Black Conservatives in the Age of Obama
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While some white Christian evangelical leaders are trying to broaden their agenda to include poverty, AIDS in Africa and climate change, a group of conservative black Christian church leaders appear more like archeologists; digging into the past to uncover the wedge issues that have been used since the advent of the new religious right.
In a recent letter to President Barack Obama, Bishop Harry Jackson, an African American with close ties to the Christian right, maintained that same-sex marriage was the No. 1 issue of our times. Jackson, who worked extensively for the passage of California's Proposition 8 -- the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage -- has been in the forefront of the battle to persuade the Washington City Council to reverse its 12-1 vote in favor of a measure that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states.
As pastor at New Hope Christian Church in Maryland and chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, Jackson has written and spoken out against pending hate-crimes legislation (the Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Prevention Act (S.B. 909).
"[T]he ultimate issue is going to be that it only takes one or two lawsuits, or the threat of a lawsuit, for there to be a chilling effect on pastors from preaching these passages of the Bible like Leviticus and Romans 1, and many, many other passages as our culture slips more into darkness," Jackson told OneNewsNow, the news service of Donald Wildmon's American Family Association.
Last year, Jackson co-authored (with the Family Research Council's Tony Perkins) Personal Faith, Public Policy, a book in which they wrote that the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, the nation's oldest and largest civil rights coalition, was "co-opted by the radical gay movement."
And last fall, according to People for the American Way, Jackson "charged that the NAACP had abandoned the black family by supporting marriage equality," and he told an Inspiration TV audience that the NAACP was "crazy" to say gay marriage is a civil right.
In Oakland, Calif., Walter Hoye, a black Baptist minister, was arrested earlier this year in front of the Family Planning Specialists Medical Group for violating a 2008 law that prohibits protesters from being within 8 feet of an abortion clinic.
Hoye calls what he was doing "sidewalk counseling"; abortion supporters call it the "harassment" of women in need of the clinic's services. Hoye, who was sentenced to 30 days in jail but served only 18, was back in front of the clinic upon his release.
Hoye, who is also a chaplain for the National Basketball League's Golden State Warriors, "was recruited three years ago by white Roman Catholic anti-abortion activists who felt an African American man would have an easier time approaching the clinic's many African American patients," the Los Angeles Times recently reported. He is rapidly becoming a national celebrity in anti-abortion circles.
In Houston, Claver Kamau-Imani, who heads the Corinthian Christian Empowerment Church, a small house church in the city, is trying to redefine history.
Kamau-Imani recently caused quite a stir when he put up a billboard in the black community that declared "Martin Luther King Jr. Was a Republican." The billboard was sponsored by RagingElephants.org, which claimed that it was "Leading America's 2nd Emancipation."
"We think it's imperative that [the GOP] try and attract more people from the communities of color to vote their values -- to vote conservative," Kamau-Imani said.
Black conservatives may be out of step with the African American community, but they have always been hovering about the political landscape, as Deborah Toler pointed out 16 years ago in a provocative essay published in The Public Eye. Over the past three decades, being a black conservative has been a relatively lucrative enterprise, albeit striated with lust, loneliness and loss.