This Week in God

THIS WEEK IN GOD…. First up from the God Machine this week is a look at what happened to a D.C.-area church after the First Family attended Easter Sunday services there last weekend — and after Sean Hannity decided to let his audience know about the church’s pastor.

Shiloh Baptist Church in the District said it has received threatening phone calls and e-mails after an Easter visit from President Obama and a conservative television commentator’s subsequent playing of a videotape in which the pastor said that those espousing racial prejudice do so “under the protective cover of talk radio.”

The Rev. Wallace Charles Smith said the church has received more than 100 threats since Fox News channel’s Sean Hannity aired a tape Monday of a speech Smith gave in January 2010 at Eastern University in Saint Davids, Pa.

“We received a fax that had the image of a monkey with a target across is face,” Smith said. “My secretary has received telephone calls that have been so vulgar until she has had to hang up.”

The church was founded in the 1860s by former slaves, and has welcomed many sitting presidents for church services, including Reagan, H.W. Bush, and Clinton.

But this year and this president are apparently different. Rev. Smith delivered a speech when he served as president of Palmer Theological Seminary and made provocative remarks about the changing nature of racism: “Now, Jim Crow wears blue pinstripes, goes to law school and carries fancy briefs in cases. And now, Jim Crow has become James Crow, esquire. And he doesn’t have to wear white robes anymore because now he can wear the protective cover of talk radio or can get a regular news program on Fox.”

Hannity aired a clip of this speech — which, to clarify, had nothing to do with the Easter services, and wasn’t even delivered in Shiloh Baptist — and equated Smith with Jeremiah Wright.

Almost immediately, the church began receiving threats, many of them racist. There’s an ugly strain of bigotry running through too much of the right, as reminders like these help show.

Also from the God Machine this week:

* It seems counter-intuitive, but groups representing atheists and secular humanists hope to expand the U.S. military corps of chaplains. Earning an appointment would require support from senior chaplains, who seem unlikely to grant such a request.

* Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum declared this week that Sharia law poses an “existential threat” to the United States. He then proceeded to prove that he doesn’t know what Sharia law is.

* Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, another likely GOP presidential candidate, argued this week that using “CE” (common era), instead of “AD” (anno domini), in academia is “an entirely artificial and intellectually incoherent dating system.” He added that this is an example of “secular extremists” setting out to “impose their anti-religious bigotry” on society.

* Fox News wants viewers to think there was a “War on Easter” in the United States. I’d love for the network to consider, just for a moment, what an actual war on Easter looks like: “[Chinese] authorities stepped up a three-week campaign against an underground Christian church on Sunday, detaining hundreds of congregants in their homes and taking at least 36 others into custody after they tried to hold Easter services in a public square, church members and officials said.”