The Religious Right's Anti-Gay Agenda in the Black Community
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Thu Apr 26, 2007 at 11:31:40 PM EST
The right wing and the Republican Party have a long history of seeking to divide the African American community in general, and in particular its overwhelming support for the Democratic Party. There have always been conservative and Republican African Americans, of course. But the conservative movement and the GOP have long sought to exploit these differences and to promote Black leadership more to their liking. For the most part, these efforts have not been very successful. They have, however, enjoyed some success in recent years in using homosexuality as a wedge issue, and promoting African-American leaders in the religious right to drive those wedges.

There are many implications of all this, as well as complicated dynamics, and an interesting cast of characters. Fortunately, the Spring issue of Intelligence Report, the magazine of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Montgomery, Alabama-based orgnization that combats hate groups, has a package of articles and profiles of anti-gay African-American leaders -- including the lion of the so-called renewal groups in mainline Protestantism, Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria.

Brentin Mock writes:

Today, more and more black preachers across the country are picking up the idea that gay rights activists have no right to cite the civil rights movement. These preachers are now becoming the new advance guard in the hard-line Christian Right's crusade to religiously and politically condemn homosexuals. They are demonizing gays in fiery sermons and hammering the message that gay rights and civil rights are not only separate issues, but also opposing forces.

Bishop Harry Jackson, among others have been featured at the series of "Justice Sunday" rallies sponsored by the Family Research Council and Focus on the Family.

At "Justice Sunday III," ... black ministers stood by as white evangelicals compared the "struggles" of conservative Christians to those of black Americans in the 1960s.

But at the same time, Mock reports, African American leaders in the religious right describe analogies of the struggles of gays and lesbians for equal rights to those of the African-American civil rights movement as offensive, even racist. Thus, the religious right appears to have finally succeeded in creating a significant division among African-Americans with possible long term benefits for the GOP.  And they are doing it in sermons like this one by Bishop Eddie Long of Atlanta:

"We're raising our young boys to be just like the women," he bellows to his congregation, which today numbers more than 25,000 people. "We keep telling men to get in touch with their [sweetens his voice] sensitive self."

Almost 45 minutes into the sermon, captured on a videotape that is for sale in his church's bookstore, Bishop Long grows louder and angrier.

"The problem today and the reason society is like it is, is because men are being feminized and women are being masculine!" he roars. "You can not say, `I was born this way.' ... I don't care what scientists say!"

Mock continues:

Like their white counterparts, these black anti-gay preachers routinely identify the so-called "homosexual agenda" -- not poverty, racism, gang violence, inadequate schools, or unemployment -- as the No. 1 threat facing black Americans today. Often, they take their cues from white Christian Right hard-liners like Traditional Values Coalition chairman Louis Sheldon, who told TV pundit Tucker Carlson in January 2006 that homosexuality is "the biggest problem facing inner-city black neighborhoods." Sheldon later delivered the same message to the Congressional Black Caucus, this time accompanied by Bishop Paul Morton, a black anti-gay minister from New Orleans.

Interestingly Intelligence Report also discusses African American anti-gay activism of the religious right in the context of the use of homosexuality as a wedge issue to divide the mainline Protestant churches in the U.S.; churches that have been at or near the forefront of advances for African-American civil rights and related social justice causes for more than a century. The Washington,DC-based Institute on Religion and Democracy,(IRD) and its satallite organizations, have for their part, been in the forefront of generating and exaccerbating these divisions.  

The most prominent among these, is the split in the Episcopal Church, largely bankrolled by longtime theocratic activists Howard (and IRD board member Roberta) Ahmanson, and whose public leader is Anglican Archbishop Peter Akinola of Nigeria.  

Akinola wrote last December on his church's website... "Homosexuality does violence to nature. ... This lifestyle is a terrible violation of the harmony of the eco-system of which mankind is a part. As we are rightly concerned by the depletion of the ozone layer, so should we be concerned by the practice of homosexuality."

Akinola's Nigerian colleague, the Rev. David Onuoha, said homosexuality is simply not in the African's nature. In a column entitled "The Absurdity of Same Sex Union," he adds that homosexuality is "a satanic doctrine."

Remarkably, both African Episcopalian ministers have been actively involved in promoting anti-homosexual religious doctrines--in America. When American Episcopalian churches began to fracture over disagreements on condemning homosexuality last year, Akinola heightened the drama by starting the Anglican Church of North America. His church is exclusively for orthodox Episcopalians -- meaning absolutely not for gay Christians.

The article doesn't say, but it is worth pointing out that Akinola is also an advocate for national legislation in Nigeria that would criminalize homosexuality, gay marriage, and political advocacy for gay rights. The penalty for everything banned in the bill is five years in prison.  

The American Epsicopalians, especially members of the dozen churches in Virginia that recently split from the Episcopal Church and call Akinola their spiritual leader, now profess to be shocked, shocked, and say they had no idea about all this -- although the matter was well known enough that the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, DC published an op-ed more than a year ago in The Washington Post detailing Akinola's support for the bill.

