Sunday, January 22, 2006

Magic Beans Planted

We love the press. We believe newspapers – ink and electron alike – are essential for freedom and democracy. The big ole but that follows is for this weekend's non-coverage a key civil-rights event.

Down in Atlanta, 200 preachers and rights activists planted and watered the seeds for a freedom campaign that is off immediate importance and that will becoming increasingly powerful. Both ministers and activists made it plain that they would call a halt to the lies. Organized by the National Black Justice Coalition, they spent three days testifying about the political realities and planning.

Here in Boston and wherever there are large African-American communities, the loudest and nastiest preachers have spoken openly and often against. They are against homosexuals. They are against same-sex marriage. They are against gay rights. They are even against admitting that gay-rights issues are civil-rights issues. In short, these characters are neither Christian in behavior nor freedom-loving in words.

So my beloved media largely buys into the music of the trumpets of deceit. The claim by some of these ministers and by right-wing politicians that all Black congregants, indeed, all Black Americans feel similarly. The press has long loved the sensational nature of bigoted preachers of any religion or skin tone. Strong words make for powerful headlines.

The only substantial story we could find was in the San Francisco Chronicle. They should have covered it. An area activist with formidable civil-rights credentials, Bishop Yvette Flunder, was a lead speaker at the conference.

In contrast, the major dailies ran short pieces saying the conference was starting and a wire story quoting Al Sharpon on the first day. In short, they were asleep at the wheel and robbed their readers on this one.

Oddly enough, the LeftyBlogs didn't seem to cover this. However, Black, gay activist Keith Boykin was there. He has a great comment set from Sharpton, one which we shall surely hear again:
There are those that are thermometers that read the temperature in the room. And then there are those that are thermostats that change the temperature in the room. I come to tell you to be thermostats. Turn the heat up in the black church. Make these people sweat until we open the doors of dialogue for everybody.
Head on over to the SFGate. There you can get the basics on this new network, aiming to encourage rights and equality minded Black congregants and preachers to make themselves and their views known. The Black Church Social Justice Community Action members "will work in churches throughout the country to promote a black, faith-based movement that supports lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people and opposes bans on same-sex marriage."

In her address, Flunder said it was "the oppression du jour" for Black ministers to play the anti-gay card. She added, "It's time for our church to have a nonpunitive discourse on human sexuality. It's time for Black folk to get together and have a conversation so we can eliminate the opportunity for others to defile and separate us."

A courageous minister spoke of the effects of bigotry on his own megachurch. Victory for the World Church Rev. Ken Samuels said that he had turned from his anti-gay feelings when childhood friend killed himself after being ostracized by his church because he was gay. That changed Samuels mind and sermons. When he began preaching the very New Testament doctrine of inclusion, his church lost about half its 5,000 members.

It would have been far easier, and far more dishonorable and dishonest, to preach exclusion and hatred. Showing such courage often comes with a measurable price. The penalty for living lives that harm others and deny freedom may be harder to measure but far more profound.

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