The story hit Oklahoma like a 7.0 earthquake! The aftershocks reverberated around the nation grabbing the attention of USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Post, and countless other print media. The video of some of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon members chanting their racist venom was shown on local and national TV broadcasts including NBC, ABC, CBS, and all of the cable news outlets. The deplorable acts of some of the SAE fraternity members will echo far beyond the campus for many, many years to come.
It’s tragic how the sins of a few impact an entire organization with a 150 year history. When I arrived at my office on Tuesday morning there was a letter waiting for me from a close friend who is a 50 year member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. His letter denounced the deplorable acts and then he asked for forgiveness for the pain caused by those in his fraternity. My friend is a man of incredible character and integrity and that is why he wrote to ask for forgiveness for acts he neither committed nor condoned. The acts of his fraternity brothers were reprehensible and many innocent people have been impacted. Something had to be done.
President Boren and the University of Oklahoma couldn’t have responded more quickly. The SAE Chapter will never again call the University of Oklahoma “home.” The house has been shut down, the boys belongings have been boxed up and moved out, but the hurt and pain of the experience will linger as a reminder of the darkness of the human heart. President Boren didn’t speak with the political correctness we have become so accustomed to hearing from our leaders. He spoke bluntly, pointedly, and forcefully, just as he should have when he said,
To those who have misused their free speech in such a reprehensible way, I have a message for you. You are disgraceful. You have violated all that we stand for. You should not have the privilege of calling yourselves ‘Sooners.’ Real Sooners are not racist. Real Sooners are not bigots. Real Sooners believe in equal opportunity. Real Sooners treat all people with respect. Real Sooners love each other and take care of each other like family members. All of us will redouble our efforts to create the strongest sense of family and community. We vow that we will be an example to the entire country of how to deal with this issue. There must be zero tolerance for racism everywhere in our nation. (David Boren. ABC News. http://tinyurl.com/ojmg4v2)
The athletes of the University banded together. A photo was taken of athletes of all races standing together. #OUnitedAthletes was trending on Twitter with comments from athletes from a variety of sports and ethnicities banding together against the racist acts of the frat boys who invited black athletes to their parties because of their name recognition. OU Tennis player, Emma Devine, from Scotland, tweeted, “There is no place for racism! News has already reached home in the U.K. This is not what OU is like #OUnitedAthletes.” Star linebacker, Eric Striker, appeared on The Don Lemon Show on CNN and was interviewed for The Daily Oklahoman. Coach Bob Stoops led his team, arm-in-arm, dressed in black, from the dorm to the practice facility in a bold showing of solidarity. To the administrators, coaches, and athletes from all sports who are speaking out, standing up, and demonstrating in a peaceful manner—you are all champions!
As I’ve followed the story I’ve been so proud of the maturity demonstrated by those who have emerged as leaders. I’ve been troubled by the proposed solution that I’ve heard coming from folks again and again. I’ve watched interviews with students from OU following the breaking news and several of them said that what is needed is more education. I read the interview with Eric Striker in The Daily Oklahoman on Tuesday morning. It was outstanding. Eric is more than a football player and it shows in the interview. Eric echoed the same sentiment as some other students about the need for more education. The article stated:
He thinks that in addition to English, history and math, OU students should be required to take a class on another culture. ‘A lot of these kids coming in here don’t know anything about other races,’ he said. ‘I’ve taken African-American courses with white people, and they’ve had their whole minds changed.’ (Oklahoma Football: Eric Striker Can’t Stay Silent Any Longer. The Daily Oklahoman. Tuesday, March 10, 2015)
I don’t know how to say this in any other way: Eradicating racism is not a matter of education; it is a matter of the heart. Education can fill our minds with information, but it can never change our hearts. Education informs us, but hard, dark hearts can only be transformed through the Cross of Jesus Christ. Let me explain what I mean.
The University of Oklahoma is ranked #1 among all public universities in the number of National Merit Scholars enrolled and among the top ten of all public and private universities. OU is home to over 750 currently enrolled National Merit Scholars. That information is from the University of Oklahoma website. In addition to this information, universities all across our nation are the primary locales for the education of the next generation of leaders in our society.
