- Co-founder of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference
- Had friendly meetings with Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi and PLO leader Yasser Arafat
- Views America as a nation replete with white racism
- Believes that the CIA in the 1980s imported illegal drugs from Colombia and then sold them in black Los Angeles neighborhoods
- Declared in the 1980s that the United States had “become the villain of the Western Hemisphere”
- Supports racial preferences for blacks in academia and the business world
- Advocates "economic parity"
- Opposed the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003
Born in Huntsville, Alabama in October 1924, Joseph Lowery attended Knoxville College in Tennessee, Wayne State University in Michigan, Payne College and Theological Seminary in Ohio, and the Chicago Ecumenical Institute. After graduating from seminary in 1950, he was ordained as a Methodist minister. From 1952 to 1961, he served as pastor of Warren Street United Methodist Church in Mobile, Alabama.
Lowery became heavily involved in the civil rights movement during the 1950s. After Rosa Parks’ famous arrest for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger on December 1, 1955, Lowery helped lead the subsequent Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott. In 1957 Lowery and Martin Luther King, Jr. co-founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), where Lowery would serve as President from 1977 to 1997.
In September 1979 Lowery, along with then-NAACP President Benjamin Hooks and future NAACP President Julian Bond, took a trip to the Middle East, where they honored Libyan dictator Muammar Qadhafi with “The Decoration of Martin Luther King.” Lowery also met with PLO leader Yasser Arafat in Lebanon. When an American interviewer later asked Lowery, “Do you accept the popular image of the PLO as a bunch of terrorists?” he replied: "Well, that depends on how you define terrorists … I don't mind calling them terrorists. I don't mind because I also call [Israeli Prime Minister Menachem] Begin a terrorist … the PLO is not just a bunch of terrorists."
Responding to a subsequent backlash from Jewish members of the civil rights community, Lowery called on Jews to engage in a “less paternalistic relationship” with blacks, adding: “We didn't need the Jewish community, the State Department, or even President [Jimmy] Carter to give us permission” to meet with Arafat and Qadhafi. When reporters asked Lowery, “What do you think motivates U.S. policy on the Mideast?” he replied: “The [Carter] administration is responding to a very strong Jewish lobby.”
In the 1980s, Lowery warned that “white racism is gaining respectability again,” and that “there’s a resurgence of racism … at almost every level of life.”
Lowery firmly believes that the Central Intelligence Agency in the 1980s imported illegal drugs (particularly cocaine) from Colombia and then sold them in black Los Angeles neighborhoods -- for the purpose of raising money to fund the U.S.-backed Nicaraguan Contras in their war against the Marxist, Soviet-backed Sandinistas.
Lowery was also a formal advisor to the now-defunct Christic Institute, which likewise accused the CIA of conspiring to use drug money to support the Contras.
Lowery himself backed the efforts of the Sandinista dictatorship; he once hosted a reception for that dictatorship's leader, Daniel Ortega, in Atlanta. At the height of President Ronald Reagan’s Cold War struggle against Communist infiltration of Central America, Lowery declared that the United States had “become the villain of the Western Hemisphere.”
In 1988, when Lowery tried to encourage African Americans to frequent black-owned banks, he remarked: “Nobody says the Jews are boycotting when they support their [own] institutions.”
In the 1990s Lowery expressed his contempt for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, specifically because the latter opposed the use of affirmative action in business and academia. Said Lowery: “I have told [Thomas] I am ashamed of him, because he is becoming to the black community what Benedict Arnold was to the nation he deserted; and what Judas Iscariot was to Jesus: a traitor; and what Brutus was to Caesar: an assassin” (emphasis in original). Lowery has repeatedly stated that society has a “responsibility … to have affirmative action.”
In 1995 Lowery supported Louis Farrakhan’s Million Man March. (Ten years later he would support Farrakhan's Millions More March).
In 1996 Lowery told a press conference, “We have never stopped believing for a moment that there was some government complicity in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.” At the same conference, Lowery resurrected his claim that the CIA was selling cocaine in black neighborhoods: “This is a new and worse form of slavery -- chemical warfare in the form of drugs. Its worse than anything Saddam Hussein has done.”
At a 2000 banquet of the United Methodist Board of Church and Society in Cleveland, Lowery said the following about America's activities during the Cold War: "You could get away with anything as long as you said you were fighting communism.... We [Americans] demonized the saints and canonized the Devil!... We've sown the seed and now we're reaping the whirlwind."
At that same banquet, Lowery claimed that conservatives viewed God as "male, white [and] racist"; that affirmative action was "born in the New Testament, not the Nixon Administration"; that America's criminal-justice system was "almost a replica of the [racist] system of 1909"; and that capital punishment by lethal injection, as practiced in the United States, was something the "Nazis started."
