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Al Sharpton, the
Black Church, and gays

Al Sharpton, the
Black Church, and gays


A host of religious leaders at an Atlanta conference denounced the Republican Party for targeting GLBT Americans and ignoring the real issues

The Republican Party "came and invaded the Black Church and tricked people into supporting Bush," the Reverend Al Sharpton told a National Black Justice Coalition summit in Atlanta on January 20. "They couldn't come to the Black Church and talk about war, health care, education, so they take the cheap way out [by focusing on gay marriage]. We need to be honest about that."

Sharpton issued challenges to both the GLBT and Black Church communities. "The church should have a front seat in the car leading towards dialogue and tolerance," Sharpton said in his keynote address.

Meanwhile, "The GLBT community became one-issue oriented. They need to broaden their issues to supporting health care and education. The way you build coalitions is with mutual interests. I think it would be wise and morally sound to share our battles," Sharpton said in response to a question from a reporter.

More than 100 people attended the conference at the First Iconium Baptist Church, January 20-21. The conference was also attended by numerous media outlets as well as an outreach representative for U.S. representative John Lewis, a Georgia Democrat.

"I came to be informed, to get the flavor of what's going on," Akbar Imhotep, who is starting his own church, told me. "We're very happy. About 100 were here today, and we were expecting 75."

"But the real work starts Monday," said Sylvia Rhue, event organizer for the NBJC summit, who added that she had worked on civil rights issues with colleagues of Martin Luther King Jr. for 20 years.

"How dare we oppress people when we ourselves have been oppressed!" the Reverend Loyce Newton-Edwards, associate minister of Prospect Missionary Baptist Church in Oklahoma City, exclaimed in a panel discussion.

"Jesus' identity has been stolen! They got his credit card; they got his ID number!" said a fellow panel member, the Reverend Ken Samuel, pastor of the Victory for the World Church of Stone Mountain, Ga.

"The Black Church is the oldest growing independent institution in this country," Sharpton said. "They [Republicans] would love for you to concede that territory [of morality] to the George Bushes and Jerry Falwells."

"After 2004, the Black churches were sincere [about opposing gay marriage for moral reasons]. But they didn't realize they were being manipulated by the Republican National Committee and the hierarchy of the Republican Party," Sharpton said. The RNC stopped being involved in the marriage issue after the election, he added. "It was hard for them to sell morality after Katrina."

Sharpton said he was inspired to participate in the summit by his memories of working with Bayard Rustin, King's gay right-hand man, and on behalf of his gay sister. "I had a member of my family who was gay," he said in his speech. "Black, gay, and female," he added. "Imagine the social schizophrenia."

Sharpton told a media conference he and the NBJC were looking at taking the summit to other U.S. cities, citing St. Louis among the possibilities.

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