Friday, April 09, 2010
From KKK To COGIC: Former Klan Leader Spreads Gospel Of Racial Healing
By Dr. Karanja A. Ajanaku
Memphis Tri-State Defender
As a teenager, Johnny Lee Clary felt an overpowering need to belong. The Ku Klux Klan was there and it took him in. It became his family.
Clary went on to spend 16 years in the Klan, holding a number of jobs, including public relations spokesman for Imperial Wizard Bill Wilkinson of the Invisible Empire Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and then, finally, as Imperial Wizard (national head) of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, a branch that originated in Mississippi.
Eventually, Clary left the KKK, became embroiled with issues related to two divorces, and fell into a depression that led him to the brink of suicide. One night, God heard his cry for deliverance. Clary responded with a promise to dedicate “his life to Christ” and committed “to help others leave the same evil path that he had walked for so long.”
And so Johnny Lee Clary, a former Imperial Wizard of the KKK, was ordained as a minister in the Church of God in Christ last Nov. 29th.
The ceremony was held at St. Stephens Cathedral Church of God In Christ in San Diego, where Bishop George D. McKinney and the presiding board of elders under the 2nd Jurisdiction of COGIC in Southern California welcomed him into a new global family.
“It was one of the proudest moments of my life,” said Clary, who communicated with the Tri-State Defender via email from Australia, where he “is preaching the gospel, leading people to Christ and addressing racism in the schools and churches.”
After his ordination, Clary – remembered by some as wrestler “Johnny Angel” of the NWF (National Wrestling Foundation) during the 1980s – was assigned to focus on race relations.
“I have been on that path for many years now as I have been laying the groundwork and God has been preparing me for this significant moment in history,” he said.
“Many people are excited to see this moment in history and are willing to work with myself and Bishop McKinney as well as COGIC. I am grateful for them.”
Not everyone feels that way.
Can A Leopard Change Its Spots?
“There are those who use the excuse that they don’t want to listen to a former racist, but that is an excuse to keep them from confronting their own fears and racism. Some say a leopard can’t change his spots. I say maybe a leopard can’t but God can and He can do anything He wants to,” says Clary.
“To say He can’t is to say God is not powerful enough to change someone. He changed Saul of Tarsus into Apostle Paul and people need to look at that example.
“Martin Luther King said, ‘Men hate one another because they fear one another. They fear one another because they do not know one another. They fear one another because they do not know one another.’ People hate what they fear. We have to help them overcome their fears.”
Clary confronts the fears and suspicions surrounding him by being direct about his past and sharing the lessons learned. His Web site www.johnnyleeclary.com explains how he became involved with the Klan and the journey which led him to COGIC, America’s largest African American denomination with 6.5 million members.
“I joined as a teenager while living in gang ridden territory in East Los Angeles, California,” Clary explained to the Tri-State Defender. “I was in fear of other gangs, was bullied and didn’t have a family and was raising myself because my father committed suicide when I was 11 years old and my mother sent me to go live with my sister who was on drugs and stole my inheritance money.”
Clary said he was a kid without a family and the KKK “offered me a family. They take advantage of those who are alone and have a low self-esteem. That’s how gangs operate.”
His Web site tells the agonizing story of a man “riddled with torment, angered over a false arrest in Tennessee on a weapons charge, disgusted with internal bickering between the various white supremacist organizations, and the discovery that his girlfriend was an informant for the FBI.”
Then, in this darkness, Clary found a light that led him in a new direction.
“I’m still rejoicing that God can change the hearts of those that have been filled with hatred, unforgiveness and all kinds of wickedness,” Bishop McKinney told a television station covering Clary’s story. “He’s now a Christian. He’s a believer. His life has changed and he is my brother.”
Getting On Task
Clary has been in the ministry since 1991. In the early 90’s, he met COGIC Bishop McKinney.
“We were both the speakers at a Promise Keeper’s rally in Montgomery, Ala.,” Clary told the Tri-State Defender. “We hit it off and stayed in touch for all these years and I preached for him three times at his church, St. Stephens Cathedral Church Of God In Christ.”
Today, Clary is under the guidance of Bishop McKinney as he pursues his mission to create better race relations. He said he works with COGIC as well as other churches.
“I preach for civic organizations, ministerial alliances, public and private schools, universities, the United States Army, and law enforcement agencies from around the world, such as the F.B.I and hate crimes monitoring divisions of various police departments,” said Clary, who now lives in Miami, Okla., with his wife, Melissa.
A ‘Good Book’ Blueprint
Clary has developed a blueprint for racial healing and reconciliation that is borrowed from Acts 2: 42-47.
“If we allow our children to play together that will be a start. Hatred is a learned response but so is love. Teach the children to love is the key,” he said.
“Children look to adults as role models. They are going to copy what they see adults doing. Make friends of all races and have them to your homes on a regular basis. The children will follow example. God bless little children while they are still too young to hate.”
So many people today still are in denial or unaware of the deep feelings and racial prejudices they harbor, Clary said.
“A lot of people do not want to cooperate, even in some churches. They will say things like, ‘Praise God we don’t have a problem with racism in our church,” said Clary. “They say that to avoid having to address their own racism. Any preacher who will not address this issue I find has racial issues himself. Some of them oppose me, both white and black. They think by ignoring racism it will go away. How wrong they are!”
Racism is like a cancer, said Clary.
“If you ignore it, it does not go away. It becomes malignant and destroys the body. Racism is a cancer on the human race. It will destroy the human race if ignored. It almost destroyed the entire Jewish population in World War 2.”
A Measure Of Success
Confronting and combating racism is a tough job that is not easily measured. So how will Clary define success?
“Whenever someone overcomes racism in (his/her) life, that is success,” he said. “That is one more for our team!”
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