Unholy Matrimony: The Black Church & the Christian Right

As the Massachusetts Legislature continues to battle over the Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark ruling establishing the legal right for same-sex couples to marry, a coalition of African-American ministers from across the country have joined in the battle. Adamantly convinced that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people’s right to marry is dissimilar to the black civil rights struggle in the 1960s, African-American ministers have wedded themselves to right-wing organizations to finance not only their homophobic vitriol, but also to pad their pockets and their church’s ministries.

On March 10, the Family Research Council (FRC), an ultra right-wing nonprofit organization dedicated to the promulgation of a family-centered religious philosophy of compulsory heterosexuality, held a press conference at the Massachusetts State House in Boston. Opened only to credentialed members of the news media and legislators, the press conference consisted of eight African-American ministers and Tony Perkins, president of FRC, holding court.

“I come to dispel the lie. Homosexual marriage is not a civil rights issue; it’s a moral issue. It is a deviant type of behavior and lifestyle. How do they do it? It’s too nasty,” Rev. Willie Wooten of Gideon Christian Church in New Orleans told the press. “They are sodomites. They are proselytizing their agenda with television commercials making their issues to be so common to be anesthetized as loving and whole. Your lifestyle is aberrant, immoral and spiritually and anthropologically incorrect,” said Pastor Paul O. Cruz of Love and Faith Church in Los Angeles. Cruz said he knows from experience because he himself is an “ex-gay” and is now free from that life of debauchery and sin.

Paid to give his testimony, Cruz colludes with the religious right’s homophobic campaign to set lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people free of their sexual orientation that began in 1976 with its global “ex-gay” ministry, Exodus International, which is still headed by its executive director, Bob Davies. Exodus International “believes that the freedom from homosexuality comes not through method, but through a person — the Lord Jesus Christ,” according to the group’s brochure.

As a referral and information center for Christ-centered ministries in the U.S. and abroad, Exodus has about 100 chapters in 35 states, as well as outreach ministries in Latin America, the South Pacific and Europe. The largest New England city with a chapter is Worcester, Mass., and it’s now actively looking for African Americans like Cruz to support their stance on gay marriage.

Adamantly convinced that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people’s right to marry is dissimilar to the black civil rights struggle in the 1960s, African-American ministers have wedded themselves to right-wing organizations to finance not only their homophobic vitriol, but also to pad their pockets and their church’s ministries.

While Cruz hid in his suit of heterosexuality, all the ministers on the panel hid from the public how they are selling a Republican agenda to advance their own interests.

Take Pastor Gregory Daniels of United Truth and Change Church in Chicago, who told The New York Times on Feb. 29, “If the KKK [opposed] gay marriage I would ride with them.” While Daniels might think he could ride with the KKK in brotherhood on their shared stance on gay marriage, he forgets he would be lynched before he mounted his horse because he is black. But what Daniels is clearly riding on are the financial and political rewards bestowed on him for defecting from the Democratic Party.

In his essay addressed to African Americans, “Bush’s Appeal to the Inner City”, Daniels wrote, “We have examined and reexamined our relationship with the Democrats. . . This is our mission — to help President George W. Bush change the wind of destruction to a new wind of freedom and justice for all. . . Bush realizes that he will reach more people by getting programs set up in smaller churches.”

African-American ministers selling out their communities and the civil rights movement are not new. The first sign I saw here in Boston was back in 1998 when an editor called me to solicit my opinion about an African-American minister named Jackson, who had joined with Ralph Reed’s right-wing Christian movement. They sought to funnel $5-10 million to black churches to help them rejuvenate African-American urban communities nationwide; it was called the Samaritan Project. I could neither feign an expression of shock nor one of incredulity.

The Rev. Earl Jackson, pastor of the New Cornerstone Exodus Church in Boston’s Mattapan neighborhood, exemplifies the Black Church’s history of conservatism. Theologically, the Black Church has always had more in common with the Christian Right than not.

[B]oth the Black Church and the Christian Right believe that the ideal nation is a theocracy where only heterosexual Christian men interpret and execute God’s will. Both believe that most social ills in society are attributed to queers, feminists, liberals, Jews, and secular humanists. Both are anti-democratic and suspicious of the government. . .

For example, both the Black Church and the Christian Right believe that the ideal nation is a theocracy where only heterosexual Christian men interpret and execute God’s will. Both believe in prescribed gender roles for males and females in order to maintain the traditional composition of the nuclear family. Both believe that most social ills in society are attributed to queers, feminists, liberals, Jews, and secular humanists. Both are anti-democratic and suspicious of the government, therefore believing that the church is the only solution to social problem. Scripture gives them dominion to autocratically rule and to cast out any or all who do not adhere to their biblical edicts about sexual relationships.

Rev. Earl Jackson stated on the air on WHDH-TV in Boston that homosexuality is wrong because “the Scripture teaches that it is.” All sexual acts are sinful except for those engaged in procreation. Since it is the Black Church and Christian Right’s views that queers do not “procreate,” then we all are an abomination in the sight of God, and are the degenerates in society. They both use the Book of Leviticus, the Sodom and Gomorrah narrative in the Book of Genesis, Romans 1:26-27, to only cite a few passages to substantiate their “homo-hating” platform. Neither the Black Church nor the Christian Right advocates for legal sanctions to protect gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people. They both argue that civil rights protection based on sexual orientation does not have equal merit as civil rights protection based on race. Let us remember that the Black Church in the 1990s joined with the religious right to produce the video “Gay Rights/Special Rights” in order to highlight this point.

What has kept the Black Church and the Christian Right estranged from each other? The only chasm between them has been their theological and political positions on race. Whereas the Black Church repudiated the biblical passages that either cursed all people of African ancestry (The Curse of Ham, Genesis 9:18-27) or advocated slavery (Ephesians 6:5-8), the Christian Right upheld them to legitimize their separatist and racist Christian politics.

However, since 1995 — when the Christian Coalition held a conference on racial reconciliation in Dallas, and it generously donated $750,000 to rebuild Southern black churches that were recently burned — the once non-existing relationship between the Christian Right and the Black Church has now become wedded in unholy matrimony. Therefore, we should not have been surprised when the Rev. Earl Jackson told The Bay State Banner that his “. . .philosophies and theologies have always been supportive of the Christian Coalition” because he is “pro-life, pro-family, pro-school and for the return of traditional moral values. One thing led to another and the Coalition chose me” (April 26, 1996). The Black Church aligning itself with the Christian Right at this time in history is really about the Black Church’s lack of leadership and direction.

The ascendancy to power of many of our African-American religious leaders has been predicated for so long on the devaluation of women and LGBT people. These ministers, who are supported by the FRC and refuse to see the relationship between the black civil rights movement of the ’60s with the LGBT struggle to have the freedom to marry, merely become the overseers of a right-wing Republican plantation that will pad their pockets provided that they promulgate the master’s rhetoric.

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