The mission statement of Sojourners is “to articulate the biblical call to social justice, inspiring hope and building a movement to transform individuals, communities, the church and the world.” Most of the time, this mission simply translates to taking liberal causes and giving them religious trappings. But recently, Sojourners went even further, lending credence to the absurd and the extreme. On the cusp of the 50th anniversary of the John F. Kennedy assassination, Sojourners endorsed the conspiracy theories that Cubans, organized crime, and the CIA conspired to kill an American President.
The article in question, entitled ‘Learning from the Unspeakable,’ was written by Danny Duncan Collum. Collum was a leader in Sojourners’ advocacy arm throughout the 1980’s and is now a contributing editor who provides the magazine monthly columns. In the piece, Collum claims that John F. Kennedy was not assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald acting alone as historians generally accept, but by anti-Castro organizations in Cuba, allied with their friends in organized crime. Of course, he notes that since the CIA was instrumental in forming the Miami-based Cuban guerillas, “it’s no great leap to suspect some complicity in Kennedy’s assassination by CIA employees.” He also praises a book by theologian James W. Douglass (who is also a 9/11 truther) claiming the “national security state” actively decided to assassinate Kennedy.
I won’t dignify much of this conspiracy-mongering with a response. Given that countless assessments from neutral historians and scientists have failed to convince most Americans that there was no conspiracy, I don’t expect I’ll change many minds. I will say this; Collum’s thesis rests entirely on the notion that devoted Communist and Castro-lover Lee Harvey Oswald agreed to team up with either the American government or anti-Castro Cubans. I’ll also say that I suspect the desire to divert the responsibility for a national tragedy from an unabashed Communist is probably why the Oliver Stones of the world embrace these theories to begin with, and why the “real” perpetrators always seem to nicely mirror their liberal sensibilities.
However, some of the claims made by Collum are demonstrably and laughably false. Take, for instance, his claim that the theory that anti-Castro Cubans and their organized crime allies were behind the assassination, “was the conclusion of the House Select Committee on Assassinations in 1978, which also found physical evidence of another shooter at the crime scene.” In fact, the House Select Committee specifically claimed there was no evidence that anti-Castro groups and organized crime took part in the murder of Kennedy. What they refused to rule out was that individual members of those groups might have taken part, but even then they didn’t endorse the idea.
The House Select Committee did indeed conclude that Kennedy was murdered as part of a conspiracy, based solely on “physical evidence of another shooter at the crime scene.” The Committee relied on a recording taken from the motorcycle of a police officer at the scene, which audio experts testified recorded four gunshots, one more than the three fired by Lee Harvey Oswald. However, since 1978, that sole piece of evidence supporting their report has been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked.
After the FBI officially discredited the recording in 1979, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) looked into it. They confirmed that at the moment of the ‘gunshots,’ a voice from another frequency saying “Hold everything secure…” can be heard. Existing records indicate those words were broadcast one minute AFTER the assassination. Furthermore, evidence indicates that the officer’s motorcycle wasn’t close enough to the presidential limo to have recorded the shots. The Justice Department agreed with the NAS analysis. ABC News, Court TV, and countless individual researchers launched their own reviews and came to the same conclusion. The NAS report is available online, and today even many dedicated conspiracy theorists reject the audio evidence.
But of course, Collum writes that there is a “cover-up” by the government, so clearly any reports or facts disproving his theories can be simply chalked up to lies and propaganda. Aren’t conspiracy theories fun?
A look back at past Collum’s articles for Sojourners shows an unfortunate tendency to embrace and parrot conspiracy theories. A 2011 article entitled “The Roswell Legacy” is about a book called Area 51 which claims the supposed crash of UFO in Roswell, New Mexico was actually “an experimental Soviet craft, made with technology captured from the Nazis, and those hairless pilots with big heads and strange eyes were really 13-year-old humans genetically and surgically altered by the Nazi scientist Josef Mengele.” Of course, Collum notes the UFO buffs think “this sounds like the sort of cover story the government would give to mid-level people if they really were working on an alien craft.” In a 2004 piece entitled “What If It’s All True,” Collum discusses the “Bin Laden-Bush connection” and expressly states that there was a “cover-up” of Saudi involvement with al-Qaeda. If both ideas sound familiar, that’s because they’re common accusations in 9/11 conspiracy theories, including the popular YouTube video Loose Change.
Let us put aside all doubts for a second, and suppose that there is even a modicum of truth to the conspiracy theories Sojourners is allowing to be published under their name. Why on earth are they even printing them to begin with? What does the conspiracy behind the Kennedy assassination have to do with spreading God’s word, Christian social justice, or any of what Sojourners purports to stand for? Throughout Collum’s entire piece, there isn’t a single reference to God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, Christianity, the Church, morality, or anything that ought to warrant inclusion in a Christian publication. On that basis alone, Sojourners probably should have rejected the piece. I’d even say it provided editors a convenient excuse to reject the piece without telling a three-decade contributor his beliefs were bogus.
That said, perhaps I should provide a Christian explanation for why I consider these conspiracies fundamentally anti-Christian. The sad but disturbing truth is that in November 1963, one evil, rather unintelligent man managed to murder the leader of the free world. The appeal of the Kennedy conspiracy, like the 9/11 conspiracy, is it allows us to make sense of a senseless act and explain a confusing and sometimes painful world. But we Christians don’t need such a prop to provide us with meaning. We believe in a loving God who knows all things and can see the whole fabric of human history. Ultimately, to profess that some evil earthly force is behind all our national tragedies is to discount the never-ending persistence of sin in our lives, and to replace an all-powerful God with an all-powerful shadowy organization. What’s more, conspiracy-mongering rejects the God-given gift of rationality and commandments to reject false prophets. Ultimately, the conspiracy theories Sojourners unfortunately promotes seeks to fill a hole in our lives, but its a hole that can only be filled with a love for God.