A former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan is now an ordained minister in one of the nation’s largest African-American denominations.
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 reconciliation.
“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 racism.”
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 Raphael, 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.”