What you may not know is that I’ve long been a fan of Dr. Cornel West. He may well be America’s premier or most important public intellectual. For decades he has stood up for the poor, workers, unions, women, LGBT folks, and progressive values.
Dr. West wrote two great books on two of the most important questions in American life and history — Race Matters and Democracy Matters. Just these last few years he has hooked up with broadcast journalist Tavis Smiley to tackle inequality and campaign for a more just society.
So it was a difficult revelation for me to see such hard and unfair criticisms of West because he has challenged President Obama and others on questions of war and the economy.
Now I take a backseat to nobody in the personal and institutional effort I made for Obama in 2008 and 2012, but I know that we can’t and shouldn’t think and act in lockstep.
And I want my spiritual leaders — the first being Rev. Timothy McDonald of First Iconium Baptist Church to act differently from my political leaders.
Dr. West is an African-American preacher as well as philosopher, theologian, teacher, and writer. He quite rightly claims the heritage of the African-American prophetic spiritual leader just like Rev. McDonald and Dr. Joseph Lowery. They cannot be told what to do and on fundamental human values they will not compromise.
That is a good and necessary thing not just for a just society, but even for a real movement for a just society.
Let us encourage those who raise their voices and act against inequality. Let us have a vibrant debate about an economy that works for all of us, and let us discuss the consequences to all our lives when capitalism has run amok. Let us think hard and deeply about what is happening to the people of our nation.
Let us proclaim ancient wisdom and teachings that can serve to shine a light on greed that has gone so far as to become evil.
Let us find and explore that place in our hearts and souls that loves mercy and justice, that gives us the capacity to love others.
Photo source: Mike Cicchetti via Flickr