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Friday, May 11, 2012

Breakthrough?

A lot of self-appointed experts (mostly white, and Touré) on cable news have made a point of saying that the President's pro-gay views might cost him votes in the black community this November. Others suggested that it might cost him in terms of turnout.

Now comes an article that suggests something that appears to have been on no one's radar screen.

Obama sent ripples through the country and caused Annie May Johnson to take a second look at an issue she thought she’d decided on long ago.

“I always saw marriage as a man and a woman being together for a lifetime,’’ says Johnson, on the phone from her North Carolina home. “That’s all I ever saw growing up, and that is all my parents saw in their day. But when Obama said he now was in favor of it, I thought maybe I’ve been too pigheaded about this thing for too long.’’

Johnson is like many older, deeply religious blacks in this country—women in particular—who attend church each Sunday, tithe 10 percent of their income without fail to their religious institution of choice, and try as best they can to live life by the letter of the Bible.

She’s also among many in the black community who believe in giving the first African-American president the benefit of the doubt on controversial political issues, even if his view is worlds apart from their own way of thinking. [...]

The most recent Pew poll taken this past April showed only 47 percent of African Americans oppose gay marriage today, nearly 20 percentage points lower than in 2008.

And that's before the President's pronouncement. A big factor, and it would have to be, would be the sordid case of Bishop Eddie Long, which though virtually unknown outside of the black community, was very well documented indeed within it.

The wealthy pastor ran (and still runs) a megachurch of 25,000 not far from Atlanta. His primary credential for this position was a Bachelor's in Business Administration, and while it could certainly be argued he deserves an honorary doctorate in the field, few would say the same for his doctorate in pastoral ministry, because it's from the unaccredited "International College of Excellence."

Anyway, about two years ago, three men filed lawsuits against him (two more have stepped forward since), saying that Eddie Long "befriended them" only to demand sexual favors from them. Eddie Long, however, was never accused of being a child predator. That is because in the state of Georgia, the age of consent is 15, which, it appears, he followed scrupulously. If you know what I mean.



This incident had powerful repercussions, and not just within the black comedy underground. As the University of Pennsylvania's Anthea Butler wrote at the time:
The real story however, is that this case explodes the cover of the black church’s internal don’t ask, don’t tell policy which has had a profound effect on the community and its followers. It’s very interesting that the Long scandal broke almost immediately after black pastors led by Bishop Harry Jackson came together with the Family Research Council to oppose the repeal of the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell Act. Many black pastors have staked their entire ministries on the “family” and the obsession with mainstream gender norms that encourage heterosexual marriage, abstinence, and patriarchal norms. It is an all-encompassing message that is obsessed with the suppression of sexuality in black churches, mega-churches and storefronts alike.

The Homophobia and sexophobia of black church leaders can be found in their literature, preaching, and revivalism [...] The master at this is Donnie McClurkin, whose tearful testimonies about being molested and sleeping with men culminated at the past Church of God in Christ (COGIC) convocation with him wailing about people “turning out” the children. Perhaps he forgot where he was turned out first. The church.

So the Eddie Long crisis is not just a crisis for himself, the accusers, Long’s family and the church; it’s a clarion call to African-American churches to cease and desist with the homophobia and finally start to deal with the fact that its not the folks in the pews who need to be disciplined, it’s the corrupt, bankrupt leadership of many, though not all, churches. The endless round of pastor’s anniversaries, offerings, and the fawning “my pastor is God and can do no wrong” theology of black churches needs to stop. [...] If the Catholic church can’t get a pass on its sexual and pedophilia scandals, why should mega-church pastors?  
 

Eddie Long once said of adult, consenting gay men, "You deserve death." "I wonder," I wrote then, "what ministers who abuse underage boys deserve." Of course, that was inappropriate of me, given, you know, Georgia law.

There's a chance that the President Obama has in a single stroke accomplished something that progressive religious leaders have attempted but might otherwise have taken fifty years: a permanent shift in African American attitudes regarding gay rights---that in addition to having no impact on black turnout in this election, his decision may have changed the practice of several theological traditions. The possibility of a breakthrough regarding gay civil rights in the black community was part of the promise of his presidential candidacy, albeit one that seemed too much to hope for.

 It no longer seems impossible.

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