The pastor who prayed and delivered the benediction at President Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration has caused controversy by reportedly suggesting that every black person should vote for Obama on Nov. 6, and that white people are going to hell.
Pastor Joseph Lowery's comments, made at St. James Baptist Church at a rally in Forsyth, Ga., as part of a Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), were covered by the Monroe County Reporter, which reported:
"Lowery praised Obama's commitment to the poor and said politicians should quit saying 'middle class' and go ahead and say 'poor.' Then he urged individuals to look at their own character and conduct.
'We've turned our backs on the faith,' said Lowery. 'America is going to hell in a hand basket. We need to straighten up so God can use us.'
Lowery said that when he was a young militant, he used to say all white folks were going to hell. Then he mellowed and just said most of them were. Now, he said, he is back to where he was.
'I'm frightened by the level of hatred and bitterness coming out in this election,' said Lowery.'"
The comments by the 91-year-old Lowery, who worked alongside Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and has been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Obama, were immediately panned by Forsyth Mayor John Howard.
"The Bible doesn't say anything about white or black to go to heaven," said Howard, who is black. "I have great number of black and white friends. I've been in the military. I make friends with everybody. I'm too old for enemies."
The mayor added that both he and his pastor, the Rev. Antonio Proctor, were "pretty shocked" at the comments, and admitted that if another speaker had made the same remarks about black people, he would have left the rally in protest.
Lowery's controversial remarks didn't end there, however, as he reportedly also said he couldn't imagine "what kind of a n----- wouldn't vote with a black man running." He added that "nobody intelligent would risk this country with (Mitt) Romney."
Reflecting on his civil rights work with Dr. King Jr. in the 60s, leading up to Obama's election, the pastor said at the SCLC event, "During voter rights in '65, I never knew I'd live to see a black president -- I wasn't surprised that night when we counted the votes. I couldn't help but cry."
The Georgia pastor's latest comments stand in contrast to what he prayed about at Obama's inauguration in 2009, where he asked God to grant peace, love and tolerance to all.
"And now, Lord, in the complex arena of human relations, help us to make choices on the side of love, not hate; on the side of inclusion, not exclusion; tolerance, not intolerance," Lowery prayed in 2009. "And as we leave this mountain top, help us to hold on to the spirit of fellowship and the oneness of our family."