I'm copying the following from EcuNet (a religious computer network). The story explores the Religious Right's successful strategy of manipulating African American pastors into opposing gay/lesbian/bisexual civil rights.

Andy Lang United Church of Christ Cleveland, Ohio

Identity Crisis for the Black Church

Special Report
The San Francisco Chronicle January 12, 1994,
by Evelyn C. White, Chronicle staff writer. A few excerpts:

As a member of a celebrated gospel choir, Anthony Farmer looked forward to a guest appearance last summer at San Francisco's Jerusalem Church of God in Christ. But he says the worship service was ruined by a fiery sermon that left him feeling stunned and outraged.

"The minister just railed against women who get abortions and gay people, who he said were doomed to go to hell," said Farmer, whose group, the Oakland Gospel Workshop, had been invited to give a series of concerts at the Western Addition church. "That sermon upset me so bad that I refused to go back. My God is a God of love. I question if that minister even knows Christ."

Farmer's refusal to return to Jerusalem Church marked a turning point in his relationship with the black religious tradition in which he had been reared. Now, he worships at San Francisco's Unity Temple, a New Age metaphysical church with an ethnically mixed congregation.

His dismay is emblematic of the problems confronting the traditional black church today: At a time when the black community is crying out for solutions to "In cities where there used to be several large, thriving black congregations, the numbers have gone down to one or two," Cone said. The black church has turned into an entertainment industry that draws its crowd based on how loud the preacher shouts and how well the choir sings.

"It needs to go."

Bible as God's Absolute Law

None of these concerns are sufficient to persuade the Rev. L. C. Patton to change his pastoral methods. With many other ministers in the black church, he shares a fundamentalist interpretation of the Bible, and he believes the Bible is the absolute law of God.

As pastor of San Francisco's Jerusalem Church of God in Christ, it was Patton who delivered the sermon that upset Anthony Farmer. And in a deep, sonorous voice, Patton says the black clergy is "Bible-bound" to impart clearly defined moral and ethical values to parishioners.

A sidebar article,

Christian Right Tries to Capitalize on Anti-Gay Views

also by Evelyn C. White:

Emboldened by the anti-gay message that is routinely delivered from the pulpit of the conservative black church, a Christian fundamentalist group has produced a video designed to get blacks to join their movement.

The video, "Gay Rights, Special Rights," was made by the Anaheim-based Traditional Values Coalition, headed by minister Lou Sheldon. Featuring graphic images of leather-clad, whip wielding gay men, the 45-minute video contrasts the 1993 gay march on Washington with the 1963 civil rights gathering during which Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his legendary "I Have a Dream" speech.

In a blunt message, a somber black male narrator suggests that homosexuals are "deviants" who do not deserve the civil rights protections gained by blacks.

In another segment, a black minister shouts to an affirming crowd: "We will not allow the civil rights movement to be hijacked by a group of people who want to give moral credence to their immoral lifestyle."

According to Sheldon, nearly 45,000 copies of the video have been sold --at $19.95 apiece--since it was released in July. He said that after a recent screening of the video to black ministers in Cincinnati, the preachers rallied to help defeat a proposed gay rights ordinance for the city.

More than 56 percent of voters in the city's black precincts voted against the measure, which would have prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

"We couldn't be happier about the response to the video," said Sheldon, who founded the Traditional Values Coalition in 1981 to consolidate his lobbying efforts. "The blacks, who cannot change their skin color, are offended that the gays are seeking protection for behavior they can change."

San Francisco community organizer Al Cunningham said he is outraged that the religious right is making overtures to the black church, an institution that has historically "stood on the right side of justice."

"The fact that black ministers can be bamboozled by someone like Lou Sheldon shows what a sorry state the black community is in," said Cunningham, a member of Lesbians and Gays of African Descent for Democratic Action. "Sheldon's brand of demagoguery works so well because blacks as a people have not been able to come to grips with our issues around sexuality. Sheldon has capitalized on that."

Another advocate urged blacks to remember that the conservative groups today striving to pit them against gays are composed of the same people who opposed civil rights efforts 30 years ago.

"It is imperative that blacks remember that these groups didn't want us to integrate their schools or live in their neighborhoods," said Phill Wilson, founder of the Black, Gay and Lesbian Leadership Forum in Los Angeles.

"The rhetoric the Christian right uses against gays today is no different from the racist tactics they used against blacks in the 1960s," Wilson said. "We must remember our history."

[QRD main page] Last updated: 25 May 1995 by Chuck Tarver