Making no secret of his contempt for black conservatives, Lower once said that he was "ashamed" of Supreme Court Justice Thomas because he "has become to many in the African-American community what Benedict Arnold was to the United States, a deserter; what Judas was to Jesus, a traitor, and what Brutus was to Caesar, an assassin."
In 2001 Lowery impugned the U.S. for having boycotted the World Conference Against Racism (in Durban, South Africa), an anti-Israel hate-fest where Jewish delegates were physically assaulted. Calling the American withdrawal “a shameful cop-out,” Lowery declared that the United States was “not committed to serious efforts to address the issue of racism.”
In 2004 Lowery spoke at a United Methodist Board of Church and Society event in Pittsburgh. Lamenting that America's poor were getting poorer at the hands of the rich, he characterized low minimum wages and the absence of socialized medicine in the U.S. as "weapons of mass destruction." He exhorted the United States to beat its missiles into "morsels of bread," and its tanks into tractors. "Don't we have something better to offer the world than swords and missiles and smart bombs on stupid missions?" he asked. "The God I serve loves the motherless child in Baghdad as much as he loves the motherless child in Boston."
Proceeding to denounce America's war on terror, Lowery asserted that the United States, by killing (and thereby outraging) Muslims, was doing "more to help [Osama] bin Laden in his demagoguery than anything I know of." Lowery also likened President Bush to the segregationist George Wallace.
In February 2005 Lowery teamed up with Louis Farrakhan, Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Cornel West, Michael Eric Dyson, Donna Brazile, former Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, and columnist Julianne Malveaux to draft a "Covenant with Black America," a self-described "national plan of action to address the primary concerns of African Americans today -- from health to housing, from crime to criminal justice, from education to economic parity."
In May 2005 Lowery signed a National Council of Churches petition opposing, in the name of God, the so-called "nuclear option" designed to prevent legislative filibusters by members of the House of Representatives' then-minority party, the Democrats. Fellow signers included such luminaries as Julian Bond, Robert Edgar, Marcia Greenberger, Jesse Jackson, Ralph Neas, and Raul Yzaguirre.
In August 2005 Lowery paid a friendly visit to Cindy Sheehan's anti-war demonstrators outside President Bush's Crawford, Texas ranch. "I think that God has worked through this mother … God is speaking to us through this movement by the mothers," Lowery said. "Fifty million people in this country with no health insurance," he added. "That's a Weapon of Mass Destruction. Minimum wage is a Weapon of Mass Destruction."
In 2006 Lowery again joined Sheehan's anti-war demonstrators in Texas, opining that Iraqi mothers viewed U.S. troops as "terrorists."
In February 2006 Lowery delivered a eulogy at the Atlanta memorial service for Coretta Scott King, widow of the slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. Among Lowery's remarks were these:
"[Coretta Scott King] deplored the terror inflicted by our smart bombs on missions way afar. We know now that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction over there. But Coretta knew, and we know, that there are weapons of misdirection right down here. For war, billions more, but no more for the poor!" (President George W. Bush, whose war policies Lowery most strongly opposed, was in attendance at the service.)
In 2008 Lowery was a member of then-presidential candidate Barack Obama's African American Religious Leadership Committee. After Obama's electoral victory in November 2008, the president-elect picked Lowery to deliver the benediction at Obama's January 20, 2009 inauguration. In that benediction, Lowery said:
"Lord, in the memory of all the saints who from their labors rest, and in the joy of a new beginning, we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get in back; when brown can stick around; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. That all those who do justice and love mercy say Amen."
During his long career as a public figure, Lowery has received numerous honors from the civil rights establishment. In 1997 he was given an NAACP Lifetime Achievement Award for being the "dean of the civil rights movement." He also has received a Martin Luther King, Jr. Center Peace Award and the National Urban League's Whitney M. Young, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award (in 2004).
In 2008 Lowery received the Robert O. Cooper Peace and Justice Award from the Human Rights Center at Southern Methodist University. When accepting this award, Lowery asserted that the Bush administration worshipped "the god of war, and the god of the rich and powerful." He also defended Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the controversial former pastor of Barack Obama. "What's wrong with Jeremiah Wright's preaching?" Lowery wondered. "Prophetic preaching has been around in the black church for years. That's all I do. The only reason why no one says anything about me is because I don't have a member who is a presidential candidate."
When President Obama was running for reelection in 2012, Lowery became angry when speaking on the subject of blacks who might choose not to go to the polls on election day: "I don’t know what kind of a ni—er wouldn’t vote with a black man running. All that he did with the stimulus was genius. Nobody intelligent would risk this country with [Republican challenger Mitt] Romney.” Further, Lowery maintained that if not for widespread white racism, Obama, who was locked in a tight race with Romney, would have enjoyed a wide lead in the polls: "If Obama was white, there would be no question on who was going to win."
Portions of this profile are adapted from the article "Obama's Other Pastor Problem," written by Mark D. Tooley and published by FrontPageMag.com on January 2, 2008.