The logical conclusion of the antigay rhetoric and politics of the religious right is the criminalization of homosexuality -- just like the Akinola-backed bill making its way through the Nigerian legislature. And while overt criminalization may not be possible in the U.S. right now, (it certainly is elsewhere) this, is the kind of division that the religious right seeks to bring the African-American community in the U.S.

I agree that certain groups are unfortunately using homosexuality as a wedge issue in the black church.  While living in Atlanta, I remember hearing about Eddie Long's anti-gay rants and his march to the Martin Luther King Jr. Center.

But hasn't there always been the potential for a group to come along and use this issue as a wedge?  Sometimes people forget that, on a whole, black churches and their respective denominations are equally as conservative theologically as most white evangelical churches.

Since the days of the Civil Rights Movement, Black pastors have not stopped preaching against homosexuality.  They may not do so every month or quarter but when homosexuality comes up, black pastors don't shy away from addressing the issue.  Due to their theological convictions on homosexuality, I'm not surprised that a black pastor (with or without the influence of Christian Right groups) would make the claim that gay activists have no right to lay claim to the civil rights movement.  

by Big Daddy Weave on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 12:22:40 AM EST

the point here is one of resources, organization and trends, and how differences of opinion can be exploited by outside interests.

The article points out:

Public opinion among African Americans on matters concerning homosexuality is a complex phenomenon. On the one hand, African Americans are more likely than other groups to support anti-discrimination legislation protecting gays and lesbians -- a reflection of their deep commitment to the ideals of equality in light of their own history of second-class citizenship.

On the other hand, polls typically show that African Americans are more likely than other groups to disapprove of homosexuality -- a reflection, in large part, of factors such as the deep level of religious conviction among African Americans. As is true for many white Americans, it is not surprising that some of the most adamant opponents of gays and lesbians among black communities speak from the pulpit.

The article also notes the huge amounts of money flung in the direction of black antigay preachers by the Bush administration, for example. That said, The Black, gay Republican chaplain at Harvard, Rev. Peter Gomes told the Village Voice in 2004: "I'm sure [black ministers] are being co-opted, but they don't need a great deal of co-optation...  "I think they come to the prejudice on their own."

But prejudice is something that can be exploited, exaccerbated, and even organized. And that, is exactly what we are seeing. What comes of it, may depend on how we use that knowledge.

by Frederick Clarkson on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 12:55:08 AM EST

I gather that some of the pastors are making the anti-gay stance the litmus test for political alliances and are abandoning traditional support for poverty and urban issues. Bad bargain for the congregations, though not necessarily for the pastors. I imagine that the most prosperous black pastors vote Republican primarily for own-tax reasons (and for faith-based grants).  And naturally the "prosperity gospel" churches must have overwhelmingly Republican pastors and a sizable percentage of Republican congregants.

by NancyP on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 03:55:29 PM EST

"homosexuality is simply not in the African's nature."

Yet there is a gay rights movement in Africa.  To paraphrase something from an old TV show- "That does not compute!"

Onuoha is saying several things here- that homosexuals cannot be real Africans, and it seems that he might be implying that homosexuality is an outside influence.

I'd ask him how much of his culture IS due to outside influence.  The church he is part of is an outside influence!!!

Willful ignorance and blind ethnocentrism is what I am reading in all of these statements.  Those people don't have a clue- or they are deliberately bamboozling their followers.

Talking about bamboozling-

"Bishop Eddie Long" (I wonder who elected him Bishop) seems to also be promoting the sort of "men" that are a bane- uncaring, abusive, self-centered monsters.  And his idea of women?  MORE abuse!  I wonder what he'd think of a culture that considers women to be more logical and men to be too emotional for some decisions?  

Why don't these people just let others be who they are, instead of trying to dictate their identity and existence?

by ArchaeoBob on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 11:13:52 AM EST

Peter Gnomes is speaking at the UCC General Synod this summer.
Barack Obama is speaking at our General Synod as well.  
Jeremiah Wright, pastor of Trinity UCC in Chicago is speaking at our WI Conference meeting in June.
Wright and Obama have been the subject of criticism posted in glbt papers The Washington Blade and The Advocate.

Other than advocating for Christian unity, I am at a loss as to how to keep this controversy from being exploited in my denomination.

by Don Niederfrank on Fri Apr 27, 2007 at 08:09:07 PM EST

not necessarily an episcopal polity in black churches (black-majority membership). It often merely means the "senior pastor" of that specific congregation. Most black denominations (and by members, most white denominations) do not have episcopal polity and use elected moderators, presidents, etc for the national business of the denomination.

by NancyP on Sat Apr 28, 2007 at 04:02:46 PM EST

Thank you for highlighting this sinister ploy of GOP and religious right leaders.

I am also grateful to the late Coretta Scott King that she took a stand against homophobia.

by IseFire on Mon Apr 30, 2007 at 09:56:34 AM EST

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