Purchasing the Pulpit
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"I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves ... ."
-- Harriet Tubman
Recently, a group of black pastors under the name of the High Impact Leadership Coalition, held a press conference and summit in Los Angeles to announce the kick off for their "Black Contract with America on Moral Values." Led by Bishop Harry Jackson of Washington and white Christian evangelical Reverend Lou Sheldon and his Traditional Values Coalition, the press conference and summit gave new meaning to the phrase "sleeping with the enemy."
According to the newly formed coalition, topping the list of issues that black Americans need to focus on is the protection of marriage. Never mind the war, access to health care, HIV/AIDS, education, housing and Social Security, the number one problem facing black America is same-sex marriage.
Standing before the press in their Sunday best and eager to get their 15 minutes of fame and achievable share of President Bush's Faith-Based Initiative, these black pastors seemingly allowed their pulpits to be purchased by the GOP and Lou Sheldon, who is to gay people what Strom Thurmond was to blacks. Sheldon at one time even went so far as to support the quarantining of people with AIDS and accused the federal government of "running a network of whorehouses," when the U.S. responded to the AIDS crisis with resources.
Later that afternoon over one hundred black pastors gathered at Rev. Fred Price's Crenshaw Christian Center, another prominent mega-church, where Sheldon showed his infamous "gay rights, special rights" video and urged the pastors to have their congregations lobby African-American legislators who hadn't taken a position on the issue of same-sex marriage.
Listening from the outside, one might have thought they were listening in on a Klan meeting, but after one look around the room, I remember thinking of Dave Chappelle's portrayal of a blind black white supremacist who had never been told he was black.
Black pulpits are for sale to the highest bidder and black Christians are quite possibly being sold to the GOP under the guise of protecting America's moral values. With claims that gays are "high-jacking" the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr.'s message, Sheldon is bribing black pastor after pastor and church after church with check after check to take another look at the GOP and partnering with their white Christian counterparts all while using the Bible as a justification for their commonality. Yes, the same book that was used to justify racism, sexism and anti-Semitism has both black and white Christian evangelicals reading from the same page.
Few remember, that there were significant members of the black church including the National Baptist Convention led by Dr. J.H. Jackson in the '50s that vehemently opposed the civil rights movement and didn't want progressive ministers like Dr. King to have any confrontations with the government. So much so, that was one of the major factors in Dr. King's decision to create the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with Los Angeles ministers Rev. James Lawson and the late Dr. Thomas Kilgore.
These black pastors who have aligned themselves with white Christian evangelicals and Conservatives, are the ideological descendents of the same people who opposed Dr. King in the '50s but today want to claim his message as their own in the name of protecting the institution of marriage, thereby giving new meaning to the name "Uncle Tom."
However, don't think that these new partnerships come without strings attached. The black vote is expected to be hand delivered on legislation that supports discrimination against gays and lesbians and their right to protect their families, denying a woman's right to choose and pushing the president's abstinence only campaign. In addition, our religious leaders are also expected to remain silent and not be the prophetic voices they should be on issues of critical importance to blacks. In exchange for money, they've essentially sold their congregations to people who continue to oppose universal access to health care, education and housing, the very issues at the core of the black struggle.
There's a coordinated religious campaign to get ministers across the state to speak out against gays and the debate is not about religion but more about politics, power and keeping that political power in the hands of people who stood in the schoolhouse door, fighting for segregation and against the full inclusion of blacks in society.
Zora Neale Hurston once said, "Not all black skin is kin."
Can I get a witness?
Jasmyne Cannick is the director of public relations for the Black AIDS Institute. She is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists, a board member of the National Black Justice Coalition, a black gay civil rights organization and co-producer of the new cable series Noah's Arc , America's first black gay series.