TV talking heads can talk about the “old” generation of racism back when Dr. King marched on Selma on “Bloody Sunday,” they can laud the promise of the progressive new generations, the “Millennials” and “Generation Z,” as they prepare to take the reins of leadership in next few years, but the problem of the human heart links each and every generation together. Neither a G.E.D. nor a Ph.D. will solve the sin problem that lies in each and every human heart. We may have new, more modern technologies, we may have new and better methodologies of educating, but we are still faced with the age old problem of our hard, darkened hearts.
Books, professors, and the best universities in the world can’t transform our hearts, but Jesus Christ can. I love the story of Wade Watts and Johnny Lee Clary. I’ve told the story countless times. Wade Watts was a black preacher and civil rights activist born in Kiamichi, Oklahoma on September 23, 1919. There is an OU connection in the story as Wade was also the uncle of former OU stand-out quarterback, J.C. Watts. Forty years after Wade Watts was born, Johnny Lee Clary was born in Del City, Oklahoma on June 18, 1959.
Wade Watts and Johnny Lee Clary’s paths would intersect in 1979. Wade was the leader of the Oklahoma chapter of the NAACP. Johnny Lee Clary was the Grand Dragon of the Oklahoma KKK. The two met in a debate that was broadcast across the country through an Oklahoma City radio station. When the two men came out to debate Wade reached out his hand to shake Johnny’s, but Johnny knew that according to the Klan “rule book” to touch a non-white person was to pollute one’s self. Wade shook his hand any way and said, “Hi Johnny. Jesus loves you and I love you.” Johnny Lee Clary called Wade every name in the book, but Wade said, “Johnny, there is nothing that you can do to stop me from loving you.”
After the debate Johnny decided to do everything in his power to get Wade. He would call him on the phone and threaten him, he and other Klansmen showed up at Wade’s house in their hoods and robes, they burned a cross in his yard, and even burned the church that Wade pastored. Each time Johnny attempted to get at Wade he got the same response. Wade would remind Johnny that Jesus loved him and he did as well. Wade refused to allow the pain of how people like Johnny treated him to distract him from following Jesus’ command to love all people. Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)
Johnny’s life began to spin out of control. There was infighting in the Klan, he had suffered from two divorces, found out his girlfriend was an informant for the FBI, and eventually Johnny left the Klan. Johnny began to experience extreme guilt over the violence and hatred that he had lived for so long. He was on the verge of taking his own life one night when he cried out to God. God heard his cry.
Over the next few years Johnny contacted Wade and the two of them became friends. Johnny became a minister and he and Wade preached together in Tulsa at ORU’s Mabee Center. They appeared together on the Phil Donahue Show and The Geraldo Rivera Show. Wade Watts was interviewed on television one time and he said,
I always wanted to leave this old world, knowing that I left it a better place than I found it; but to have been a help in converting Johnny Lee Clary over to Christianity, the right kind of Christianity, not the Ku Klux Klan type, but the RIGHT kind of Christianity, well, that’s one of the best jobs I ever done in my life.
Rev. Watts went home to be with the Lord on December 13, 1998. At his passing Johnny Lee Clary said,
Rev. Watts was like a father to me. I am grateful for all the years I had with him, and for all the wisdom and knowledge he passed on to me. He told me that he was passing me his mantle. I do not feel worthy to take it up; however, if he thought that much of me to invest all those years of time and wisdom into me, then I owe it to the memory of him to fight racism and continue his works. Wade and I always called one another “Old Partner”. I will miss him for the rest of my life, and will never forget him. Because I serve Jesus as my Lord and Master, I will see Wade again. So it’s not goodbye, but it’s just “So Long For Now, Old Partner!” (Rev. Johnny Lee Clary)
The Rev. Johnny Lee Clary? How does that happen? How does a hardened racist, the Imperial Wizard of the KKK become a spokesperson for racial reconciliation? How do you explain that? What can soften a racist’s heart? What can turn a “cross burner” into a “cross proclaimer?” It wasn’t Pastor Wade Watts’ brute strength or sensitivity training that changed the heart of Johnny Lee Clary. There’s no university that can proudly claim they “educated” Johnny Lee into right thinking. It was the love of Jesus, nothing more and nothing less that transformed Johnny Lee’s heart. The relentless love of Jesus. Just as Jesus changed Johnny Lee’s heart towards those he saw as his enemies so He can change the hard, dark hearts of racists today. Our problem is not a lack of education…our problem has been and will forever be our heart
A Problem of the Heart