Paul  Kengor

The Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago is a raucous place. Not long ago, during the Christmas season, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright—stepping back from his repeated proclamation that “God d--- America!”—paused to damn the former president of America: As he gyrated and thrust his hips about the pulpit, Wright mocked Bill Clinton for “riding dirty!” with Monica Lewinsky. It was a curious way of expressing the spirit of the season.

With the good reverend having taken permanent leave of absence, the new pastor—who, we have been assured, is no Reverend Wright—last week called upon Father Michael Pfleger, a radical Catholic priest from Chicago’s Southside, to mock not the former president but the former first lady. The priest gave his own version of “God d--- America” when he proclaimed, “I also believe that America is the greatest sin against God.” Yet, like Wright, denouncing America was not enough for Phleger. He had a Clinton who needed mocking as well. Thus, he pursed his lips, rubbed his finger into his eyes, and imitated a sobbing Mrs. Clinton, eliciting howls of laughter from the congregation.

I’m familiar with Father Pfleger, having profiled him among various Catholics supporting Obama in an article for the current Catholic World Report. In the past, Pfleger took aim at Republicans like President Bush, of whom he protested: “I have no interest in living in a theocracy.” Now, suddenly, Pfleger has turned on a Democrat—Hillary Clinton.

For both Clintons, such treatment, in a house of God no less, must be quite a shock—and especially for Hillary, given that she learned her lifelong religious sensibilities at a church in nearby Park Ridge, Illinois. Both the Clintons took to the Christian faith in large part as a reaction to racism, which had appalled them as young folks.

Bill Clinton fondly recalls how Billy Graham—cut of a different cloth than Rev. Wright and Father Pfleger—played a pivotal role in his spiritual formation during the de-segregation struggles in the 1950s. Clinton remembers a moment in 1958 when his Sunday-school teacher took a few of the boys to Little Rock to attend a Billy Graham crusade at the University of Arkansas football stadium. Authorities had just closed Little Rock’s schools in a last-ditch effort to prevent integration. Segregationists from the White Citizens Council recommended that Reverend Graham restrict admission to whites only. The preacher said no, stating that Jesus loved everyone, and all people of all ethnicities needed to hear the word of God and were invited to his crusade.