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Posts Tagged ‘Ku Klux Klan’

For the second time in his life, twenty-four year old Johnny Lee Clary considered suicide. The first time he’d been just fourteen, when his parents split up and his mother’s boyfriend started beating him. Now Clary had reached another personal crisis.

For ten years he’d belonged to the Ku Klux Klan, members providing the family he’d lost.  Clary worked hard to move up through the ranks, thinking achievement would produce fulfillment. But his rise in the Klan came at a cost. His wife divorced him, taking their young son with her.

Six months after attaining the position of grand wizard, Clary realized he felt just as empty and unsatisfied as before.

Now he sat on the edge of his bed, contemplating suicide again, when a sunbeam lit up a dusty Bible on a shelf, and he remembered the hours spent at a Baptist church when he was a boy. Those days were the happiest of his life.

He took down the Bible and it fell open to Luke 15, the story of the Prodigal Son.  Clary saw himself as the young man returning to his father.  He explained later, “I realized that no matter what I’d done, the Lord had never left me or forsaken me.”

And so thoughts of suicide turned into a whispered prayer.  Clary asked Jesus for forgiveness and rededicated his life to him.

That was 1989.  He left the KKK and spent two years immersed in scripture and in the teaching of respected Christian leaders.  In 1991 Clary felt God wanted him to do two things:  preach about Jesus and call Wade Watts.

Wade Watts, a Black pastor and civil rights leader, had not been far from Clary’s thoughts since meeting him in 1979, when they’d participated in a radio debate on racism.

When Watts offered Clary his hand, Johnny took it without thinking but then quickly withdrew, remembering a Klan teaching:  “Physical touch of a non-white is pollution.”

The black pastor took no offense. Laughing, he said, “Don’t worry.  My black won’t come off!”

During the debate, Clary hurled every hate-filled insult he could think of. But Watts won with his strong logic and good-natured humor.

As Clary left the radio station, Watts stopped him, holding his adopted, biracial daughter in his arms. “You say you hate all black people.  How can you hate this little baby?”

Clary didn’t answer as he stomped toward the parking lot. Watts called out, “God bless you, Johnny!  I’m gonna love you and pray for you whether you like it or not!”

Fueled by Watt’s intolerable good nature and the embarrassment of losing the debate, Clary began harassing the black pastor.  He and other Klansmen hurled garbage into Watt’s yard and plagued him with death threats.  Watts failed to respond.

Another night the Klansmen dressed in their white robes and hoods, lit torches in the pastor’s yard, and dared him to come out and face them.  Watts did, speaking calmly from his porch.  “Boys, Halloween is still four months away, so I don’t have any treats for you.  But come back in October!”  Then he went back in the house, leaving Johnny and company stunned into silence.

When they lit a cross in his yard, Watts asked if the Klansmen would like some hot dogs and marshmallows for their barbeque.

Finally Clary and other KKK members set fire to Watt’s church.  Clary called the pastor a short while later.  “You better be afraid,” he snarled in a disguised voice.  “We are coming to get you, and–”

Watts interrupted the threat.  “Hello, Johnny.  A man like you takes the time to call me, I am so honored.  Let me do something for you.”  And he prayed for God to forgive Johnny for setting fire to a house of the Lord.

Harassment of the black preacher continued for some time but Watts always responded with love, composure, and often humor.

One evening in 1991 after Johnny had turned back to Jesus, he called Reverend Watts.

“I don’t know if you remember me,” he began, “but my name is Johnny Lee Clary.”

“Remember you!” responded Watts.  “Son, I’ve been praying for you for years.”

The black pastor invited Clary to preach at his rebuilt church.   At the end of the sermon a teenage girl came down the aisle, crying, and embraced him.

Then he heard someone else crying—Wade Watts. “Johnny, remember that baby I showed you when we debated on the radio? And I asked how you could hate such a child?  This is that little girl!”

And so began a deep friendship between a former Klansman and a black preacher.

Watts often said, “If you want to make beautiful music, you got to use the black and white keys together.”

He and Clary enjoyed making beautiful music for seven years, often preaching and holding rallies jointly until Watts passed away in 1998. Clary continued preaching about Jesus and teaching against racism until his death in 2014.

Martin Luther King. Jr. wrote:

Through forgiveness, humor, and prayer for his enemy, that’s exactly what Wade Watts accomplished.  

Sources:

https://alobar.livejournal.com/3348812.html

https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/not-a-chance-encounter-but-a-divine-appointment-with-truth/

https://www.godyears.net/2017/08/the-redemption-of-ku-klux-klan-leader.html

https://thislandpress/2013/08/29

Photo credits: http://www.wikimedia.org; http://www.photstockeditor.com; http://www.pxhere.com;www.wikimedia.com; http://www.piqsels.com; http://www.flickr.com.

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