s really the good guy. And such a good guy he’s worthy of being compared to Jesus.
The corner that Moore turns is one that results in bad theology. The mechanism he uses to turn this corner is a tried and true method that bad leaders and and persons in power use to stay in power: they victim blame. The true victims in this whole debacle of the White House meeting are ultimately the everyday black folks who attend church Sunday after Sunday. We legitimately got screwed! These mealy-mouthed men sat at the table and offered not a single word of criticism to the president who, by any shadow of a doubt, is the most outwardly anti-black president since Richard Nixon. Moore, essentially blames the black religious public for being judgmental in their criticism toward Gray rather than being, presumably, the more desirable fruit inspectors. (By the way, I haven’t heard about how Christians ought to be fruit inspectors since I was a kid circa 1992. And let’s be clear, my memory attached to it centered around my mother, her sister and family cousin trying to exonerate their own nosiness and general black woman tut-tutting they were doing toward one of my cousins and his dating life during a New Years Day celebration. I’m sure the phrase “shackin’ up” was used as well.)
This tactic of victim blaming, as we know, is an attempt to silence dissent. Moore, unfortunately, pronounces a shady rebuke toward people who would simply disagree with him. He even says he wants to “lightweight slap the piss outta you,” but then employs a faux-naïf piety saying “But the Bible says I can’t do that either.” The hat-tip toward a violent response aside, Moore puts a nice neat bow on how “blood bought believers” should understand and view the interaction of black clergy, especially Gray, with Trump. The bad theology is that Moore asserts that anyone who doesn’t view it his way, at best are judgmental (read: hypocritical) Christians, at worst, they aren’t the true blood bought believers that they say they are. Ultimately they aren’t real Christians.
The whole video of brother Willie Mo’ discussing these political and theological goings ons is miseducation on display because, I doubt, he’s had education to the contrary. The Sunday School level biblical interpretations he uses came from somewhere. He didn’t just arrive there on his own. I don’t use “Sunday School” in a pejorative manner, but rather in an illustrative way. Over the years, Moore has refined his talent of story-telling (he’s a performer and stand-up comedian as well) in such a way that his God-claims are easily accessed by the viewer through an anecdote. It’s how Sunday School functions for little children; it gives them a story to remember and learn about God. The phenomenon of miseducation occurs when adults are granted permission to use child-like theology to address their grown-up problems by clergy and lay leaders at their churches and the socially and politically irresponsible celebrity Christians they listen to on the radio or watch on Christian television.
As a celebrity Christian, Moore is seen as an expert on matters such as politics and pop culture. His prowess at creating his own platform–especially when it comes to things related to black people and God–he metamorphoses into the prophet of the oft misquoted and misinterpreted scripture “Touch not my anointed, and do my prophets no harm.” This is a deft move by Moore because he simultaneously gets away with victim blaming and he insulates himself from true criticism. While I doubt Moore is consciously doing this psychological maneuvering, the results of doing so are that the miseducated, therefore, are given free reign to miseducate others.
Education comes from the Latin word educere which means to bring out. The basic understand of education is how to draw out knowledge from one’s mind. As opposed to the appropriately renounced banking method where an expert deposits information into a student, and later the expert withdraws regurgitated information via standardized tests with multiple choice questions. Any guesses as to which method of education Willie Mo’ relies on to share his point of view?
Carter G. Woodson in his famous book The Miseducation of the Negro writes that “Real education means to inspire people to live more abundantly, to learn to begin with life as they find it and make it better.” This should be an ideal with which black Christians, in the error of Trump’s electoral college win should talk about politics, economics and culture. It should be the duty of black pastors, lay leaders and Christians celebrities, such as Moore himself, to engage and educate the masses of people who listen to them beyond offering prayers and well-wishes. To turn on black morning shows–The Breakfast Club, Rickey Smiley Morning Show et. al.–and certainly morning shows on black gospel stations, the pervasive “just pray about it” approach betrays the role of black religious culture in transforming the historical landscape of this country that deeply connected social and political action to their faith.
Any black person of a certain age remembers, that a mind is a terrible thing to waste. Sadly, far too many are miseducated rather than transformed by the renewing of their mind to discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.