Former KKK Leader Ordained in Black Pentecostal Denomination

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Adrienne S. Gaines

A former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan is now an
ordained minister in one of the nation’s largest African-American

Johnny Lee Clary was ordained a minister in the 6 million-member Church of
God in Christ (COGIC) on Saturday during a service led by Bishop George
McKinney, pastor of St. Stephen’s Cathedral Church of God in Christ in San
Diego and a member of COGIC’s 12-member general board.

Clary, who is based in Oklahoma, will serve as an evangelist
under McKinney’s oversight, and his ministry will emphasize racial

“Bishop McKinney and I both felt like racial reconciliation
was needed now more than ever,” said Clary, who befriended McKinney in the
early 1990s when the two spoke during a Promise Keepers event. “We feel like it
makes a huge statement that the former national imperial wizard of the Ku Klux
Klan would join the Church of God in Christ and reach out with the Church of
God in Christ to bring racial reconciliation to America.”

“We want to take this back to where it was when William
Seymour and the Azusa Street Revival was happening, when blacks and whites were
together,” added Clary, who preached at St. Stephen’s on Sunday. “This is what’s needed for this nation now to overcome

After joining the Ku Klux Klan during his teens, Clary
eventually became leader of the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan. But he grew
increasingly dissatisfied and eventually resigned from his post. With two
failed marriages, no friends and little money, Clary says he turned to the God
he’d been introduced to as a child and accepted Christ in 1990.

Since then he has shared his story on talk shows including The
Phil Donahue Show
, Geraldo, The 700 Club and Sally Jesse
, and he preaches in churches in the U.S. and Australia.

“I know the answer to racial reconciliation, and that’s
Jesus Christ,” he said. “They all come to me, even secular people are saying,
‘What changed you?’ I tell them, ‘The only thing that changed me was the Word
of God.’ Because when I accepted Christ … I had to get my mind renewed, and
that was through God’s Word.”

Both Clary and McKinney say the church has an opportunity to
address racism, which they say did not disappear with the election of the
nation’s first African-American president.

Clary notes that white supremacist groups saw an upsurge in
interest after President Obama was elected, with many of the organizations
using nationalist labels to draw not only racists but also those who are
fearful of the president’s policies.

McKinney says failing urban schools and the disproportionate
percentage of minorities in prison are also reflective of ongoing racism in the
nation. “There continues to be tremendous strongholds of racist activity in the
U.S., and the church has the responsibility, I believe, to be salt and light in
this situation,” McKinney said. “So the church has an awesome responsibility to
speak truth in every area, every arena of life.”

During the civil rights era, many white evangelical leaders
didn’t see the fight for racial equality as their cause and did not get
involved, McKinney says. He doesn’t want history to repeat itself today when he
says Christians are needed to fight not only for racial equality but also to
preserve traditional marriage and end abortion, which he said is impacting
black communities disproportionately and becoming “a kind of genocide.”

“It’s all the way through the Bible, that the children of
God are to be advocates for justice and practitioners of love and forgiveness
and mercy,” McKinney said. “But somehow we didn’t get that on our agenda, and
we allowed the whole [civil rights] era to pass without many of those who were
leaders in the evangelical church becoming involved at all. They stood on the

“I hope that that doesn’t happen again because we still have
some serious fights, and we need all the people of good will, all of God’s
people. … So we need Johnny Lee Clary and we need all the people who at one time
were on the wrong side of the fence to come on and help us with the fight for
righteousness [and] holiness.”

McKinney said churches will remain largely segregated until
they become welcoming to everyone—”the homeless, the aliens, to anybody who has
a hunger for God.”

Clary agrees. “I’m interested in seeing the church portrayed
the way the first church was in Acts 2 on the day of Pentecost,” Clary said.
“When the Holy Spirit came, all races were gathered together under heaven. Also
in Revelation 7:9 … every race was there gathered before the throne in front of
the Lamb in heaven. People … better learn to get along down here on earth or
they won’t be able to get along up in heaven.”

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